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Volunteers are the essence of Taste of Vail

CREATED: 2006-11-20 10:26 PM


Volunteers are the essence of Taste of Vail

VAIL, Colo. - For all the hype, the great food and wine and the tens of thousands of dollars donated to local charities every year, one aspect of America's premier culinary and wine festival often gets overlooked.

Taste of Vail never would happen without its base of loyal, hard-working volunteers.

Created in 1990 by a group of Vail Valley restaurateurs as a marketing event to showcase the resort's world-class restaurants, Taste of Vail is now organizing its 17th annual festival, April 11-15, 2007. Many members of the original board of directors, volunteers themselves, still donate thousands of hours of their time every year. But they really count on a growing number of Vail Valley locals - about 300 at last count - who donate varying amounts of time just to be part of the event.

"It's a big deal to everyone involved," says Mickey Werner, Taste of Vail's auctions chairman since the beginning. "I've got a core group of about a dozen people who've been with me for years. They all have a great time with it."

Werner, known as the "wine wizard" in local circles for his 28 years in the wine and spirits business, was recently appointed to the board of directors, as well. He says his volunteer staff comprises many food-and-beverage professionals who understand the items on the list of auctions list, as well as how to present them in an appealing way. There's a need for volunteers with other skills, as well, he says, so that auctions - both silent and live - go efficiently, and quickly.

Sheilah Gordon of Edwards, for example, is an escrow officer with First American Title Company. She's worked as a Taste of Vail auctions volunteer, off and on, for 15 years, lending her expertise in the financial and organizational areas.

"Nobody wants to wait long for their item. They bid on it, and they want it right away," says Gordon, who takes care of billing, checkout and follow-up, sometimes even calling to make sure items shipped to their new owners arrive in good condition. "We really have to scramble, but people who come to Vail, to this festival, every year expect great customer service."

That quality of service has helped Taste of Vail raise more than $330,000 for local charities over the years. It's also behind the festival's being ranked as one of the top three arts-and-entertainment events in the United States, in terms of quality, by the 2006 Luxury Brand Status Index events, conducted by the New York-based Luxury Institute (

The Taste of Vail is perhaps the only event of its kind in which the chefs, winemakers and winery owners - and not their marketers or assistants - do the cooking and pouring themselves. Opportunities abound for volunteers, however, at the festival's many events, such as the renowned wine and cooking seminars, the Colorado Lamb Cook-Off, the Après-Ski Tasting, even the Grand Tasting. Volunteers receive tickets to events, as well as complimentary T-shirts, for donating as few as eight hours. No special qualifications are necessary.

"It's just a fun event to be involved with," says Vail's Kevin Foley, co-chairman of Taste of Vail's annual Mountaintop Picnic, who coordinates as many as 50 volunteers for the event, a culinary and wine extravaganza held in on top of Vail Mountain, at 10,350 above sea level.

Every year, a special "snow fort" is constructed for the picnic by Vail Mountain snowcat operators; tents, tables and chairs for the three dozen chefs and five dozen winemakers have to be set up and torn down; and it all has to be transported on the Eagle-Bahn Gondola.

"Most of the volunteers know what to expect, though we never know what to expect with the weather," says Foley, who's been with the festival since the beginning, too. "It's pretty involved, but it gets easier and easier every year. No matter what, when it's all over, there's really quite a feeling of accomplishment."

Lori Fennessey of Vail, a career sales representative for wine distributors, has served as Taste of Vail's chief administrative volunteer for 10 years. Her duties include training and supervising dozens of volunteers, gathering recipes from participating chefs and restaurants, overseeing ticket sales and arranging hotel reservations for winery representatives, sponsors and special guests.

"There's always a lot of last-minute things," Fennessey says. "But I always have fun."

For more information on how to become a Taste of Vail volunteer, e-mail, visit, or call 970-926-5665.

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Media contact:
Stephen Lloyd Wood, media liaison
(970) 949-9774

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