Crowd favorite Vail Mountain Top Tasting returns after three-year hiatus

Vail’s only picnic at 10,000 feet was attended by about 1,000 guests, and this year, ski gear was not required

Chris West and Jessica Neal from Neal Family Vineyards at the Taste of Vail’s 30th anniversary mountain top food and wine tasting event on Friday. The event was attended by about 1,000 people, organizers said.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

A crowd-favorite event on Vail’s annual calendar, the Taste of Vail Mountain Top Picnic returned Friday to the Eagle’s Nest area after a three-year hiatus.

Food and wine vendors set up booths at the 10,350-foot elevation location, and about 1,000 guests attended the event, said organizer Angela Mueller. DJ Austin Gaulak kept the crowd moving throughout the afternoon.

“Organizing it was a mammoth decision, given everything that was unknown,” Mueller said. “So we’re really excited to have it back.”

The Taste of Vail has been an annual spring event taking place in Vail Village and on the mountain for 30 years, but was shut down in both 2020 and 2021. In bringing it back for 2022, Mueller said it was important to have the mountain top picnic incorporated into the event.

“It’s our iconic event, because the views are like no other,” she said.

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Mueller said the picnic had to be moved from its on-snow location near Vail’s Forest Flyer roller coaster to a more manageable spot due to staffing difficulties. The event was instead held on the heated pavers of the Eagle’s Nest area where guests need not attend in ski attire.

Priscilla Mead, of Vail and Denver, said when she learned that she wouldn’t need to ski to the event this year, she opted for an outfit you might instead find in the village.

“I wore a necklace from Golden Bear and a hat from Kemo Sabe,” she said.

Pricilla Mead of Vail and Denver opted for street wear at the 2022 Taste of Vail Mountain Top Tasting in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Mead said she attended in 2019 and several years before that, looking forward to it every year.

“It’s one of the best events in Vail,” she said.

Mueller said the mountain top picnic was made possible with help from Vail Mountain, Taste of Vail volunteers, local restaurants and the winemakers who attended from across the country.

Jessica Neal, with Neal Family Vineyards, was visiting from Napa Valley, California, where she is a third-generation winemaker.

“It’s my first time but I’m definitely coming back,” she said.

Leonora chef Kevin Erving said the Taste of Vail is his favorite event, as well. Erving has also worked for the Four Seasons and Beano’s Cabin, where he enjoyed attending every year, twice winning people’s choice awards at the Taste of Vail’s lamb cookoff.

This year, the lamb cookoff competition was replaced with a Niman Ranch pork competition, where Erving once again took a people’s choice award back to his kitchen, this time working for Leonora.

Leonora Executive Chef Kevin Erving hands out a green chile and tomatillo braised rabbit pozole at the Taste of Vail Mountain Top Tasting event Friday on Vail Mountain.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Erving said six weeks ago, when he made the decision to join Leonora and take on the executive chef role, he was excited to learn that the restaurant wanted to take part in the Taste of Vail.

“The lamb cookoff, or the pork belly challenge, is definitely what the chefs look forward to, it’s the most challenging for us because it’s competitive bragging rights for a year, so we love that,” Erving said from the event on Friday. “But (the mountain top picnic) is really the best event of the year in Vail. I served 650 people today and everyone is having a good time.”

The Taste of Vail will close out with the grand tasting event at the Hythe hotel in Lionshead Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m.

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