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Charlotte St. Martin To Retire As President Of Broadway League After 18 Years

Charlotte St. Martin To Retire As President Of Broadway League After 18 Years

Charlotte St. Martin, whose 18-year leadership of the Broadway League has included both good times – record-setting revenue – and bad – the historic 18-month Covid shutdown – will step down from her role as President effective February 16.

In its announcement today, the League said St. Martin has “decided to retire” from the organization, but will continue to serve in an advisory capacity for special events through the 2024 Tony Awards.

Jason Laks, The League’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, will serve as Acting President while the Board conducts an official search.

“While there is never a good moment for an executive who has spent a great deal of time in their role to resign, it is the appropriate time for me,” St. Martin said in a statement.

“It is truly the most difficult decision as I love the League, the staff, and of course, the industry that we have supported. I am very proud of our League team and the successes we have shared and know they will continue to provide the League with the highest level of commitment for which they are known. It has been the honor of my career to lead this organization, and I am grateful for all that we have accomplished together.”

During her tenure at The Broadway League, Ms. St. Martin has successfully grown the League and steered the organization through government relations successes, economic shifts, labor challenges and a global pandemic.

Also under her tenure, as the League notes, the trade organization representing theater owners and producers, has created numerous development, mentorship, and educational programs.

In addition to presenting the annual Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing, the League manages the National High School Musical Theatre Awards.

Prior to joining the League, St. Martin was one of the highest-ranking women in the hospitality industry, holding a variety of positions including Executive Vice President of Operations and Marketing, and President and CEO of Loews Anatole Hotel. She served as Chair of the New York Society of Association Executives and also served as Chair of both Meeting Planners International and the Professional Convention Management Association Foundations.

She currently serves on the board of NYC Tourism+ Conventions. She was named to Grain’s New York Business 2019 Hall of Fame.

In a statement, Kristin Caskey, Current Chair, Board of Governors, The Broadway League, said, “Charlotte’s remarkable leadership over these past 18 years will have a lasting impact on the League and the Broadway industry. She championed many of the League’s remarkable initiatives, including Broadway Bridges and Viva! Broadway, as well as expanded critical programs like the Jimmy Awards and Broadway Membership Fellows, among many others.

“When Broadway shut down for two years during the pandemic,” Caskey continued, “it was under Charlotte’s steadfast leadership that the League helped create the Shuttered Venues Operations Grant and the New York City Musical and Theatrical Production Tax Credit, two vitally important initiatives that ensured the successful return of our industry. We are immensely grateful for her tireless efforts and deep devotion to our community. I know I speak on behalf of our membership when we celebrate her indelible legacy and wish her great happiness in this next chapter.”

The League was founded in 1930, and currently represents more than 700 members from nearly 200 national and international markets including theatre owners and operators, producers, presenters, and general managers as well as suppliers of goods and services to the commercial theatre industry.

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NYC’s Next Flight to Saigon: Tracie May Vietnamese Publicist and Foodie Shines Global Spotlight on Asian Flavor

NYC’s Next Flight to Saigon: Tracie May Vietnamese Publicist and Foodie Shines Global Spotlight on Asian Flavor

Tracie May made a name for herself in Los Angeles for 25 years as a luxury publicist and event planner leading hundreds of Opening Night parties, events and red carpets.

Then in an “Eat, Pray, Love” – inspired move, she decided to take a leap and move across the world.  

In 2020, she relocated to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and became the Senior Editor of Epicure Vietnam Magazine, the most prestigious culinary and hospitality publication in Asia.

Today we catch up with Tracie to talk about life in Vietnam.  The people, the culture, and of course the food.

Tracie May Vietnamese Publicist Foodie Indulges in Delicious at her role with Epicure Vietnam Magazine

Joe Winger: 

What’s the most important thing that you want to share during this conversation?

Tracie May: 

Don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith. Honestly, I took a massive leap of faith, uprooting my entire life.  

I had a big life in LA.  I was there for 25 years, and to take that leap of faith to relocate to Vietnam.  It was never even on my radar.

People thought that I was insane when I said I was doing this. It was not supposed to be for the long term. But the whole point is, you never know where opportunity is going to come. You don’t know what your future looks like, until you write your own story.

I am proof positive that anything is possible if you just take a risk for yourself and your happiness, because the energy or the universe will provide for you if you’re truthful, connected and really get specific about what you want.

Tracie May Vietnamese Publicist Foodie with Chef Eden Daus of Lesung, holding Epicure Vietnam Magazine

Tracie May with Chef Eden Daus of Lesung, holding Epicure Vietnam Magazine

Joe Winger:   

You are now the senior editor of Epicure Vietnam Magazine.  Tell me a bit about the magazine and your role.

Tracie May: 

It’s a really beautiful, glossy print publication. They also have online and social [media presence].

It’s available in every VIP lounge, every business lounge at every major hotel, airline and club lounge. It has a lot of subscribers. 

Focuses on culinary, luxury travel, hospitality, wine, chef profiles. [Food and beverage] business profiles as well as features on certain resort properties.

I was really lucky to [connect with] the publisher.  I sent her a bunch of my writing samples. I joined the magazine about 17 months ago. 

My main focuses are editing content, making sure the English is perfect, and dealing with editorial and the marketing teams.

But my favorite part is running the news section.  [It’s] basically my curation of what’s hot in [food & beverage] in Saigon and all over the world. 

I get to eat the best food all the time. 

The majority of the restaurants that we cover are very high-end, gorgeous, [food and beverage] in town. So I get to eat a lot of amazing food which is awesome. 

The food in Vietnam is extraordinary.

Joe Winger:

As a USA foodie, what’s a lesson you’ve learned about Vietnamese cuisine that you want the world to know about?

