“Is it weird that I only want to buy Jeff’s wine for the rest of my life,” I say to my friend, Julie.
“No,” Julie says with complete seriousness. “He’s wonderful and we love him and his wine.”
I stick a metal rod — with a precariously attached ball of molten glass on its end — into a kiln so hot I’m concerned the fire will burn my eyeballs if I don’t squint.
“Do I look like Beyoncé?” I ask, my hair billowing around me, thanks to the industrial-sized fans that keep the room a reasonable temperature. Julie pulls up her phone, squinting at me through the screen.
“Yes,” she says.
“Of course I do,” I think, fairly buzzed, while handling extremely dangerous equipment, “Beyoncé and I could be sisters.”
I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I’ve never been particularly loyal to one brand of wine. I’m the kind of person who is loyal to whatever is on sale and not in a box (fine, I’ll do a box too, if that’s all you’re offering). But here I am, in Utah, very tipsy with my best friend, declaring my allegiance to a wine brand, Cooper and Thief, like some sort of Game of Thrones family pledging their lives to the Starks shortly before being beheaded at a wedding.
It’s weird, but to be honest, it wasn’t my first bold, declarative statement of the trip. Earlier in the day, I’d announced my deep love for our waitress, said that she had the most beautiful smile in the whole world and that I would genuinely miss her when we left. Before that, I had announced that our whiskey guide was the most attractive man I’d ever seen in real life — which was a thing Julie and I texted to each other furiously under the table the entire time he was speaking about grains and aging and whatever.
In fact, the whole trip I’d felt connected to everything and everyone around me. And I stand by all of it. What can I say? Park City, Utah is a magical place.
48 hours earlier, I was übering up a mountain at sunset, having completed a long and harrowing journey from Los Angeles to Park City. I mean, you know, not a Cheryl Strayed “extreme physical exertion that leads to meaningful, emotional growth” kind of harrowing journey, but a solid “I was delayed a few minutes and had to pay 15 dollars for a second glass of wine” journey. They’re trying in different ways.
I was there to spend a few days of drinking whiskey and wine with my best friend, the aforementioned Julie. In some ways, it sounded like a dream trip. When Julie and I get together, no matter how much wine we’ve bought in preparation for the meeting (always certain that we’ve overdone it this time), we end up blowing through it all and running to a corner store at 1 am for more. So this kind of thing was made for us. But at the same time, I was a little hesitant about this particular wine adventure because…. Utah?
I’d been to Zion and it was beautiful sure, but how fun could drinking in Mormon country be? Even with my main lady squeeze joining me from Chicago, the prospect seemed dubious at best. The last time we’d met each other for a trip was Vegas. This seemed like a literal opposite location.
The sun begins to set as the driver snakes his way up the mountain towards our hotel, The Waldorf Astoria Park City. I’m not paying much attention. Julie and I are chattering at full speed about every single thing that has happened in our lives in the past few weeks when — the car stops. I look out the window and gasp. I’ve spent significant time in the mountains, and Julie and I lived in Idaho together for a short stint at 23, but still… we’re entranced. Soft pinks fade into what I can only cheesily call purple mountain majesty.
We’re stunned into silence until our driver speaks. “Thank you for having me drive up here,” he says, genuine awe in his voice. “I’ve never been up this mountain before and it’s so beautiful.”
A lot to unpack there, but same actual Park City resident, same.
After checking into the hotel room — which is so nice that we actually hang up our clothes like real people — we head downstairs to the bar. Like everyone we seem to encounter in Park City, our waiter is weirdly handsome. I mean not like he’s handsome in a weird way (like the way you might find adult cartoon Simba sexually attractive in The Lion King) but weird in that, as a general theme, Park City has an insane amount of young, attractive people per capita. Are they all secretly actors researching a role? I haven’t ruled it out.
We wake up the next morning oddly refreshed (even though we had several more drinks over the course of the night- Perhaps it was that healing mountain air?) and head to breakfast before a hike. You know, an hour and 1/2 of physical activity that will allow us to lie to ourselves about how healthy we are.
“Wow, this will totally offset everything that’s about to follow!” We say to each other cheerfully.
