If you have been to the downtown Aspen Saturday Market over the past decade, you no doubt have seen the creative work of Alpine Wine Design. Under their white tents you’ll find beautiful hand-burnished and varnished wooden creations, like tables, chairs, racks and lazy Susans, with the names of the finest wineries in the world etched across them. Brad Evans, his wife, Heidi, and their team of artisan woodworkers produce hand-crafted, authentic wine-centric works, both decorative and utilitarian, out of the remains of actual wine barrels and wooden wine crates acquired from famed wineries.
“I’m kind of a hoarder,” Evans said with a self-deprecating laugh as he explains that, at any given time, he will have from 200 to 400 wine barrels behind his workshop that he has purchased from elite boutique wineries in the most sought-after wine regions on Earth. Want a lazy Susan from a wine crate that once held the wines of Chateau Montelena? He’s got it. How about a guitar rack from Nickle & Nickle? It’s there. Do you need a custom dining room table with the inlaid crests of the five First Growth Bordeaux wine estates? That may be tough to come by, but if anyone can produce it, it would be the woodworkers at Alpine Wine Estates.
“That’s really where the joy is … when someone comes in with a special request and we have the challenge of sourcing and designing a unique product that also has meaning for a client and then making it happen,” Evans said about the custom wine furnishings that they have produced for clients. Alpine Wine Design has made pieces for both mega-yachts and Gulfstream jets to meet the needs of those who just want to be surrounded by good wood.
Working with wood and wine was not the career path that Evans originally imagined. But the roots of Alpine Wine Design run long and deep, and there’s also a distinct Aspen connection.
“When I was a kid in Middletown, Ohio, I had a guitar teacher, José Madrigal, who also made guitars. For some reason, I decided to build a classical guitar by hand. It was my first experience with woodworking,” Evans shared. Obviously, the experience resonated. “It was all handmade and it was fun.” He still has the original guitar under his bed.
After college at Northwestern where he studied music, Evans moved to a log cabin in Old Snowmass. “I was acting in the community theater (he played the dentist in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’), and I met my wife, Heidi.” That would be Heidi Haberman, who grew up in Mountain Valley and attended Aspen High School. While in Aspen, he also spent time working at local restaurants, including the Little Nell, and performing for two seasons at the late, lamented Crystal Palace.
“We made a move to Boston where I continued to sing and dance as Heidi went to Emerson College and I also built some theater sets,” he noted about getting back to work with his hands and some tools.
An acting stint in L.A. made both homesick for Colorado, and in 2006 they came back to Golden. “I had a garage, so I built a little home shop and one day I looked at a wooden wine box in the kindling for our fireplace and thought … that might make a nice tray. So, I built it.” It was the beginning of a business. “I bought a few barrels locally here in Colorado and made some trays and began going to local farmers markets, and people liked them.”
“I bought a few barrels locally here in Colorado and made some trays and began going to local Farmer’s markets and people liked them. I made my first sale at the Evergreen Farmer’s Market.” Meanwhile, Heidi had taken a position working for the city of Boulder. It was not long afterwards that Brad felt confident enough in the business prospects to place a call that would change both of their lives. “I was at the Dillon Farmers Market and was feeling pretty good about things, so I called Heidi and said, ‘You gotta quit your job!’ I just knew this was going to work.”
The relationship between wine and wood is as complex and confounding as it can be between people. The decisions that winemakers need to consider begin with whether to use French or American oak, or a combination of both, at different stages of a wine’s development. Today, the most popular wood for oak wine barrels comes from trees grown in forests in Europe, French or Hungarian oak, and trees that originate in Missouri and produce, appropriately, American oak. French oak, in a very general sense, is used to provide a subtler, spicy influence, whereas the American oak, as would be culturally expected, is more out front, infusing wines with a bit more vanilla, cola and, some say, tropical features.
The source of the original wood is not what is important to Alpine Wine Design; rather, it is the quality of the barrels and the names that appear on them. “We buy the barrels after the winemakers have no further use for them in aging wine,” Brad Evans explained. “As long as they are in good condition, we can take them back, break down the staves and use the heads for other products.” In a way they are in the recycling business, refurbishing the original wood and giving it a second use.
But it is the provenance of the barrel, or the crate, that helps make it special. “We do a ton of custom work and people always want something that resonates with their personal tastes. It might be a winery that they collect wines from or a bottle that they had when they first met,” Evans enthused. “That’s what makes it personal to them.”
In the decade and a half since its founding, Alpine Wine Design has grown to include two Denver-area workshops, five full-time artisan woodworkers and a schedule that, at least until the pandemic struck, included weekly stops at up to 30 farmers markets and wine festivals. And there were Christmas gift markets in Houston, Dallas and Austin that were profitable, as well.
For the past decade before the pandemic, Alpine Wine Design had been a fixture at the both the Vail Farmers’ Market every Sunday and here at the Aspen Saturday Market.
“This year we had a little one, and the pandemic was still a consideration when we had to make the applications for Aspen, so we decided to take a year off,” Evans said. But Alpine Wine Design has been able to fill in and make a couple of “guest” appearances so far this summer at the Aspen Saturday Market. Evans is hoping that other opportunities arise to exhibit in Aspen this summer.
“I am really hoping we can get in for the Food & Wine weekend (Sept. 10-12) because those are our people,” he laughed about the Classic. Not only does he get to see friends from the wine industry there, but attendees love to take home the winery branded products. Alpine Wine Design also has products on display at Shae Singer’s Aspen Emporium on Main Street opposite the Hotel Jerome.
In addition to owning a successful business, the former actor and singer gets to indulge his passion for wine. “We do three or four trips every year to wine regions, and I’m just fascinated by wine,” Evans noted. “I will buy wine for my own collection just to get the boxes.”
There are many ways to build a career in wine, but Brad and Heidi literally carved out their own niche from the wood in wine barrels.