Tracie May: 

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned, and it is evident in my extreme weight loss of 75 pounds in 2 ½  years, is it’s whole real food.

They are not jacking up their cows and their pigs with hormones. Organic is actually a thing here. The quality of the food, it’s not processed crap in a box that is run by Monsanto.

Because of the climate here, Dalat, which is the region in Vietnam where most of the produce is grown, some of the most unbelievable tasting produce is grown there. 

The fruit is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. 

A watermelon is the sweetest, juiciest, delicious thing you’ve ever put in your mouth; and it’s available from every little fruit stand that is on Quốc Hương.

I walk to my local [stores] because I like to support locals here and have my little bag and pull my produce and all of it is grown on their farm, 

It’s just that’s how people eat here. There is no Kraft macaroni and cheese. There is no processed, boxed chemicals here. 

Because of that, the quality of the flavor profiles is so superior. 

So that is the biggest difference.

The reason why there’s such an obesity problem in the U.S. is the abundance of processed food.

[Here in Vietnam], even fast food.  We’ve got McDonald’s and Popeye’s and KFC. But the taste of a Big Mac or a Whopper with cheese is far different than anything you can get in the States because of the quality of the meat that they use.

That is the biggest difference of why Vietnam is so globally recognized as such a foodie hub.

Joe Winger: 

You’re doing a lot to bring attention to Vietnam as a foodie hub.

Tracie May: 

I was the guest judge on Top Chef Vietnam, and I was the guest judge on the finale of this show called Super Cake, Banh Xeo, which was basically, Build a beautiful cake. And these Vietnamese national TV, reality shows which showcase culinary.

So that was fun.

Joe Winger: 

If somebody from the United States comes to Vietnam for a few days, from a food point of view, what must we try? 

Tracie May: 

Saigon is incredibly vibrant and there’s too much to do.  For the best Vietnamese food hands down It is in district one, which is basically the city. 

Mạ Quán 

Mạ Quán

Mạ Quán 

It’s gorgeous. A restaurant with Vietnamese cuisine that focuses on historical dishes from the imperial city of Huế to the north and in Hanoi to the Mekong Delta and is visually stunning.

The flavors are unbelievable. For sure if you want to eat an extraordinary Vietnamese meal, that’s a place, hands down, highly recommended. 

Lesung

Lesung

Lesung SGN 

In the last 3 months I was introduced to Malaysian cuisine.  Spicy,  sambal based, chili based. The chef / owner is a fine dining chef, who’s a celebrity chef here. He wanted to get back to his roots and he opened this restaurant that’s very reasonably priced.  Fine dining, but in a casual setting, not expensive and truly authentic Malaysian cuisine.   All of his grandmother’s recipes and it’s home cooking at its best. That is a must go. 

Noriboi Omakase

Noriboi Omakase

If you love sushi, Noriboi is an extraordinary omakase restaurant in Thảo Điền, in the town where I live. 12 to 18 tastings of caviar, and the best uni flown in from Japan, and extraordinary toro, and you can’t imagine how good, it’s insane.

Joe Winger: 

You took a very dramatic pivot a few years ago and it turned out so well. 

Tracie May: 

I knew that I had to make a change. I knew that I was unhappy.  Even though I had great friends and a great life and did really cool stuff in LA, I felt like I was just trapped in a hamster wheel.

I was bit by the “Eat Pray Love” bug. 

Decided that, life’s too short to be unhappy.

There is a big, wide, beautiful world out there. Why not explore it while I have the chance?

I happen to have family who live in Saigon, and we conspired together.

I sold my car, put everything in storage, all the paperwork, packed my two dogs and three suitcases and got on a plane.

The original plan was to hang out in Southeast Asia for three months.

Leave my stuff with my family, get a backpack and travel throughout Southeast Asia and go pray with some Buddhist monks.  Have my Tomb Raider moment in Angkor Wat in Cambodia and go do a lot of scuba diving.  Then three months later, go home [to the United States] and face the music. 

But COVID happened, my life shifted. So I stayed. 

I couldn’t have imagined a more incredible life that I’ve been able to curate for myself than I have been able to in Saigon.

Tracie May at Tet Lunar New Year 2024 party

Tracie May at Tet Lunar New Year 2024 party

Joe Winger: 

Your background is a world class publicist in North America.  Because of the pandemic, you went from a publicist to a “stay at home mom” figure.

Tracie May: 

I did, but I still had to pay my bills, right?

So I had a free place to stay because my family was paying the rent. When [my family] got stuck in the US during COVID, when Vietnam closed their borders, they got locked out for 10 months. 

Suddenly I’m a mother to 2 kids in an international school. I’ve got to take care of their three dogs, my two dogs, their villa, all their stuff, in a country that I didn’t know and a language that I didn’t speak.

It was all about pivoting.

At the time I had hot pink hair.  All the expat moms, they’ve got kids and they live in a compound because their husbands run Nike or Adidas or…[some huge company]

There’s me, this newbie from LA with my fuchsia hair riding my family’s electric bike with the kids on the back taking them to school.

The [expat Moms are] like, who and what is this? 

Originally I became the talk of the town. 

I live in a bubble, a little enclave within the city, it’s expat land. 

I really think in the beginning I made friends out of total pity.  Suddenly they were like, “Let’s take you to lunch.”  So there were several luncheons introducing me to society and I created my clan. 

The one thing that’s hard about here is that the expat life is very rotational because a lot of the families are on contract.

If you work at the consulate, you’ve got a 2-3 year contract. 

Once the contract is done, you’re back home. I don’t want to leave. 

So one of the hardest things about making really close friends here is that they leave. So it’s a lot of continual rotation.

