Yesterday afternoon, just hours before Ben Parsons would unveil his new wine lab, part of the 30,000 square-foot plot he leased last year in RiNo that's now the quarters of the Infinite Monkey Theorem manufacturing facility and tasting/taproom (Parsons refers to it as a wine lab), the British-born winemaker was donning black galoshes, climbing on top of barrels and peering downward into huge vats, one with pear cider, the other a ruby rosé.
Parsons, who relocated to the behemoth space in June of this year, following four years in an 1,800 square-foot converted Quonset hut located in the Santa Fe Arts District, was gearing up for last night's soft opening of the wine lab, which may very well be the most unpretentious tasting room that you've ever seen, especially if you hang out in Napa or Sonoma, or, for that matter, Palisades, where the fancy tasting rooms -- and the staffs that run them -- sometimes come off as showy and hollow.
The wine lab, overseen by Brandon Bortles, the former GM of Zengo, is not that kind of tasting room. "We wanted to do something urban and gritty," says Parsons, whose original blueprints didn't include a tasting room at all. "We had originally wanted to sublet the space -- we weren't sure we were ready to pull off a tasting room -- but the more we thought about it, the more it seemed like we should do it and just see what happens," he adds. The fact that dwellers in the RiNo neighborhood were often wandering inside to inquire if they could taste Parsons's wines, only made the decision easier.
The tasting room, which pours only IMT wines, available by the glass, bottle or can, along with a filtered pear cider that Parsons served for the first time last night, is stylishly immodest, strewn with retro sofas and chairs, cement floors inked with orange triangles and abstract swishes and swirls and hand-crafted wooden tables constructed with reclaimed timber, including draft tables with glass centers illuminated by the glow of the light below that passes through. There's a weathered wooden community table that seats twenty, an old vending machine tricked-out with the metallic IMT logo and IMT wine bottles, recreated as lights, that dangle from the ceiling.
"We've designed a community-focused wine lab for people to come in, hang out with friends and chill out with a glass of wine, or two, and and while we're happy to educate people about our wines if that's what they want, we're not going to force it down their throats," says Parsons, who also adds that he now has the ability to pull out unfinished wines from his manufacturing plant and serve them to guests. "One of the really cool things that we can do is serve wine in various stages, and let people taste them side by side, and, if they want, to even blend them to see what they like. It's a unique experience."
And in the coming years, Parsons intends to produce, bottle and sell a lot of grape juice. His new facility, he says, will allow him to increase production to 25,000 cases a year of his bottled wines, a significant increase from the 8,000 cases he was able to produce at the former hut, and while he says that he'd "like to maximize sales in Colorado, he also has brokers in California and Arizona, and his wines in the can, which have proven to be incredibly popular, are generating interest in countries as far away as China. He reveals, too, that he's targeting airlines, music venues and sports arenas for can distribution. "We definitely want to increase distribution of our canned wines. That's were I see our real growth," he adds.
But there's no shortage of interest in his bottled wines, one of which, the Hundredth Monkey 2010, a blend of Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, just received a score of 89 in this month's Wine Spectator, which describes it as "juicy and forward, showing range and depth, with a mix of dark bramble, loganberry, raspberry and spiced plum notes. Flashes of charcoal and anise show on the finish, which stays polished overall." It's the first -- and only -- Colorado wine to generate that score. Four other IMT wines were also given shout-outs, ranging in score from 85 to 88. "They review hundreds of thousands of wines, and something like only five percent actually get reviewed in the magazine, so it's a big deal and pretty damn cool," says Parsons.
And all of those wines are available for purchase in the wine lab, which is open Tuesday through Thursday, from 4 to 8 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday, from 4 to 10 p.m., and while there's no kitchen in the wine lab, Parsons and his crew have partnered with Caveman Cafeteria, a food truck that focuses on dishes that are part of the Paleo diet, to dole out sustenance on certain nights. And on First Fridays, Kelly Whitaker, owner and exec chef of Pizzeria Basta, in Boulder, will toss pizzas.
Parsons also has a large outdoor garden plot, which will grow vegetables for Old Major, Justin Brunson's forthcoming restaurant in Highland. In addition, he's leasing a small part of his facility to Tender Belly, the Denver-based pork company owned by brothers Shannon and Erik Duffy, whose humanely raised, cage-free hogs, free of hormones, are procured from an Iowa farm. And there's talk, says Parsons, of adding another refrigerated vending machine in the tasting room that dispenses packages of the brother's thick-cut bacon.
For now, however, the tasting room is all about wine and community, and you can see what Parsons and his staff have accomplished in the photo gallery on the following pages.
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