A charismatic, talented Brit is putting Colorado wine on the map. So why does almost every other vintner in the state hate him?
Within minutes of our arrival at Table 6 on a warm summer evening, Aaron Forman, the restaurant’s general manager, is fawning over our table. A bottle of delightful sparkling wine is delivered, followed by plates of cheese, shaved meats, and chicken liver mousse. All of it is gratis. Forman is known for charming diners, but this kind of service is reserved for two of the stars of Denver’s food scene: Ben Parsons, owner of the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery, and Justin Brunson, owner of Masterpiece Delicatessen. But while Brunson is well-liked in the restaurant scene, Parsons—the magnetic British winemaker behind Denver’s hippest winery—is a red-hot commodity, the kind of guy who must be treated well just for the sake of business..
In the midst of the meal, Parsons chats with the sous chef, then heads off to tour Table 6’s new wine keg system (which operates like a draft beer system, but serves wine instead), the newest rage in chic restaurants. Parsons’ rosé, naturally, will go on tap at Table 6 in a few weeks. The table quickly downs the $80-plus in gifted wine and the food, so Parsons picks up the reserve wine list and rifles through the pages of rare, expensive bottles. The 34-year-old Englishman gives a spoken tour of fine wine in his singsongy Cockney accent, finally settling on a superb bottle of the 2005 Domini de la Cartoixa Clos Galena, a Spanish red that goes for $75. Forman glows. Quid pro quo.
“He spends money on people’s food, and he appreciates their food,” Forman tells me, despite the fact that Parsons was comped loads of goodies. “That stuff goes a long way in the business and in the industry.”
Table 6 is only the second course on our Thursday romp through Denver. An hour earlier, at Solera, a swanky eatery on East Colfax, Parsons’ crew tossed back a bottle of wine, a beer, a shot, and a cocktail. The tab was tiny. Later, a half-dozen drinks deep, Parsons gleefully dances into the Squeaky Bean, a haute, hip Highland restaurant, where a round of beers, a round of shots, and yet another round of beers seem to appear magically. The tab: $12. The staff just seems happy he doesn’t dance on the bar or shotgun any canned brews.
Drinking and glad-handing—er, marketing—are mainstays in Parsons’ life and key to his wild success. He started the Infinite Monkey Theorem in 2008, in the middle of the recession; after one year, he doubled his operation from 2,000 to 4,000 cases. Thanks to his unending onslaught on the city’s bars and restaurants, Parsons’ wine now appears on more than 125 Denver wine lists—a higher market penetration than any other Colorado wine, and even more appearances than many Californian or European selections. “I don’t necessarily think I have the best wine in the state,” Parsons says. “I think I have the best idea.”