I have friends who’ve been here for 14 years up to 35 years who felt the bug like me and decided no, this is where you want to be right now. This is a good place to be, but yeah, that’s basically how it happened.

Joe Winger: 

A minute ago, you used the phrase “talk of the town.”  Let’s dive deeper.

You’re getting huge growth on social media. Food and dining, lifestyle, travel in this genre. Your face is everywhere. Your voice is everywhere. Your name is everywhere. 

What’s it like living your life, when someone sees your face, name and recognizes you? 

Tracie May: 

It is bizarre. 

I have no idea how it happened, especially in Vietnam.  Local Vietnamese don’t speak a word of English. 

There’ve been so many times that I’m walking my dogs up my street or [I’m] on the back of a “Grab” bike, which is our version of Uber and they see me, look at my picture before and say:

 “Sorry, Madame. Are you Madam Tracy?”

And show me a picture of myself. 

I’m sure it’s due to doing TV appearances on Top Chef Vietnam and other major, national primetime TV shows here with millions of Vietnamese watching.

It’s bizarre, especially coming from Hollywood where all my focus has always been the promotion of others and the promotion of brands.

Suddenly I’m the [one being] promoted and I just find it really funny. But I’m grateful. 

Joe Winger: 

How has publicity changed from LA to Vietnam?

Tracie May: 

I wear a lot of hats here [in Vietnam].   I’ve become the “go to” event producer.

I was a pretty major event producer in the States and produced [around] 250 fashion shows in three continents around the world, a bunch of parties in LA, and red carpets.

There’s tons of talent in Vietnam.  So now I’m doing it for major Western companies who want a sprinkle of American or they want a real Western perspective for [their event], I’m the girl they call.

One of the events I produced was the 25th anniversary of the Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel

That was a huge event inviting every government official, major CEO, all of their massive VIPs. 

Tracie May with Artist Jerome Pichard

Tracie May with Artist Jerome Peschard

I’m actually about to produce another event with Sofitel for one of my clients. One of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my entire life, Jerome Peschard

He’s a French artist with the same story as me, except he got here, fell in love with Saigon and just never left .  He met his wife and has a bunch of kids.  He has become the most collected artist in Asia globally, for specifically pop art related to historic, historic Vietnamese French and machine and pop art and he does it all.  Composite art. 

I brokered a deal with Sofitel on June 21 in celebration of the 60 year anniversary of the Sofitel Hotels and Resorts global brand, their Diamond Jubilee.

We are doing a two month installation, exclusive installation of his works being some are 2.6 meters x 1. 5 meters  – large scale, which are going to be in the lobby as an installation in collaboration with the hotel.

It’s a massive thing, and they called me, so I’m really honored. 

I get to work with him every day and he’s a total rock star.

Tracie May living her best life in Vietnam

Joe Winger: 

What’s the theme at this point in your life?

Tracie May: 

The moral of the story is “Don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith.”

Joe Winger: 

It sounds like you crossed your fingers, closed your eyes and took the jump. 

Was there a big concern before taking that jump? How did that big concern work out for you?

Tracie May: 

It’s very personal.

The concern wasn’t about work. I knew that I could work internationally. I knew I could do PR online and still service clients abroad. No matter where you are in the world, the cream rises to the top and you will figure it out.

On a personal level in the sense that I have always been a serial monogamist. I had a really petrified, paralyzing fear of being alone.

The idea of being 50 and alone again, scared me. Having to start over again, scared me. 

What I’ve learned from that is, I have no problems dating. I have no issue being alone. I actually revel in it because my life is so public now. When I get to be in my underpants, watching Netflix with my two dogs, eating a ham and cheese on freshly baked sourdough baguette with some tomatoes and lettuce; and some truffle aioli from my friend’s company. That’s my happy place. 

That has been the biggest lesson that being alone is okay. Being alone is actually a good thing. 

I don’t need to have a partner or a marriage to justify and qualify who I am. I’m just fine on my own. 

Joe Winger: 

What are the ways to find you and follow you online? How do you want people to find you?

Tracie May: 

It’s all about the gram, right? My Instagram is @_TracieMay_  

Or you can find me as Tracie May on LinkedIn.

My blog is here, but I rarely update it because I never have time.

Ordering Chinese food in NYC? HungryPanda want to Help

Ordering Chinese food in NYC? HungryPanda want to Help

Leveraging their industry-leading delivery services, the HungryPanda app seamlessly connects food, people and culture.

HungryPanda goes further with Asian food culture

The ‘Golden Panda Award’ is a symbol of excellence in the global overseas Chinese food industry, setting the highest standard for culinary achievement.

It stands as the world’s exclusive international honor specifically dedicated to recognizing restaurant businesses in the food delivery sector. This prestigious award embodies commitment to promoting and celebrating outstanding achievements in the realm of international Chinese cuisine.

Kitty Liu from HungryPanda

Kitty Lu from HungryPanda

Joe Winger: 

We are here today with Kitty Lu from HungryPanda. 

Help me get to know HungryPanda.co 

Kitty Lu: 

HungryPanda serves a niche market for Asian communities.  We were established in 2017, founded in the UK when our CEO and the founding team were studying in Nottingham University.

The platform was born from a very simple, but compelling need experienced first hand, by the founders as international students, struggling to find authentic Chinese food in the UK. 

From that outset, HungryPanda started to really focus sharply on that particular niche market, tailoring our user experience with Chinese interfaces to overcome culture and language barriers.

That’s how our app got started.  We are very lucky enough to be growing really fast within the past six years. 

Now we expanded into 10 different countries, including: US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, and Singapore.

Hungry Panda

Joe Winger: 

Different cultures, maybe different ways people use their phones, different apps.

