My wife, Barbara, and I have been visiting Vail for 35 years and returned a few weeks ago for our annual ski vacation. Although the dining scene in Vail has always been outstanding, recently it has become even better with new restaurants and adventurous menus appearing each season.
But higher prices and archaic alcoholic beverage import laws into the state, have generally made the wine selections less than exciting. Other than well-known labels (many from California), there was little to motivate the vinous senses in search of something new. And another one of those archaic Colorado laws also prohibits bringing a favorite bottle to the restaurant. Unfortunately, I found that out the hard way years ago.
However, thanks to a good local friend and ski patrol buddy, we learned much had changed during the past year. We always make it a point to see Augie during our time in Vail because besides his great company we really enjoy trying a few new restaurants together. As a well-connected local (both in town and on the hill), he’s always good friends with the restaurant owners or somebody on staff so our dining pleasure becomes far more personal.
One night, we invited Augie to a new German restaurant when he insisted that before dinner he treat us to a glass of wine at the recently opened wine bar. We did not ponder the decision for long and immediately agreed, but I had no idea what was in store for us and how much we were going to enjoy the experience. In fact, we returned two nights later and again had a great time.
It’s not often I peruse a wine list when easily more than half of the names or varietals are unfamiliar. But that’s exactly what made our time at Root & Flower so exciting. We met Jeremy Campbell (another friend of Augie’s) who has been part of the restaurant scene since the age of 14. Twenty years ago, while working at a noted French restaurant in Portland, he discovered an affinity for wine. That was a turning point in Jeremy’s career; he’s now preparing for the second half of his Master Sommelier exams.
Jeremy and Samantha Biszantz opened Root & Flower last year with the idea of bringing something different to Vail while showcasing little-known wines and growing regions to a curious and thirsty international audience. He decided to follow this alternative path to offer an experience that has also expanded with the same vigor to an eclectic spirits menu. Jeremy takes the opposite approach to his cocktail service where he aims to perfect “craft classic” (in his words:”speakeasy” and “pre-Prohibition”) drinks as a contrast to today’s current fashionable “mixology” trend.
But back to Jeremy’s highly energized wine list with about 50 selections and divided into categories ranging from Crisp & Clean to Bold & Structured with several stops in between. In every category, there is a familiar choice or two so guests can have a frame of reference of what to expect when trying something new and unfamiliar.
The Crisp & Clean section included a sauvignon blanc and a Chablis, but I chose the sciaglin from Italy’s Fruili-Vanezia Giulia region. A great choice. I suggested an assyrtiko from Greece for Augie, and Barbara was in the mood for something sparkling. We passed on the Champagnes (although there were some excellent choices there) and Prosecco to select a beautiful sparkling chenin blanc from the Loire. To complement these choices, we also enjoyed a savory charcuterie plate.
And now it was time to move on to something red. Under Rustic & Complex, I found a varietal I’d read much about but never tasted — not even during our recent visit to Veneto. So we shared a glass of legrein also from Italy’s far northeast in the Alto Adige region (better known for its whites). Another winner!
Based on the crowds at the bar and the lounge area, there’s no doubt Jeremy has hit upon a winning and well-executed concept. Everyone seemed to be delighting in their own adventure and fulfilling Jeremy’s objective of inviting guests to “come, explore and enjoy” while learning so much more than can be found in the normal wine bar experience.
To achieve this goal, Jeremy must spend countless hours researching his choices, making his selections and only then exploring how he can secure the wines from those few distributors brave enough to stock them. My hope is that more “Jeremys” will be found in different markets so we can all share this unique adventure more often and closer to home.
One reader’s comment below sums up the general response I received to my Feb. 17 column “Bordeaux: More than just wine.”
Randell—I share your sentiment that visiting Bordeaux is as much about the sense of history as it is about the wine, perhaps more so than any other region I’ve experienced. I appreciated the architecture of the historic chateaux, the vibrant energy in both the old city and surrounding countryside and the contrast of modern technology artfully hidden behind a beautiful ancient façade.