Colorado’s craft beer and wine industries are brimming with success. So why not use this to your advantage? Meeting planners are increasingly tapping into existing beer and wine tours, events and pairing dinners for visiting clients and attendees.
Sampling the Suds
When Erika Baylor wanted something off the beaten path for her clients attending a Denver conference, she thought about the usual baseball game or dinner. Instead, she chose Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours and watched as guests marveled at the backwoods, shack-chic décor with wood paneling, a tin roof, front-porch couches and even an old horse saddle. The group was smitten with the rockabilly shack on wheels that delivered them to four tasting rooms: Prost Brewing, Renegade Brewing Company, LowDown Brewery and Beryl’s Beer Co.
“This really stuck out as something different,” says Baylor, vice president of sales and marketing for G&W Laboratories, Inc., a New Jersey pharmaceutical company. Though the tour was two years ago, clients still email asking when she plans to do it again. So, she booked Banjo Billy’s for a conference this fall.
Beer festivals are another book-and-go option to use as an event anchor. The granddaddy of them all, Great American Beer Festival (GABF), requires careful planning because it typically sells out quickly. If you give it a go, expect to sip your way through 3,500 different beers from 700 brewers.
If you lack the stamina for GABF, Denver Beer Fest is another good choice in September. The event, hosted by VISIT DENVER and The Craft Brewers Guild, includes 300 different events around the city. Look for beer tastings, beer bike nights and midnight beer breakfasts, competitions and a beer street party.
At wine and beer dinners, guests can learn tasting and pairing tips from chefs, vintners and brew masters. Chef Casey Easton recently opened a cooking school called Food Lab in Boulder. Food Lab hosts wine and beer dinners with cooking demos or classes. “We will let the season guide the menu with foods like local lamb and beef, corn, peaches, tomatoes, squash blossoms and goat cheese and bring in a local brewer or a biodynamic winemaker,” Easton says.
In warmer months, Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show hosts summer farm-wine dinners in Vail Village Plaza that elevate the bounty from local wine and food artisans, including La Tour, Sutcliffe Vineyards, Eat a Peach Farm and Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy.
Coohills in Denver frequently hosts wine dinners with well-known experts like Phil Hansing from Rodney Strong. Hansing and chef Tom Coohills walk guests through pairing notes for dishes like Florida pink shrimp grain with pear and watercress paired with 2012 Davis Bynum River Chardonnay.
Flagstaff House Chef Mark Monette in Boulder has teamed up with Fort Collinsbased New Belgium Brewing. Dishes like rabbit rillette and rosemary onion jam is married with Pear Ginger Beer, and a duck confit with dried cherry chutney is matched up with the oak aged sour brown La Folie.
Western Slope Cycle and Sip
The ever-popular Tour de Vineyards is a fall cycling event that covers 25 miles of Western Slope wine country around Palisade in September. Cyclists ride through the ribbons of highway that make up the state’s most western wine region. A real plus is that the event team has experience accommodating group registrations and can “batch a group’s registration materials,” notes Mike Heaston from Event Marketing Group LLC. The event sells out quickly, so plan accordingly.
Tour de Vineyards is held in conjunction with the state’s longest running wine festival, Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade. The festival includes a wine stomp, wine country bus tours, wine seminars and, of course, wine tastings from Colorado wineries.
Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing and public relations director for the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, suggests considering ski resort and small town wine and beer events. “Many of the big events sell out quickly, which can mean higher hotel rates and transportation costs,” she says. For example, Grand Junction’s Oktoberfest runs simultaneously with Tour of the Moon Cycling Classic from Grand Junction to Colorado National Monument.
Meyeraan also likes nearby Powderhorn Mountain Resort ski area for beer and wine events. In July, Mud, Beers and Bands is a dirt-in-your teeth mountain obstacle course followed by beer tasting and bands. On the same weekend, Bottles, Cans, Beer and Wine is a wine and beer tasting, also with live music. Shortly thereafter in August, Western Slope Uncorked features Grand Valley wine tasting and music.
“It’s a small community here,” says Dusti Reimer, interim sales and marketing director for Powderhorn. “Guests immediately feel a genuine connection with locals at these events.”
Offseason is another good option for winery events. Grand Valley Winery Association hosts Barrel into Spring wine tastings. The April and May events, organized by Grand Valley Winery Association, feature fine wines and gourmet foods, along with winery tours. It’s the perfect chance to take in the beauty of the region during bud-break season when the vineyards are just waking up after winter hibernation.
Miki Miller, vice president, financial consultant for Charles Schwab, Denver, organized a client meeting at Two Rivers Winery and Chateau for 50 people in 2014. “It was a really great place, not only for the location, but the winery had a planning staff to help us,” she says. The reception and meeting included Two Rivers wines and appetizers on the patio, followed by a meeting indoors.
Southern Colorado Vintners
The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City provides a divinely gorgeous setting that is ideal for groups. Rain or shine, groups can dine and sip under the shade of massive cottonwood trees next to the vineyard. The little winery on the grounds of the historic abbey hosts a rocking fall harvest event. Guests can taste the limited release of merlots and rieslings, along with cheeses, smoked salmon crepes and roasted fall chilies.
If you are looking for a truly bucolic spot in southern Colorado, look into Fox Fire Farms. This fourth-generation sheep and cattle ranching family also makes wines in Ignacio (30 miles from Durango). The tasting room overlooks an expanse of rolling hills, which is home to live music nights, with food and wine on Fridays from May through September. The winery villa is available for private dinners and small groups in summer.
Incorporating Colorado wine and beer is a fun way to immerse guests in the state’s crafted libations. Each year, event dates shift, so check in with local convention and visitor bureaus and event websites.