Preview: What's In Store at This Year's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
New ticketing strategies and sponsor activations are highlights of the luxury food festival starting Friday.
ASPEN, COLORADO—The 37th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen kicks off Friday with a weekend full of new programming among the more than 75 scheduled food and beverage seminars and demos, the signature Grand Tastings, and a slew of separately ticked events.
With a strategic increase in standalone events and ticketed dinners, the festival is appealing to an audience beyond its passholders. “It is a way to give more opportunities for attendees to have access to the events, as well as more local involvement in some of these events, from the business perspective,” says Diella Allen, event marketing coordinator for Food & Wine. “It expands the footprint for residents who are living in Aspen, or people who want to drive up for a day or come for a night.”
Here are highlights of the events, talent, and sponsorships at this year’s Classic.
The Debuts of Martha Stewart, Ruth Reichl, and More
Kicking off the festival’s seminar programming on Friday morning is “Summer Entertaining with Martha,” which marks the first time lifestyle maven Martha Stewart has taken part in the event. The opportunity made sense with Food & Wine and Martha Stewart Living both now published by the Meredith Corporation. “There have been many new opportunities, and one is having Martha come to the Classic,” Allen says. “The consumer audience has been very excited surrounding her grilling seminar and cookbook signing.”
Another talent to bookmark this weekend is Ruth Reichl. The former Gourmet editor in chief will appear with Food & Wine editor Hunter Lewis to discuss her new memoir, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir. The Saturday morning session will delve into Reichl’s 10-year tenure at Gourmet. Reichl is also a recent collaborator on recipe platform F&W Cooks, and her classic appearance is an extension of this partnership.
Other notable seminars include “Rice is Culture,” hosted by chef J.J. Johnson, about the ancient grain. For wine aficionados, F&W-affiliated master sommeliers David Keck will helm “New Zealand Beyond Sauvignon Blanc,” and “Loire Valley: Sancerre and Beyond,” while June Rodil will lead “White Burgundy, Village to Grand Cru” and “Sake Sunday.”
Veteran Sponsors Activating in New Ways
Organizers survey attendees every other year for what they want to see at the festival. “We like to see their feedback on the activations and brands, along with information about them and their purchasing intentions,” says Allen. “The information we get is useful, because it is information we can share with our sponsors, so they understand who their audience is.”
Returning sponsors include presenting sponsor American Express, which is also celebrating the 30th year of its American Express Restaurant Trade Program with invite-only breakfast, networking, and luncheon events, including a new collaboration with Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm on Saturday. The credit card company will partner with St. Regis to provide cardmember perks for holders of Platinum and Centurion cards. This year, in addition to pop-up amenities and mountaintop yoga classes, AmEx added a Lululemon shopping event. “AmEx hosts with the intention of creating content and opportunities for their customers—and their merchants,” says Allen.
Lexus is planning to live-stream seminars, including the much-anticipated “Art of Plating” interactive demo. At the Grand Tasting, Lexus will partner with Blackberry Farm for daily tastes, along with lunchbox giveaways for attendees. Festival guests can also sign up to drive different Lexus models or be driven in them. The luxury car brand also plans to film a series of in-vehicle, Food & Wine-curated videos throughout the weekend.
On the spirits side, Patron will activate with tiki-themed programming and host a “Drinks at Home” seminar. In addition to mixing cocktails at Thursday’s Welcome Reception at the St. Regis, sponsored by Bravo and Top Chef, Patron will roll out invite-only tequila tastings, as well as a Bloody Maria Jazz Brunch.
New Sponsors With Big Plans
Hoping to engage with the festival’s upscale demographic, new sponsors have plans for activations, as well. The South Australian Tourism Commission is constructing “The Cube: A Taste of Adelaide” pop-up and programming throughout the weekend, taking place at the Limelight Hotel – Aspen. The commission will introduce guests to the region through wine and spirits sampling and activities such as “recovery” breakfasts and custom-engraved wine glasses.
For enthusiasts of Italian hops, Peroni is this year’s official beer sponsor. Paying homage to its roots in Rome, the brand has invited a pasta artist to construct an art installation at the Grand Tastings and will be serving beer throughout the weekend.
First-time cookware sponsor Le Creuset will decorate all demo kitchens, as well host a photo activation and product giveaways at the Grand Tastings. The brand will join this year’s Sunday Farewell Feast as a sponsor, where its cookware will be incorporated into the decor and florals.
Returning Events With New Themes and Concepts
Friday’s Top of the Mountain Party will be hosted by Wines from Spain, a sponsor of more than 25 years. Guests can sip all-Spanish wines and sherry-infused cocktails and nosh on an extensive tapas table, along with authentic food stations and passed bites, while decor will be expressed in bright colors and Spanish tiling throughout. Geoffrey Zakarian will take over as host of the late-night Last Call party, which takes place at Casa Tua this year. Also on the late-night agenda is Live! From the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen at Belly Up, where newly added talent, Yacht Rock Review, takes over the sound system for an energetic dance party, complete with high-end Southern eats from Ashley Christensen of AC Restaurants.
“The way we keep an event fresh is by changing up the concept with new talent and all of the content of the event,” Allen says.
On Sunday, the Farewell Feast at Hotel Jerome will highlight the Food & Wine Best New Restaurants, with honorees showcasing dishes. Along with Le Creuset, Fever-Tree, Chateau d’Esclans, Peroni, Hair Food, and San Pellegrino are presenting.