What challenges has HungryPanda faced as you enter the very competitive North America market?

Kitty Lu:

Local regulatory requirements that we need to meet.  Every country, every region has different regulations, and especially with food delivery.  

The U.S. is actually coming out with all the new regulations lately, therefore that’s one of the challenges as well.

Also intense competition from established local and global brands. 

When we entered the North American market, Door Dash, Uber, the giants, had already occupied the mass market.  In the Asian food delivery market, we also have competitors like, Chow Bus and others.

Obviously we were the new brand going to the market. 

Therefore, that’s the main challenge that we faced. But, we were actually quite confident and, lucky enough because we have a very good team structure. All of our team members have experience opening markets in different countries.

So unlike Uber or DoorDash, when they are opening a new market, for example, North American market and Australian market is very different. People have different consumer behavior. But for us the good thing is, although we are in different countries, we are serving the same type of people, which is the  overseas Asian customers, therefore the consumer behavior is rather similar.

Although we have the challenge, it’s easier for us to actually dive in and then adapt in a rapid rhythm.

HungryPanda

HungryPanda

Joe Winger:

Is North America the toughest audience when it comes to regulations?

Kitty Lu: 

With regulations, we’re talking more towards the drivers, how do we protect them?

Obviously there are minimum standards. Because what we call the “gig economy” is still considered a new industry, no matter what part of the world.  

North America, Australia, the UK, all the countries are coming out with new regulations to actually protect this particular industry.

We are all at the same stage, growing from a new industry to a more mature industry.

Joe Winger: 

Your company released a food trends report from 2023.  What’s the biggest takeaway? 

Kitty Lu: 

Consumer interest in the authenticity and quality in food.  

When you talk about Chinese food in North America or  the UK, the first thing you think of is actually Cantonese food because [it] arrived first.

Now we can see all the hot Sichuan hot pots and malatang, all these are more modern and, trendy or more northern cuisine start to really get in the picture. popularity. 

This is something that’s blowing our mind as well.

It’s a strong signal to the food industry to really focus on the authenticity, offering high quality ingredients. This is something I think is actually quite interesting.

Joe Winger: 

Talking about trends, anything was surprising?

Kitty Lu: 

The most popular category is definitely Boba tea.  Now, as.

As we can see the hot pot, stuff actually, coming on top of, all this fried chicken, bubble tea and stuff. That suggests our local consumers start to really adapt into a more authentic flavor Chinese food instead of people always ordering honey chicken, spring side pork. 

They learn to really understand, oh, that’s you know, Chinese people eat in China, they really start to learn and understand and admire about the spice actually in the food.

This is something actually I find quite interesting.

Joe Winger: 

That’s really a big change. 

Based on your 2023 report, any predictions for 2024?

Kitty Lu: 

The rise in the family demands, so AOV ( average order value) keeps growing. Food delivery is not growing accommodating only for one person, two person, but it’s starting to expand, for more towards a family’s demands. 

We can anticipate the age group that actually accepting or keep using the food delivery services actually start to grow and expand as well. 

Also predicting new services for delivery companies. We can actually see the trend that many people start to order.

Pick up orders from the app and you can go straight to the restaurant to pick it up without waiting.  It’s helps you jump the queue.

When you order a pickup it’s actually cheaper than ordering at the shop itself.

Therefore, this is actually one of the trends that we can see. It’s actually start to grow.

Joe Winger: 

How do your users want the experience to go for them?

Kitty Lu:

During the pandemic, everything had to be contactless. Therefore the pickup feature was actually created during that period and blossomed afterwards.

Joe Winger: 

Now you just mentioned the pandemic. Your company learned a lot from that experience, like how much packaging matters. 

Can you talk a little bit more about what you learned about packaging?

Kitty Lu: 

First thing we need to discuss is the difference between Asian food and Western food. 

When it comes to Chinese food, generally it’s very heavy on sauces. Therefore, restaurants have to elevate the packaging standards to ensure the food quality can remain consistent.

When you order Chinese food, you expect it to still be hot, to have the best of flavor. Iit often [comes] with soup and if the packaging is not good, it actually leaks. 

That has always been a challenge that Asian food delivery faces.

China created a new trend with laminate packaging to make sure all the packaging is sealed and kept warm. That helped the whole industry globally to maintain higher standards.

Joe Winger: 

There’s nothing worse than when you get the package to your house and it’s broken,  ripped, it’s spilled.

The superior packaging isn’t about looking pretty necessarily. It’s about keeping your food secure.

Kitty Lu: 

That’s right.  Another thing we have to consider is [being] environmental friendly.

The Chinese food industry has been blamed for using too much plastic to begin with. Therefore, the new packaging uses aluminum.

Joe Winger: 

So your HungryPanda app itself has a lot of features. Can you let’s talk through some of the most popular features?

Kitty Lu: 

Comparing with other apps, one thing we find quite convenient is that on the front page we have a very full restaurant list with tabs: by distance, by popularity, by discounts, by reviews, by delivery times. So it’s very easy for you to access. 

Other apps  have the categories but limited restaurants. 

Joe Winger: 

What’s the best way for an Asian restaurant to make the most of this opportunity of this new food trend?

Kitty Lu:

I think In the age of technology leveraging online platforms for visibility, working with a food delivery platform is definitely one of the ways to help them really engage with consumers.

When we talk about foodies, they are young, they’re always on social media. They’re always online. Therefore, promoting yourself in front of them is very important. 

We use our channels to really promote different restaurants to help them to expand their reach within their comfort zone.

Joe Winger: 

What’s your favorite food? What would you order on your app?

Kitty Lu: 

My favorite food is [the same as] the trend report.  Sichuan malatang.

