Just as local Aspen skiers take pride in the world-class ski mountain that dominates the city, local wine lovers take pride in the wine program at the Little Nell Hotel.

This year, the respected wine industry was honored to be a finalist for the James Beard Award in the Outstanding Wine Program category. At the time of this writing, the winner has yet to be announced as the awards ceremony took place on June 13 in Chicago at the Lyric Opera House.

Whether the program won or not, the nomination itself bears witness to The Little Nell’s long legacy of excellence through its extensive wine list and service tradition. Wine director Chris Dunaway and his team, which included Jesse Libby, John Koch and Rachel Liggett-Draper, were justifiably proud of the hotel’s 16th James Beard nomination since the awards debuted in 1991.

“I am so incredibly proud of how well the team has persevered over the last few difficult years and made such an incredible commitment to the guest experience and transforming it through the power of great wine and enlightened hospitality,” Dunaway said of the award nomination. The Beard Award after the previous two years of fighting the pandemic. “What sets us apart is that we are part of a much larger organization, being a hotel rather than a restaurant or wine bar. It takes excellence in every department to make this happen, and I just want everyone at The Nell to be proud and feel like this is as much of an achievement for them as anyone else, and that goes for those who are here today and who have worked tirelessly for us for decades.”

And for those decades, since its founding in 1989, The Nell has been the de facto club for the wine crowd during the Food & Wine Classic. With a roster of 10 master sommeliers who have worked at the hotel, a trendy wine cellar and bar, the best patio in Aspen, and a mountaintop experience, The Nell offers an “Aspen-only experience” for wine lovers.

Former master sommeliers of The Nell wine staff who have had a lasting impact on the world of wine include Carlton McCoy, managing partner of Lawrence Wine Estates in Napa, California; Dustin Wilson, who founded the eclectic Verve liquor stores in New York, Chicago and San Francisco; Bobby Stuckey, Food & Wine host and partner at Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine; and, of course, local wine connoisseur Jonathan Pullis. They were all part of creating the culture that makes The Nell what it is today.

This year the hotel will be hosting a couple of wine dinners during the Classic with the kitchen of Matt Zubrod, Culinary Director of The Nell. On Friday, the López de Heredia Wine Dinner will host a celebration of Viña Tondonia from Rioja, Spain. Guests will sip on the most coveted gran reserva wines in the wine cellar, as well as a four-course tasting menu.

Then, on Saturday, the Nell’s wine team will toast Mayacamas Vineyards winemaker Braden Albrecht over a four-course dinner and superb Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon from Wieder AVA Mountain in Napa Valley.

Of course, these are just scheduled events, as winemakers, distributors and connoisseurs will gather at any time to drink the wines featured in The Nell’s Wine Spectator Grand Award winners list. For many, the pinnacle of gastronomy and wine takes place at The Little Nell.

It’s as good as skiing.

This story was featured in issue 39 of the Aspen Times Food & Wine Classic Weekend, now available locally and at

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