Historically, wine was the après booze of choice. Is it time to slap that bota bag again?
by Megan Michelson | photograph Liam Doran
I’m not sure if it was the powder-stuffed bowls or the white tablecloth wine tasting afterwards, but Portillo, Chile, sure was a good choice for a honeymoon. Chileans know how to enjoy life.
In Portillo, guests stay for a week at the resort’s upscale hotel, which overlooks a gorgeous alpine lake, steep couloirs, and a deck full of hot tubs. In North America, we sleep in the van on most road trips. We actually had no idea we’d be reveling in carmenére and cabernet sauvignon tastings.
Wine and skiing have deep ties. You’ve seen those black-and-white photos of old-timers in Sun Valley with wooden skis and bota bags. Brits have been flocking to France for wine-laden ski trips for generations. But in North America, sometime around the 1970s, pitchers of cheap beer became the modern après ski drink of choice. This might be tied to the parallel shift from fondue to nachos at that time, but we’ll leave that for the historians.
Lately, though, urban-style wine bars are opening in mountain towns everywhere. Sure, some may attract a pretentious crowd that might make you of the rugged mountain vibe barf a teaspoon of your lunch. But I’ll admit it: There’s something peaceful about skipping the wing platters and bro chatter of the crowded locals’ bar and instead sitting down to a glass of pinot and a plate of artisanal gouda in a dimly lit bistro. Maestro, strum that guitar.
I’m not alone apparently. Kaliope Kopley opened her first wine bar, Uncorked, at the base of Squaw Valley, in 2007, and now co-owns three more Tahoe wine bars. “Lots of winemakers from California’s Sierra Foothills, Napa, and Sonoma are avid skiers,” she says. “It’s not uncommon to meet a winemaker at Uncorked any weekend of the ski season—and taste their wines, too.”
The trend of sourcing food and spirits locally may also be at play here. It’s surprising how close wine country and the mountains actually are. BC’s Okanagan Valley, Colorado’s Western Slope, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and New York’s Finger Lakes region make it possible to taste relatively local wines no matter what ski town you’re in.
But while North America après wine is resurgent, Portillo remains the epicenter. “There are world-class wineries less than a few hours from great mountains,” says Colin West, who produces a TV show that combines travel tourism with extreme sports. “With two strong cultures in one geographic area, you might as well experience it all.”
<A few of the better wine bars in ski country>
Uncorked | Squaw Valley, CA
Order a flight for $10 and sample three different wines. Uncorked employs ski-bumming sommeliers to help you choose a bottle to take home. teloswine.com/uncorked.squaw
Element 47 | Aspen, CO
Located in the Little Nell Hotel, Element 47 isn’t just for serious wine aficionados. Those ceiling-high glass cases don’t only store rare and way-out-of-your-price-range bottles. thelittlenell.com
Cork | Waterbury, VT
A casual downtown location makes this wine bar and market a regular hangout for locals. Sip a glass of Sangiovese with fresh baked baguettes and Vermont cheddar. corkvt.com
Bin22 | Jackson, WY
At Bin22, a wine shop and grocery near Jackson’s town square, grab a seat at the community table and order a bottle of Chianti and housemade meatballs. bin22jacksonhole.com
From our Early Winter 2015 issue.