So that shows the report’s authenticity.  The audience like the food like a real Chinese person.

The reason why I like the malatang is because not only is it delicious, but it’s actually quite healthy as well.

It’s a hot spicy soup, but you put in fresh vegetables, fresh meat, it’s like you’re cooking your own hot pot

And it’s a very balanced and nutritious meal. Flavorful when you put all these different ingredients into one pot of soup. Brings you more flavors and it’s very fast [to make].

Joe Winger: 

What is HungryPanda’s user coverage look like?

Kitty Lu: 

We have about 30 cities covered in the U. S. Obviously, New York, L.A., all major cities itself. I would be more than happy to provide you with the full on city list. We’re in Canada as well and just over 80 cities all around the globe.

Joe Winger: 

For the audience who’s watching and listening right now, what’s the best next step? How can they enjoy this app? 

Kitty Lu: 

If they haven’t downloaded it yet, give it a try.

For new users, we actually have new user vouchers available for them to have a few free deliveries. 

You can order to deliver, you can order to pick up it’s very convenient to use, very simple.  Obviously we have a much wider supply for Asian food.

Therefore, if you are a Asian food lover, you should have HungryPanda on your phone.

 

NYC Foodies Head to Colorado: Winemaker Ben Parsons from The Ordinary Fellow reveals Wine, Food and Nature in Palisade CO

NYC Foodies Head to Colorado: Winemaker Ben Parsons from The Ordinary Fellow reveals wine, food and nature

Ben Parsons, Winemaker and Owner of The Ordinary Fellow in Palisade, Colorado

Ben Parsons, Winemaker and Owner of The Ordinary Fellow in Palisade, Colorado

Today’s conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  For the full, un-edited conversation, visit our YouTube channel here

Joe Winger: 

Just to touch on background a little bit, you were the winemaker and founder of a very successful urban winery, the Infinite Monkey Theorem

Then you chose to move on to where you are now at The Ordinary Fellow

What was that transition like for you?

Ben Parsons: 

The Infinite Monkey Theorem was really about disrupting the wine industry and trying to make wine fun and relevant and accessible. 

We were the first ones in the U.S. to put wine in the can. We started kegging in 2008. 

It was really about creating these urban winery spaces, just a tap room for a craft brewery in a city where everyone could come down and enjoy. 

After 11 years of taking that to a 100,000 case production distributed in 42 states, there was a really good opportunity for me to get back to what I wanted to do, which is being in a vineyard.

Even though that might sound like a cliche, there is something quite romantic about farming and being surrounded by nature and really trying to make the very best wine you can from Colorado fruit that you grow and putting it in a bottle versus buying someone else’s wine and putting it in a can, they’re like two very different things.

I had an opportunity to take over a vineyard in southwest Colorado down in the Four Corners just outside of Cortez, where the Four Corners meet. 

It was in disrepair and hadn’t been pruned in four years. So I got back in there and now it’s looking really good.

So that’s taken 4 years.  Yeah it’s relatively small. It’s 13 acres of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Sits at 6,000 feet elevation. So very high for a commercial vineyard. And it’s beautiful. 

It sits on a national monument called the Yucca House, which is an un-excavated ancestral Pueblan ruin from between the 10th and 12th century.

Starts at Mesa Verde, which most people are familiar with for the ancestral cliff dwellings from the Pueblans down there. It’s just a beautiful location. 

Yeah, two very different things, but kind of coming full circle almost as to what I got me into the industry in the beginning, back in the late 90s.

And now back there, but doing it on my own.

 

Palisade Colorado Winemaker Ben Parsons takes a Vineyard Tour

 

Joe Winger: 

Your famous quote in the wine world: “I miss being in the vineyard”

So for our audience, who’s going to go to wine country this weekend or this summer, when they take a vineyard tour, what should they be looking at?

Ben Parsons: 

As to how wine gets from a vineyard and a grape to a bottle. Most people think it just ends up on a grocery store shelf and that is not the case.

It’s really the idea that you could grow something from rootstock, farm it, suffer the vagaries of agricultural production, deal with all of those challenges,  do it in a sustainable way. 

Ben Parsons, Winemaker and Owner of The Ordinary Fellow in Palisade, Colorado

Ben Parsons, Winemaker and Owner of The Ordinary Fellow in Palisade, Colorado

Determine when you’re going to pick that fruit. Take it into the winery. Ferment it. Turn it into wine. Age it in a barrel. Bottle it. Decide on the branding. Decide on the naming. Come up with a label design. 

Take it to all of those small awesome restaurants that everyone wants to hang out at because they’re making great food and getting good press.

You see my wine or I see my wine on someone else’s table, drinking it and to think where that came from.

And how many times those grapes got moved from a to b and then back, from b to c and then c to d whether it be like shoveling grapes with a pitchfork for a destemmer. 

Or shoveling fermented grapes into a press with a Home Depot bucket.

Or picking that case up and taking it from here to here, that got handled so many times, so much went into that, that I think there’s a huge disconnect amongst most consumers. 

Palisade Colorado Winemaker Ben Parsons on the Area’s Natural Beauty

Joe Winger: 

You chose to be in Palisade, Colorado making your wine. 

Tell us a little bit about the region and why someone should come visit you in Colorado?

Ben Parsons: 

Palisade is beautiful. It’s on the Western slope of Colorado. It’s about a 4 hour drive West of Denver over the mountains.

About 4 1/2 hours East of Salt Lake City. 

It’s an American Viticultural Area designate called the Grand Valley and it’s pretty stunning. 

You come through this Canyon called the Back Canyon on the North side, you have these book cliff mountains that  rise above you on the South side, you have the Colorado River, and it’s a very niche microclimate. It’s definitely an agricultural community.

