As the first evening with Betts unfolds, my concern proves valid. We start with the Food & Wine Classic kickoff, at which, Betts says, we'll only be drinking beer because the party is sponsored by a famous white Zinfandel maker, and, well, Betts' derisive frown indicates white Zin is not something we want to risk.
Once the party's over, we head back to the Little Nell, where Betts jumps into a tailored suit and begins to work the dinner crowd on the floor of Montagna, the restaurant inside the five-star, five-diamond hotel. While you may think selecting wine for rich people would be the ultimate in cush jobs, it's clear Betts immediately feels pressure to perform. There's a sommelier from Chicago at this table, a winemaker from California at that table, and, although he's not supposed to recognize her, Betts bristles as a magazine food critic walks past him to the patio. For several hours, master chefs and wine writers and publishers and other hoity-toities from the food world stream into the restaurant. In terms of celebrity, this all seems relatively mild considering Betts has also poured for international politicians, royalty, and Hollywood icons. But for Betts, this is a crowd of food elites. It's his crowd and this is his town. He's gotta be on.
He seats me at a table with a happy, large-bellied wine collector who shares a glass of '91 Dominus, a California Cab I know nothing about until he delivers a lengthy history of the wine. I ask the collector how much wine he has in his cellar.
"A lot," he says.
"Like how much?"
"Well, less and less now that I'm drinking more and more."
"So, how much would you say you have left?"
"A lot," he says.
Just as our conversation begins spiraling down, Betts appears once again. He's like Nancy Reagan at a state dinner. Adept. Timely. Sensitive to the needs of guests. And even though he has a million other things to be doing, he wants to make sure I meet a lot of wine people, because wine people are his people and he knows his people are misunderstood. He knows that sommeliers—who smack of money and snobbery and know-it-all-ism—can scare diners. So he sits me at a table with two of his peers. One is a sommelier with Michael Mina, a chain of high-end restaurants based in San Francisco; the other, a consultant for private collectors. Before spinning away again, Betts pours me—from their bottle—a glass of extremely rare red Burgundy. I know it's extremely rare red Burgundy because they tell me. The two sommeliers stare at me, forks held aloft, mystified by this strange woman who has suddenly joined their dinner party and started drinking their wine.
Close to 11 p.m., the restaurant closes and the party crowd converges for Betts' soiree. In one corner of the small, wood-paneled party room, people line up for a taste of his Tocai. In the other, guests knock back little clay cups of mezcal. In between, chef Ryan Hardy from the Little Nell doles out delicate slices of homemade prosciutto. There's also Champagne and three types of caviar, and lots of talk with architects and yoga instructors and Hollywood types about wine. Within minutes, it seems, the lights grow dim, the party grows hot and loud, and it becomes impossible to navigate from one side of the room to the other because of the sweaty crush of humanity, all of which reminds me of a fraternity party, or, rather, how a fraternity party might be if Champagne and caviar were served and people already had multiple degrees and fashionable clothes, and it was in Aspen, in the summer, and everyone was beautiful and a little drunk.