The Brit Who Chains Monkeys to Typewriters in Denver

The Colorado Statesman

Peripatetic British-born entrepreneur Ben Parsons, winemaker and owner of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery (TIMT), started out in 2008 in a Quonset hut on Denver’s industrial West Side. Why? “Denver has an up-and-coming restaurant community. My young, educated clientele loves locally sourced wine. And I’m happiest in a big city.”


The Infinite Monkey Theorem states that a monkey striking the keys of a typewriter at random for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type the complete works of Shakespeare. As Parsons says in his clipped, Kentish accent, “The theorem is a lot like winemaking. There are so many choices and possible outcomes. We focus on the variables that really matter: the best grapes, harvesting them at their peak, nurturing each batch of juice and getting to know the people who drink it. We also get rid of what doesn’t matter: vineyard location, rolling hills and a tasting room covered in granite and marble.” Buying winery equipment second-hand from other, less successful operations also plays a part.

A move last summer to Denver’s hip River North District brings a much bigger space in which to increase production from 10,000 case-equivalents (CE) to a planned 200,000 CE within five years. “We can now work inside when it’s cold and outside when it’s warm. The barrel room stays a constant 52-55 degrees F and can hold up to 480 barrels. You could fit the entire old winery into just the new barrel room!”

Parsons had to do a lot of work on the building to make it into a proper winery. “We cut drains in the floors and built three walls of the barrel room from scratch. HVAC, insulation, it was quite a project. But it’s already paying dividends.”

Late winter in Denver means that even when Ben Parsons is working indoors with his fermentation tank, he still bundles up.
Photo by Ben Weinberg/The Colorado Statesman

Parsons’ speech and actions resonate with his relentless embrace of even the grittiest aspects of city-based winemaking. But so much new, useable space means that Parsons now feels like a kid in an enormous candy store. He’s incorporated a wine taproom to serve loyal fans and new friends alike. He’s installed specially designed triangular tables and comfortable chairs. Wine flights start at $10 and, while TIMT doesn’t currently provide edibles, local food trucks line up for the opportunity to serve Parsons’ customers.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem’s old winery could fit in its entirety inside the new, custom-built barrel room.
Photo by Ben Weinberg/The Colorado Statesman

Tender Belly, a Colorado-based nose-to-tail Heritage pork provider, has sublet space in the building and is also thriving. TIMT has even planted a restaurant garden on its property to supply Old Major, a seafood, swine, and wine restaurant in the trendy Highlands neighborhood northwest of Denver in which Parsons has partnered with Justin Brunson of the Masterpiece Deli. He’s also planning another restaurant in the lot next to his winery. “Still a bit up in the air but hopefully by July.”

Ben Parsons loves the fact that he can serve every wine he makes in his new taproom, whether from bottle, in can or even on-tap.
Photo by Ben Weinberg/The Colorado Statesman

He’s particularly proud of his kegs, sold to 30 or so local customers. “The juice stays good for three months which means little wastage. We also don’t have to purchase bottles, so restaurants can keep the price under $9 per glass.” The Breckenridge/ Wynkoop Restaurant Group serves his Monkeyshine Red and White, and Snooze is onboard with carbonated Albarino, all in keg. There will, of course, be private-label kegs for his restaurants, including Old Major Red and White. Parsons is also trying to change his license to allow him to fill containers with other producers’ wines.

Fruit from Colorado’s fertile Western Slope comprises the bulk of bottled production, although his innovations into canned and keg wines take grapes from all over the wine world. TIMT is served in more than 200 Colorado restaurants and is now represented by Grand Vin, a division of Republic National Distributing Company. In particular, cans have exploded as a category and TIMT now sends up to 3,000 of these 250mL units out the door on a monthly basis. National distribution is next on the agenda, starting with New York and Los Angeles.

“This isn’t rocket science,” Parsons says. “The best wines are made from perfect grapes, wherever they’re grown or processed. I’ve never understood why wineries want to limit on-premise distribution to top-level restaurants. The goal is to have the juice drunk by as many people as possible, right? Making wine accessible is another reason to produce it in a city.”

Parsons isn’t much of a political animal but is bemused that Governor Hickenlooper has not stopped by. “It’s a bit strange. In many ways people credit him with starting the craft beer trend in Colorado, an industry that now employs thousands. Some would argue that we’re similarly responsible for putting the Colorado wine industry on the map and helping to start the urban winery trend in the U.S. I buy grapes from farmers who employ hundreds of people.”

Owning and operating a winery is all about passion. For this urban winery pioneer, the proof of that passion is in his wine.

Tastin­g Notes

Sparkling

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Back Alley Moscato NV
(Colorado, U.S.) $7/250mL

Frizzy prickly pear and lemon line the nose while slightly sweet green melon dominates the medium-weight finish. Refreshing and not too sweet.

White

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Back Alley White NV
(Colorado, U.S.) $7/250mL

This starts with prickly strawberry and fresh peach before heading toward a lemon-lime conclusion. Slightly sweet and only moderately acidic.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2012
(Colorado, U.S.) $18

Made entirely from Palisade, Colorado, fruit. 68 percent sauvignon blanc brings a greenish-yellow color, a scent of lime zest, and a hint of lemonade. The 32 percent semillon portion is more about papaya and cantaloupe. Very nice together.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Semillon 2011
(Colorado, U.S.) $18

This wine spent six months in three-year-old French barrels and exhibits a creaminess that has to come from that treatment. Hay-yellow in hue with a nose of bananas Foster and a palate of lemon cream. Actually quite intense and well worth the price.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Blind Watchmaker
White Blend NV (Colorado, U.S.) $25

Parsons markets this as a non-vintage wine to preserve his flexibility in sourcing. So at this point we’re talking all Palisade fruit as well as being entirely produced from 2011 vintage grapes. Creamy yellow in color with a nose of cantaloupe and root beer and a bit of Meyer lemon on the tongue.

Rosé

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Back Alley Rosé NV
(Colorado, U.S.) $7/250mL

Essentially a bunch of sparkling strawberries and raspberries in a can. Again only slightly sweet and moderately bright.

Red

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Back Alley Red NV
(Colorado, U.S.) $7/250mL

Ruby hued and smelling of raspberries and red currants. Those fruits are echoed on the sweetish palate. The finish isn’t particularly long, but then that’s not the point.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc 2011
(Colorado, U.S.) $25

The addition of 24 percent cabernet sauvignon brings depth and backbone to this otherwise lithe, herbal wine. Red-purple with a nose of red currant. The flavors tend toward blackberry and basil, which is how know the remainder is cabernet
franc.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Malbec 2011
(Colorado, U.S.) $25

Petit Verdot is 10 percent of the mix and contributes a purple-black color and a nose of black currant. The Malbec brings blueberry and char to a harmonious whole.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Blind Watchmaker Red Blend NV
(Colorado, U.S.) $25

Another non-vintage blend of convenience with 60 percent syrah and 40 percent petite sirah. Purple-red in hue with blackberry, black pepper, and mint on the nose. Red cherry dominates the palate and long finish.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery
3200 Larimer St., Denver, CO 80205
Tel: (303) 736-8376
www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com
Tours: Daily at 2 and 4 P.M. Cost is $25 per person and can be booked online
Tap Room Hours: 5-10 P.M. Wednesday-Saturday, 2-7 P.M. Sunday

Old Major Restaurant
3316 Tejon St., Denver, CO 80211
www.oldmajordenver.com
(Scheduled to open February 24, 2013)

Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com.
Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com