What a lot of people don’t realize, because they just drive straight past on I-70 is it’s proximity to all things good, outdoorsy. 

Within 28 minutes I could be at a local ski resort called Powderhorn. It got 32 feet of snow last year 

I’m an hour and a half from Aspen.

I’m an hour and 20 minutes from Moab. 

I’m a 10 minute drive from Fruita, which has the best mountain biking in the world. 

It’s all old Indian territory. There’s wild mustangs up on the book cliffs. 

It’s known for its fruit. It’s actually known for its peaches, believe it or not.  Some of the best peaches grown anywhere in the United States. Arguably the best. 

But it’s a very small microclimate. 

Palisade is around 4,500 feet elevation. There’s about 26 wineries you can tour and visit. Take a few days, spend a weekend. 

There’s some good local restaurants, growing their own produce and making real good farm to table food.

Grand Junction is a city that in the last 5 years has really exploded. 

And Grand Junction is 10 minutes from Palisade. It went through a series of boom and busts during the oil shale boom business back in the day, but now it’s strongly focused on tourism.

Lots of people are leaving the front range of Denver, Colorado Springs and  moving to the Western slope for a kind of quality of life.

Also we have a lot of California transplants because it is cheaper to live. You are outdoors all the time. You can travel long distances very quickly.  I put 42,000 miles on my car this year delivering wine all over the state of Colorado. 

I feel like the state and this particular area has a lot going for it.  Definitely more than enough to fill a long weekend or a week’s trip. 

Exploring vineyards, food, farms, outdoor opportunities. 

Taking a trip to Moab, it’s really pretty. It’s one of the reasons I moved here. 

I’d been in the city for a long time. I grew up just South of London in England, but I lived in London for some time and I loved it when I was young.  I love Denver as well.

When I started the Infinite Monkey Theorem, that was really when a lot of people were moving to Denver and it was becoming something substantial. 

It was one of the fastest growing cities in the country at that time. 

I feel like we were a big part of pushing that growth and in tandem with the other food and beverage scene, like craft breweries and good restaurants.

Joe Winger: 

You’ve mentioned different restaurants and food and dinner.  Our audience primarily are foodies.   We’re in Colorado for a wine weekend, we come to the Ordinary Fellow for a wine tasting.

Can you suggest a few places and different cuisines that are a must visit within 20-30 minutes of you?

Ben Parsons: 

In Palisade there’s a good restaurant called Pesh. One of the former line cooks at a linear in Chicago started it with his wife, maybe 5-6 years ago. It’s excellent. 

In Grand Junction, where most people stay there’s a few good restaurants started by this guy, Josh Nirenberg, who has been nominated for James Beard award several times for best chef and has one called Bin 707,  Then he just opened a third called Jojo’s. He also has a kind of trendy taco spot called Taco Party, which is a fun name. 

If you like craft cocktails, there’s a new place that opened called Melrose Spirit Company. Guy opened it in a hotel that was recently renovated. Really cute, really excellent cocktails.

Joe Winger: 

Let’s get into the wine geek stuff now and talk about your vineyards. You have Colorado Box Bar, Hawks Nest.

So let’s talk through terroir, soil type, elevation. 

Ben Parsons: 

So Box Bar, It’s in Cortez, sits around between 6,000 feet elevation.

It’s on this weatheral loam that has some clay in it, which has these water retention properties. It is essentially a desert. So you do have to drip irrigate, there’s less than 7 inches of precipitation a year. 

So very little rainfall which is good in some ways in that there is very little disease pressure.

You’re not having to spray. There’s no necessity to spray for powdery mildew or anything down at our vineyards. 

It’s essentially farmed very minimalistically. 

Lagging very sustainably, which I know people appreciate. 

Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay. We’re just planting some Chenin Blanc and some Charbonneau, which is an italian red varietal as well. 

Hawk’s Nest is not my own property, but I work with a grower called Guy Drew who planted four different kinds of Pinot Noir and two different kinds of Chardonnay there.

That vineyard is at 6, 800 feet and that is the highest commercial vineyard in North America. 

Similar soil properties as the Box Bar. Making some really good Pinot Noir. 

I think what’s interesting about Colorado is we have a very short growing season, 155 – 165 days.  Napa has 240 days. That’s frost free days. 

So the thing is that we have such high sunlight exposure because of the elevation and the ultraviolet light that we have the same number of degree days as Napa Valley. So we can ripen like Cabernet Sauvignon, but we’re ripening it in a shorter period of time.  That’s fairly unique. 

The Ordinary Fellow is really focusing on traditional French varietals from Chenin Blanc Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah.

Most recently we took over a vineyard in Utah so I’m actually farming a vineyard about 1 ½ hour drive from Moab called Montezuma Canyon Ranch. 

That’s this ancient sandstone with a little bit of clay in there that was planted in 2007. 12 acres of Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Riesling Chardonnay.  We made an awesome Utah Rosé vineyard last harvest 2023, which we just released. 

You don’t see that many wines from Utah so that’s why I’m excited about it. 

I think there’s only 6 wineries in Utah and I’m not sure that many of them get their fruit from Utah.

Joe Winger: 

You mentioned that you have one of the highest peak elevation commercial vineyards in North America.

What are the benefits and the disadvantages to such a high elevation?

Ben Parsons: 

If you think about spending any time on a mountain, it can be really warm, but as soon as the sun goes down, it gets very cold. 

So having high elevation vineyards, even though you might be in a quite a hot growing region as soon as the sun goes down, the temperature does drop.

You have a large diurnal temperature shift. 

