Marcel and Julie Flukiger’s wine business has been burned to the ground, demolished by an out-of-control semi-truck and rebuilt twice, all the while earning awards including the second-highest rating for a Colorado winery by Wine Enthusiast. But it’s not just the inspirational, phoenix-like story that makes a visit to Aspen Peak Cellars at 60750 U.S. 285 in Bailey, Colorado, worth the hour drive from Denver; it’s also the food and wine and the warm hospitality of its tenacious owners.
The Flukigers, both professional chefs, met and fell in love while working at Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel. What started as a hobby in 2005 became a winemaking enterprise when the couple opened a winery, bed-and-breakfast and wedding venue in Conifer in 2009. In 2011, lightning struck the 140-year-old barn that served as the wedding venue, and the resulting fire destroyed the building. Undeterred, the couple moved the winery to an old service station in Bailey the following year. Aspen Peak Cellars, named after a painting by Julie’s mother, quickly became popular with locals, and the wines began winning awards. Then on September 13, 2016, sometime after midnight, a semi barreled down Crow Hill and plowed into the winery.
“The officer called and said, ‘Your winery has been involved in an accident and there’s some damage,'” Marcel recalls. “He didn’t tell me the extent.”
The owner assumed the damage was minimal. But as the sun rose, Marcel set eyes on the crumpled building and a flood of wine streaming across the parking lot into the South Platte River — and with it the Flukigers’ livelihood and business. The accident destroyed the building, the winemaking equipment and the equivalent of about 25,000 bottles of wine in barrels and bottles. The trucking business did not have insurance.
Here’s where the story gets beautiful. The townspeople raised $25,000 (some of it through a GoFundMe campaign) to rebuild the winery. They bought the remaining 3,000 unbroken bottles of wine and volunteered to paint and help with the rebuild. Other Colorado wineries sent them grape must and juice. During the rebuild, the Flukigers continued to make wine in a building in Pine Junction. The Sasquatch Outpost (a Bailey museum and gift shop dedicated to Bigfoot) hosted the tasting room.
Aspen Peak Cellars reopened the last weekend of 2017 with a full kitchen, a riverside deck and a lawn for summertime bocce. Recalling all the help and support, Marcel says, “We have a great community.”
Just over a year later, the winery is doing better than ever. The tasting room and restaurant are open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (with the kitchen closing at 5 p.m.); live music plays from 2 to 5 p.m. on weekends. And the food is delicious: The sausages, pastry burger and mushroom soup are not to be missed. Also a standout: the fondue, which is made from Marcel’s mother’s recipe from Switzerland.
The wine is wonderful, too. The Rockin’ Rapids Reserve has received a rating of 89 from Wine Enthusiast, which will be included in the May 2019 edition of the magazine. That’s the second-highest rating for a Colorado wine given by the prestigious magazine. Also try the Conifer Red, the Colorado Riesling, and the Mocha Zinsation, a port with hints of chocolate and coffee.
The winery offers a Snowshoe & Fondue pairing that includes a mountain snowshoe outing followed by a tasting flight of wine and the savory fondue. Sign up at the Aspen Peak Cellars website.
About the author: Krista Kafer is a Denver native who relishes good food and wine. Her motto: Cultivate taste but never get so refined you can’t drink cheap red wine.
FOLLOW: Twitter: @KristaKafer