This story starts out with a runaway truck barreling into a building. Then, wine turns into water. BAM! There's an epic community Kumbaya, and a huge cliffhanger at the end. Are you hankering for a good love story? Or maybe a great action and adventure? A heart-warming western? Read on if you want all the details, my friends. It's about to get good.
I went to Bailey, Colorado, intent on getting the scoop about its most famous winery-based soap opera. I left with a tale to tell, and new friends to boot. But if you're not aware of the local excitement, let me fill you in.
Nestled in the Foothills, up through Highway 285, a winding road leads to what was once a picturesque scene, housing a beloved establishment right next to a beautiful river: The Aspen Peak Cellars Winery. A local treasure in the out-west mountain scene for locals and tourists alike to sip on samples, glasses, or bottles of refreshment and relaxation after an exciting mountain day.
Snowshoe and Fondue, wine tastings, and local events kept this community gem hopping until a semi truck plowed into it on the night of September 13th, 2016.
Findings were that either the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, or that the truck's brakes failed. The reasons didn't matter to the members of community who were jolted out of their routine by the smashing, crashing sounds. The reasons didn't really matter to the owners, Marcel and Julie Flukiger, as they saw their livelihood reduced to rubble. As for the the building itself, the reasons made no difference at all as bottles, barrels, and walls were violently relocated in various states of distress. Incredibly, no lives were lost, but the damage to the structure was total. The truck barrelled through the back of the building, plowed up storerooms, and obliterated the office and public tasting area. It stopped only as the nose of the big rig poked out the front entrance.
As authorities arrived on the scene, they came upon an incredible sight. Although there were no fatalities, a huge pile of rubble dominated the scene, looking like the chaos of a construction zone in reverse. Walls were decimated and the roof had been blown out, leaving only the parking lot to point out where the front door once stood. Through the wreckage, wine flowed out of what was left of the doorway in a wine lovers tragedy, escaping downhill to join the beautiful river that the establishment had so recently overlooked. It melded with the running water in drips and trickles and rivulets, coloring the river red for several hours.
The most incredible sight happened as local residents came to grieve with the owners. Marcel and Julie watched the drama unfold, neighbors and friends joined them in solidarity and solace.
Tracie Schaefer, the tasting room expert I spoke with, remembers the incident and shared her experience with Marcel and Julie that next day:
Tracie said, "I worked for the City of Littleton at the time. As soon as I heard, I left my job and came up here to be with everybody. People showed up with food and wine (the next day) and we sat and watched them disassemble this diesel truck and pull it piece by piece out of the wreckage and load it onto another truck. And the place was unrecognizable.
So we just hung out there all day and watched them disassemble the trailer, and we got a lot of support from the community. They brought wine and food and had a little grill by the river and everyone had a good cry and watched the wine flow into the river. So it was horrible."
The community stayed to shoulder the tragedy. Eventually, the hugs and handshakes and food dwindled, and it was time for the business owners to roll up their sleeves and assess the damage.
As soon as it was safe, a recovery mission ensued. In picking through the wreckage, Marcel and Julie were able to salvage 3000 bottles and one tank. Several of the wine bottles had skidded across the floor and provided the basis for the best "Scratch and Dent" sale a winery could have.
Tracie shared, "We found the only surviving tank about a week later, when we were able to go back into the wrecked building. When it was safe, and we looked to see if anything survived, and we found one tank, skidded across the room and dented, but the seal hadn't broken. It was a reserve wine that we were going to release in the fall, but we ended up bottling it and calling it 'The Crooked Tank'. Sixty gallons, (so twenty cases) is all it gave, and it went really fast over the winter with our snowshoe tours."
The outpouring of community support has been overwhelming and yet it aligns with what I've come to expect from this mountain town community.
So now, months later, it's time for an update: What's happening with Aspen Peak Cellars Winery? This question was on my lips when I came to explore the town last week, and has been a cliffhanger for many a conversation.
According to owner, Marcel, big changes are on the horizon for the end of October or November of this year.
Marcel - "It's coming up quick. A steel building should be up and running in just a few months."
Sharon - "Are there any big changes you can tell us about?"
Marcel - "Absolutely! I think one of the big changes is that there will be a bigger place, and the seating will be on the river side. We will also have a commercial kitchen which will lead to even more dinner events and things like that. More Wine Club and Snowshoe and Fondue-like activities."
Mystery solved, friends. Thanks, Marcel!
If you can't wait until the fall to get your fix of Aspen Peak wine, stop in at the tasting room. I did.
And I met a fantastic family who moved to Bailey recently. Of course I had to chat and find out what brought them here in the first place. Here's what Steve and Amanda Guestner (Soon to be Saleny. Congrats!) and ten year old Isaiah had to say when I asked why they made the move to Bailey:
Steve said, "I was born and raised on the (Continental) divide (area), and wanted to be back where I belong, with family." He pointed over to his parents, deep in conversation with Tracie about the merits of wine pairings with seafood. "We chose Bailey because of location," he continued. "Close (but not too close) to the city. Close to family, who lives in Evergreen."
Amanda added, "I wanted to be closer to my parents in the suburbs. Conifer didn't have the feel we were looking for, so we came all the way out to Bailey."
I asked, "What are your favorite things to do here? What's the best find?"
Amanda said, "The gentleman at Debeeze Honey Shop is amazing. The honey is delicious. And making friends here is part of the adventure."
Steve said, "Definitely the hiking and the trails. Meeting people and hearing their stories. We love it all."
Then I chatted with Isaiah, their friendly, bright ten year-old. We talked off to the side, with Steve's say-so. I sat with a glass of Strawberry Rosé, and he stood next to me:
I started, "Isaiah, thanks for giving me a kid's perspective. Not many people get the view of a 10 year old. So you moved here from Denver?"
He answered, "Yep. Green Valley."
I asked, "What do you love about Bailey?"
Isaiah snorted said quickly, "I love that every day I get to wake up to great views and go to a good school. Deer Creek Elementary."
"Isaiah," I asked, "if you had one thing you could tell kids from Denver, What would you say?"
He leaned in a bit and said, "I'd just say I love the food and the interesting names around here." Isaiah turned and looked at his family and said, "It's a great place with a lot of nice people and great motorcycle trails! And snowmobile trails, too." Steve gave him the thumbs up as I finished up and thanked him. He wandered back to his family and I said goodbye.
They left me with one piece of advice before I left, though: "Wave. Wave at whomever you see around the area. Chat with the locals and look 'em in the eye when you do it. They are friendly folk and it's okay to let your guard down."
Isaiah had sold me on the secrets yet to be discovered, and Aspen Peak Cellars Winery sold me on the perfect reason to return to Bailey, Colorado over and over again. The community came together when tragedy hit, and now the Winery is ready to return the favor with a bigger gathering place, festivities galore, and and an open invitation to all folk who want to wander on up for an outing.
This story is worth sharing, so please do! And DO visit the tasting room, the town, and the treasures that keep the locals smiling.