So in Cortez, in the growth, during the growing season or during ripening, say late September, mid September, late September. We could be 85 to 90 in the day, but 45 to 50 at night, which is a really big temperature swing. 

It basically means that the vine has a kind of chance to just shut down and rest.

From an enology perspective, you can retain more natural acidity in the fruit because it’s not being metabolized by having a lot of sunlight constantly and higher temperature. So we don’t have to make any artificial acid additions or anything like that you may have to do in more established wine regions in the United States. 

Our wines all have really great balance to them and really good acidity. None of them are overdone. They’re not big, jammy, overly alcoholic. 

They’re all well balanced between acids, tannin, alcohol, sugar, but they’re all bone dry. 

There is no fermentable sugar in any of them, which leads to palate weight and mouthfeel, but but they’re not sweet per se. 

Even my Riesling is bone dry.

Joe Winger: 

During the Infinite Monkey Theorem days you led the canned wines movement.  

How does it feel seeing it become so incredibly popular and any big lessons you learned from that experience?

Ben Parsons: 

I genuinely believe that [we led with canned wines].  In 2009 we entered into a R and D project with Ball Corporation, the largest supply of aluminum cans in the world. 

To figure out how to can wine and everyone thought it was stupid and everyone just turned their noses up at it and thought that RTD wine and RTD drinks were stupid.

It’s a tough question because I think that canned wine is good because of its use application, primarily.  Where you can take it and where you can drink it. 

Now, very rarely do I see people putting the best wine they’ve ever made in a can. So I think it’s all about where you want to drink it, who you want to drink it with.  There’s definitely this kind of utility aspect to it. 

Also price point wise, you don’t see that many canned wine, four packs above $16,

I would say so. Yeah, price wise, it’s fairly economical from a sustainability perspective. It makes a lot of sense.

But from an absolute quality perspective, you’re probably still going to be buying bottled wine over canned wine. 

It’s all about where you’re going to consume it. 

Sometimes when I see it I think about when you start any category, there’s always those people that are out there doing it way before anyone else is doing it.  It’s those people that usually don’t reap the benefits of it because they put all of the effort into it. 

I look at LinkedIn occasionally and I’m just baffled by people that think that it’s a new thing.  It just blows my mind. 

Joe Winger: 

You have an excellent sparkling wine and you’ve mentioned England’s excitement about the sparkling. 

Why is England falling in love with sparkling wine? And why should all of us be falling in love with sparkling wine?

Ben Parsons: 

Historically, England has consumed a lot of sparkling wine. 

But in terms of actually growing grapes and making their own sparkling wine, that’s happened in the last 20 years. 

That’s one of those unfortunate advantages of global warming in a kind of isolated geographical area that previously, you wouldn’t have been able to ripen Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier.

It would have been a challenge making really good sparkling wine in Kent and Sussex and Southeast England where a lot of it is made. 

But with a few degrees temperature rise, that’s now possible. And it’s the same chalk escarpment as champagne. They’re very close to each other.

They’re just separated by 24 miles of the English Channel, right? 

So they’re actually geographically very close to each other a little further than 24 miles, but climatically very similar. 

So actually, a lot of French champagne houses have bought up land in Kent and Sussex over the last 20 years and have been planting that, and now some of the bubbles are coming out.

Joe Winger: 

When I have an opportunity to speak with an Oregon winemaker, we often talk about the challenges based on their region. Do you feel like you are also in a region [Colorado] that’s more problematic?

Can you share a lesson you’ve learned from solving some of those problems?

Ben Parsons: 

The whole industry because of the shortness of the growing season, it’s always on a knife edge because you can have late spring frosts that can come through a bud break and just wipe you out.

But you can also have these freak-like early winter freezes in October where there’s there’s still fruit hanging or maybe it’s just come off and it goes from 70 degrees in the day to 8 degrees suddenly, and the sap still flowing in the vines and then all of the vines, the trunks split, the cordon split.

That’s what happened in Palisade maybe 3 or 4 years ago now. 

Then in Cortez where Box Bar is, last year we had a hailstorm come through just after the bud break. So our Chardonnay was out and got wiped out. Then the secondary buds pushed and we went from a crop of 36 tons to 10 tons overnight.

That’s just agriculture anywhere. Unfortunately that’s just one of the risks.

Joe Winger: 

Let’s talk about wine. Their flavor profiles. The different bottles you offer.

When we come visit your tasting room in Palisade, Colorado any hints about what they should be excited to taste?

Ben Parsons: 

 

Blanc de Noir

Yeah the sparkling wine, that’s Blanc de Noir, so that’s 100% Pinot Noir. That’s about as geeky as it gets, because that’s single vineyard, single grower, single clone of Pinot Noir. only 8 months in barrel.  The base wine was barrel aged for about 6 months, and then it was entourage, lying on its utilise in a bottle for six months.

Then it’s put on a riddling rack and hand riddled one bottle at a time. Then disgorged by hand, just take the top off, put your thumb over the top of it so nothing comes out and then no dosage.

So again, just super geeky, like really bone dry, like really crisp, great acid. So that is that wine is super hands on.

It’s delicious. It still gets those more developed, brioche-y notes. Texturally it’s very pleasing on the palate. I think we make really good method champignons, bottle fermented sparkling wine. 

 

Chardonnay

A lot of people these days think it’s trendy to not like chardonnay, because they heard somewhere about that, but there are actually some really good Chardonnays out there, which aren’t all aged in new French oak and haven’t all gone through like a creamy buttery secondary fermentation. And I think mine is one of them. It was aged in 8 year old barrels.  So there’s really no influence on it at all. 

It’s all hand harvested or whole cluster pressed. I think that wine has a really pretty texture, like this palette coating texture but it has really good acidity and it smells like a ripe peach or a dried apricot. It’s really pretty.

