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Thursday, July 19,2012

One fire, 15,000 bottles of wine to protect

By Don Tartaglione

When the Flagstaff Fire became a potential threat to the Flagstaff Restaurant the week of June 25, Boulder’s restaurant community and friends offered to help the co-owners, Don Monette and his sons Mark and Scott, relocate their award-winning wine collection.

Scott Monette says people were willing to lend their trucks and labor to help clear out Flagstaff House’s wine cellar, which contains around 15,000 bottles and 3,500 different selections.

“We got a lot of phone calls from people offering to come help, other restaurants and the community and wine connoisseurs,” says Monette. “So it was really surprising and very nice to hear that.”

Mark Monette drove to work the day the Flagstaff Fire began and avoided the road closure that occurred later that day.

“The first night we did close because the fire was moving fast, and they didn’t know what direction it was going, and they were also trying to get vehicles up there to get behind the mountain,” says Monette. “So they closed the mountain roads for everybody.”

Even though there was a lot of smoke, the Flagstaff House was not ordered to evacuate, and Mark Monette was able to stay on location the first night of the fire. He says he didn’t get the feeling that the fire was on the way because it was on the back side of the mountain.

But if evacuation is ever necessary, Flagstaff House’s wine cellar is divided into four different rooms, with one specific room that contains first-growth wines, or high-end wine selections that are the most important to save.

“So if we did need to pull out, everything is pretty much together,” says Monette. “We could probably fairly quickly get at least that selection, the things that would be really hard to replace, we could probably get that out.”

According to Monette, transporting the wine wouldn’t hurt the quality of the product permanently. The wine would be moved to a nearby cold cellar, preventing any long-term environmental changes that could affect it.

Some of the older vintages would need to resettle due to shaking during transport, but after a week they would be ready to open.

The Flagstaff House has a set of guidelines if an evacuation is ever necessary, but the Monettes say they understand that wildfires move so fast there isn’t much that can be done to protect your property if it’s in a wildfire’s path.

“We’ve had a lot of dry years lately,” Monette says. “So you think about that fairly often and consider what it is you need to do, and plan for it and make sure you’re smart about what you need to do.”

Flagstaff House has rare property to protect if it was ever in direct danger. Its extensive wine collection includes a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild priced at $18,000, which features art by Phillip Jullian. The bottle is the first of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild artist label collection, which includes work by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

The complete collection is on display in the Flagstaff House and is one of the reasons the restaurant received Wine Spectator’s grand award for the 29th consecutive year in a row. It is one of two restaurants in Colorado that have earned the grand award and one of 75 restaurants worldwide that won this year. It is the highest award presented by Wine Spectator.

The grand award is not just given to restaurants that have an intricate and vast wine collection, but those that show consistent dedication to the quality of their wine selection and how the selections pair with their menu items.

Monette says keeping up with the grand award’s standards is a constant effort throughout the year. It’s not just about having a collection of old vintages, but also consistently restocking wines that are sold and buying new vintages that are released.

“It’s all about making sure you’re staying on top of the current things as well as having a good selection of good vintages from older wineries,” says Monette. “So you always have to work toward that and make sure you’re staying ahead.”

The Flagstaff House began making rare wines available soon after the property was bought in 1971.

“We’ve been fortunate to be here for a long time, so we’ve been able to develop and buy wine as it comes out, as the release happens,” says Monette.

Given the way the restaurant’s wine collection has grown over the years, perhaps wildfires are one of the only things that could threaten its reputation.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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