"I've got junkies sleeping outside my door," Ben Parsons says, warning me to lock my car when I visit the Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. "There are needles around here all the time."
Hmmm...sounds like a perfect place to make wine, I think. But as it turns out, it is. Because Parsons not only likes making wine, he likes making order out of chaos.
"What I'm trying to do," he explains as we walk into the building's "courtyard" -- which is currently full of cracked pavement, composted grape leaves and old cars -- "is create an urban winery based around the community. A place where people can go and hang out...It's why we located in the Santa Fe Arts District. I eventually see this space as a community restaurant, wine bar, nightclub and winery."
His goals are lofty, and the project massive. He wants to turn the space into an area full of tables and fire pits, and put more of the same on a rooftop patio.The grape leaves will be composted, and the result perhaps bagged and given to patrons when they purchase bottles of wine. And the rusted-out Dodge truck with the trailer? That was the vehicle Parsons used to travel more than 25,000 miles this past summer, from the Napa Valley in California to Eugene, Oregon and Walla Walla, Washingon, all in an effort to find used equipment for the winery he was creating in central Denver, right on Fifth Avenue off Santa Fe.
"I want to put a kitchen in the front building," he continues. "My goal is to get chefs over who don't have their own gig, like sous chefs or line cooks, and have them cook. It'll just be their show that night and we can serve IMT wine: a collaboration of good food and good wine to help out with the community."
Parsons grew up in the United Kingdom and began working for a wine merchant when he was 21. In 1999 he got a harvest job with a winery in New Zealand, and he then won a scholarship to Adelaide University, where he graduated at the top of his class with a degree in oenology.
He soon found himself in Palisade, Colorado, working for Canyon Wind Cellars as a winemaker. In 2004, he turned Sutcliffe Vineyards from a modest, 400-case winery into a nationally respected, 4000-case winery. So Parsons was making it in a traditional way in the wine world when tragedy made him rethink his approach.
"In 2007, my father died of colon cancer. We had wanted to open our own winery for a while. So I bought this Quonset hut," he says, gesturing toward the towering half-cylinder sitting next us, "and started making bi-weekly trips to the Western Slope to try fruit and to bring it back up here. What I try to do as a winemaker is find the best grapes no matter where they're from. It just so happens that 95 percent are from Colorado."
He opens the door, and finally I see something that looks wine-related: vats and pallets and barrels of wine fill the insulated hut. Parsons shows me how he individually labels and corks each bottle, and displays his non-automated filling device.
We talk about the different types of barrels, and the differing varietals in those barrels. And then we talk about more big plans.
"Well, we're going to call this the 'wine lab.' You'll be able to come in here and taste wines out of the barrel," he explains. "You'll be able to compare barrels, like trying a Malbec from four different barrels. I think we'll put in a long bar and then set up projectors and show slow motion kung-fu movies on the wall."
From there, we jump into wine-world stereotypes, and precisely what he's trying to avoid. Parsons isn't trying to disrespect his industry, he says; he's just trying to make it accessible. As he talks, he keeps emphasizing his disdain for pretentious wineries and elitist winemakers.
It's clear that he is a man on a mission, which is this: He wants wine to become drinkable. And even if you don't know the precise terroir, or recognize the distinctively robust blackberry tones lingering on your tongue, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't care. Because Parsons cares about the same thing you should care about: Does the wine taste good?
Area restaurants think so. So far, Parsons has placed his product in restaurants ranging from Elway's to Fruition, Mizuna, Solera and Opus. Wine stores such as Little Raven Vineyards, MondoVino and Wines Off Wynkoop are carrying his wines as well.
So we have a unique winemaker making unique wine in a very unique location. But that doesn't explain the name.
The infinite monkey theorem revolves around the idea that if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room with an infinite number of computers, and you give them an infinite amount of time, then they will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Which, in many ways, makes the Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery a perfect name for what he is trying to do. Parsons wants to create something elegant and beautiful, in the most relaxed way, in an area that's a little more Harlem than Bordeaux.
And he's doing it with more than monkeys; he's got some mad-scientist stuff going on as well, as evidenced in his labels and descriptions that fuse a certain winecentric mindset with approachability. Take this description of his 2008 Syrah, coming out this August: "Packed and focused, vivid, juicy and concentrated, with blackberry and wild berry fruit providing the centerpiece to this complex full-bodied beauty. Seamless, with tobacco, coffee, mocha, licorice and tar. Fine, soft tannins that give a light pull on the long, long finish. This wine is money!"
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The back of the wine label is stunning, disorienting and as far from pretentious as you can get. It also states Parsons' intention of donating one dollar from every bottle towards cancer research in honor of his father.
"IMT represents a counterculture in winemaking: no vineyard, no pretense and only the best grapes," he concludes. Just making order from chaos -- and making very good wine at the Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery is located at 931 West Fifth Avenue. Parsons is only open by appointment for now, but he'll offer private tastings if you arrange them in advance by calling 970- 260-0710.