Pinot Noir

Our red pinot noir.  Again that spent just 9 months in neutral barrels so I think there was a trend like 20 years ago to put everything in a brand new barrel and every winemakers thought it was cool, but you know in the last 5 – 6 years, I think that has changed 

Winemakers are really trying to let the soil and let their vineyards speak for themselves.

Minimal kind of intervention to a certain extent. It is the trend.

Our Pinot Noir has done really well. It’s on the much lighter side. I would say it’s more like a German style Pinot Noir, like lighter with really good acidity, firm tannin. Beautiful aroma.

I think all of our wines are just very well balanced. Very food friendly, very clean. They’re not funky. I’m very proud of that.

Joe Winger: 

I’m assuming balance and the clean is a style choice by you? 

Ben Parsons: 

Balance is easy because it’s done in the vineyard because of the elevation and the retention of acidity.  It’s just about when you pick it. So you’re tasting [the grapes] for flavor and like phenolic ripeness and the seeds being brown, et cetera, but you’re also testing a few for your pH, your titratable acidity and your sugar levels. Then you make an informed decision as to when you’re picking it. 

The cleanliness part of it really just comes down to the fact that I feel like winemakers, even though this doesn’t sound very romantic, you’re almost just like an insurance manager in that you don’t want to mess it up.

So you make informed decisions, preemptively.  You top your barrels, like every 2-3 weeks, you do things to make sure the wine, does not end up flawed  through a secondary characteristic developing.   

Sometimes that’s a flavor enhancer and sometimes that’s good, but when it’s overdone…  I believe there are a lot of wines that they get away with it these days.  To me it’s just bad winemaking.

I’m definitely kind of a minimal interventionist 

Joe Winger: 

I always feel like white wine doesn’t get enough love and respect. People love talking about the complexities of reds.  You make a phenomenal Riesling

Ben Parsons: 

Interestingly I really don’t drink red wine anymore. Occasionally I’ll drink some Pinot Noir, but I much prefer drinking white wines. I think a lot of people in the industry crave acidity, and yeah, my reasoning is a good example.

The general consumer in the U. S. still thinks that all raisins are sweet. I think that’s just a common misconception, that’s purely a stylistic choice from the winemaker, and my choice is to allow the yeast to ferment all of the sugar until there is no residual sugar.

To have a wine with high natural acidity that pairs well with food. That’s my choice as a winemaker. Those are the wines that I enjoy most that kind of just leave your palate just like this rasping acidity. Take the enamel off your teeth, and but have beautiful aroma.

Our Riesling is starting to show some characteristics from being in the bottle for 18 months. Where it gets those kind of, it’s tough to say about making it sound bad, but those more kerosene-y , kind of petroleum, kind of eraser like notes, which are very typical of Riesling, intertwined with really nice citrus and green apple.

Yeah, and like really just good structure. That benefits from growing at elevation here for sure.

Joe Winger: 

Petit Verdot is probably lesser known, less popular, but it deserves all the love anyway. 

Ben Parsons: 

Petit Verdot, interesting, like one of the six red Bordeaux grape varieties. Bordeaux is maritime climate. It’s much cooler than Colorado.

It doesn’t really get the chance to ripen as well as it does here. So when it can ripen, it doesn’t just need to get blended into Cabernet Sauvignon or something to just give it more tannin and more structure. 

Here it can stand alone as a single varietal. 

The greenness is gone. The tannin is not like just rip your face off tannin.  It’s well developed. Like silky, velvety, firm, but not like really dry and like Petit Verdot can be.  Aromatics are very lifted on it, and it’s not a massive red wine by any means.

That’s grown at a vineyard about half an hour from Box Bar called Canyon of the Ancients and that vineyard was planted in 2006.

Unfortunately we only made about 99 cases of that wine. It’s fun to introduce people to wines that they probably haven’t heard of, but wines that that can stand up to any good red wines that you may have heard of.

Palisade Colorado Winemaker Ben Parsons reveals his Favorite Food

Joe Winger: 

Do you identify yourself as a foodie?   Can you pick 1-2 of your bottles and your favorite dish for dinner tonight?

Ben Parsons: 

Yeah I would definitely pair my Riesling with a Thai curry or even a panang curry. I think it does really well with oriental food that has some level of heat to it. But also I think it does really well with a charcuterie plate, some almonds and some cheese. I think you can’t go wrong with that. 

Then my Petit Verdot, for example I think there is more tannin in there.  For those of us that like the light grilling you couldn’t go wrong with serving that with a ribeye. It’s delicious.  Or if you’re cooking a little heartier food in the winter, maybe a lasagna.  Something that can really work with that tannin.

I think my wines do well with a lot of different food just because of the balance that they have, they’re not going to overpower the food and vice versa, which is what it’s all about. 

But I also enjoy them, just having a glass on its own, to be honest.  When I get home from work, sometimes I love that.

Joe Winger: 

I’m watching your Instagram videos quite a bit, and it seems like you’re having a lot of fun sharing knowledge, showing your vineyard, showing what it’s like day to day.

Ben Parsons: 

The one time that I do enjoy social media is when you’re in the vineyard or you’re doing something that seems that other people might never have seen before.

I’m in awe of where I am because I feel like it comes across in those videos. It’s pretty down here today, and those are beautiful vineyard sites.

Or if you’re filtering a wine or racking a wine or, trying or shoveling grapes.

Just the imagery comes across and really shows how much work is involved in it. I always struggle when it’s like go take a photo of a bottle of wine in front of a restaurant.  I don’t know how you make that look cool.

Find more about Ben Parson’s The Ordinary Fellow website, instagram

More about Palisade, CO

 

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