Sun Biz: Powderhorn, winery promote dinner as Color Sunday event

Wines from the Stoney Mesa Winery stand ready for the wine pairing dinner at the Inn at Wildwood at the Powderhorn Resort.

POWDERHORN RESORT CULINARY DIRECTOR Gill Saunders works on a tuna carpiccio, blackberry reduction wasabi with a drunken oyster shooter. It’s part of a wine pairing dinner at the Inn at Wildewood Restaurant at Powderhorn Resort.

Stoney Mesa winemaker Bret Neal wasn’t looking for a dinner to host for this year’s Colorado Mountain
WineFest. He wanted to bring in diners for a different annual event.

In fact, he wanted to stay as far away as possible from the hustle and bustle of WineFest, which was once a small affair but quickly turned political-scale, he said. He’d been on hiatus from being part of WineFest for at least a few years, he said.

“This just evolved, and I’m really glad it did,” Neal said as he poured a glass of the vineyard’s pinot gris at the Inn at Wildewood Restaurant on Thursday, surrounded by Powderhorn Ski Resort’s scenic mountain landscapes readily viewed through the inn’s sprawling windows. “It’s not activity tied to the wine festival. It’s tied to Color Sunday.”

Neal teamed with Powderhorn Resort’s new chef team of Gill and Donna Saunders to create a menu for something more serene and off the beaten path from the weekend of high tourist traffic to come. The event will be held on Sept. 21 and will host about 35 diners. The team sampled the menu with a handful of staff members from Powderhorn to get suggestions and wine food input for the dinner planned a week from today.

The wine dinner is an opportunity for Powderhorn to capitalize on introducing the new chef team and driving more business up to the Mesa area.

“It’s a chance to expose our chefs,” said Dorothy Crowe, business services officer for Powderhorn Resort.

“Because it’s a destination restaurant, we want to offer something upper scale to make it worth the drive. We wanted to offer a culinary experience, which is what wine people tend to enjoy. With our colors up here being rated in the top 10 in the state and with wine activities, we saw this as a chance to bring more people here.

Being up here, it’s a struggle to get that repeat clientele for the restaurants.”

Crowe said it’s the second year Powderhorn has offered a wine dinner during Color Sundays, something she wants to see as more of a regular offering. The resort had its first wine dinner, which sold out, earlier this year.

It will consider hosting another one in February. 

For the Saunders culinary team, the event is their first chance to shine for Powderhorn.

First, there was the wasabi with a “drunken oyster shooter” with vodka and an oyster. The group quickly finished that off with the appetizer pairing of tuna capriccio.

When it comes to wine and dinner pairing, the deadlines of a business event have to yield to a more drawn-out process of creativity. And it did.

“We worked on it on and off for a month,” Gill Saunders said. “I would say we probably spent three to four days a week.”

Then there was the sporadic exchange of ideas between Gill and his wife, Donna, whom he credits for many of the twists and turns the menu takes.

“She would say, ‘What about the sauce,’ once in awhile. Or, ‘Let’s talk about a soup course.’ Together we wrote the menu. You explore a lot of different avenues that way. So she was very good for me,” he said.

Crowe sampled the appetizer course, which was a tuna capriccio with blackberry garlic reduction and cappings of wasabi sauce, trying it with the winery’s pinot and then with the riesling.

“I like the bounce of the riesling flavor with the berry reduction,” Crowe said.

Neal agreed the heat of the wasabi tied with the sweet of the riesling. He switched his pinot noir and paired it instead with the heirloom tomato and sweet potato soup planned for the menu and made the riesling the introduction with the appetizer.

The three-course crescendo leading to the main entree set up what was a pleasurable highlight for those who tried it, they said. The show stopper of the menu should be, and in this case was, the main entree, said Jake
Hillinger, innkeeper at the Wildewood. The main entree served up was a broiled petite filet of beef with chipotle hollandaise, sauteed baby spinach and mushrooms, spaghetti squash and sun-dried tomatoes paired with the Stoney Mesa’s cabernet sauvignon.

“When you put food with it, it shines,” Neal said of the cabernet. “But alone it’s too big and too full.”

The Saunders are new to Powderhorn, with Gill Saunders as culinary director and Donna as assistant culinary director at Powderhorn Resort, including the Inn at Wildewood, since May.

“I’m smart enough to know after 26 years to know she’s my equal,” he said.

The restaurant has 10 spots open still for its wine pairing. Where the typical five-course meal will average 21 ounces of food, the resort restaurant will serve between 24 and 30 ounces.

“It’s a little high, but when you’re drinking a different wine with every course, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra,” he said.


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