The hike is lovely and involves walking through actual fall colors and over crunchy leaves. But as much as I enjoy it, I can’t let it distract me for too long. We have the main event. Drinking so much whiskey and wine. We’re headed to High West Distillery to try out their new collaboration with Cooper and Thief wines, a Cabernet aged in High West rye whiskey barrels. Lunch will involve a tasting of several of the wines paired with our meal. We’re off to the races.
High West Distillery feels like it comes out of nowhere. A surprising and strangely modern monolith in the midst of rustic surroundings. Upon arrival, we buzz around for several minutes taking pictures. Soon, we’re seated with a group of others at a long table to try the new wines.
That’s when we meet Jeff Kasavan, Cooper and Thief’s cellarmaster, who is there to kick off the whiskey-wine collab by sharing his process and philosophies about wine. Cooper and Thief’s wines are different because they’re aged in various liquor barrels, picked to complement the grapes (in this case, rye whiskey barrels). This process makes a wine that’s wholly unique. The company’s Sauvignon Blanc is aged in a tequila barrel — giving it a tangy, sharp taste. Their Cabernet has that bodied, earthy whiskey taste.
This type of creativity seems to sort of be Jeff’s thing. He’s unpretentious about wine, preferring to nerd out about the science aspects rather than overly discuss the hints of a rare rose petal on the finish… or whatever. He thinks that anyone can enjoy wine in their own way. We immediately take to him, as we snack on truffle fries and get to sipping.
Our boozy wine lunch is followed by a tour and whiskey tasting. I want to be clear that I am in no shape to be drinking whiskey at this point. This doesn’t stop me. We learn to properly swish whiskey in our mouths, smell it, and then let the tingling aftertaste linger on our tongues until we get the full body of the flavor. I am drawn to lighter whiskeys, Julie prefers the smokey ones that make my eyes water a little. After an hour, we consider ourselves full-blown whiskey experts. AMA.
That night, we do a whiskey-paired dinner and let’s just say, I feel significantly less refreshed the next morning than I had the previous as we embark on the next stage of our adventure.
“Last night you told a man you’d go on his podcast,” Julie says when we wake up. “And then you yelled at him that you needed top billing.”
“Seems reasonable,” I say. “I would want top billing.”
We stumble into a car at 8am, bleary-eyed. The conversation is muted as we chug water and try to come to terms with the physical activity we’re about to participate in — Paddle Board Yoga. It sounded cool ahead of time, but now I’m deeply regretting it. I am unbelievably clumsy on solid land, so who do I think I’m kidding trying to balance ON THE WATER?
The idea of surprise wetness while wiping out sounds….truly nightmarish. It’s fall in Utah! It’s chilly! Why does this even exist? And then we’re told there won’t even be wine.
We arrive at the given address and I look around, confused. Where’s the lake? We’ve pulled up in front of the entrance to a cave. We walk inside and I’m hit with a light steam that sticks to my skin — leaving little droplets up my arms. It’s warm. About a dozen boards float on the surface of a hot spring, bobbing gently. Above us, a hole in the cave creates a natural skylight. This is not the misery I expected.
We’re told to jump in and find a board. The water is soft, not hot, but a soothing warm that feels like being tucked into a thick comforter. My muscles immediately relax. And then we’re clamoring onto our boards, slipping a little as we roll on top of them. Our yoga instructor, Blake, tells us to strap on our board leashes and the class begins.
Cave yoga turns out to be more of that Park City magic. All of those, “in your head” moments that you’d normally have doing yoga in a studio like, “Oh, I look stupid,” or “Shoot, my butt is in this man’s face,” weirdly go away when you’re doing yoga on a paddle board in the middle of a hot spring crater. Not because it’s easier. It’s way harder to balance, and every time someone falls (that first person was FOR SURE me), waves are created, creating a domino of unsteady yogis. But the balancing is so difficult that you can’t think about anything else.
So we try our best and we fall. A lot. But no one cares, we look at each other — giddy and laughing –, as we plunge wildly off our boards. I’ve done a lot of yoga, but I’ve never been less self-conscious than I was in this class, in front of five actual male models. At some point, you let go of being good and concentrate on the little victories. Before class ends, I stand for exactly one second on one foot before wiping out.
“I rule at this,” I think.
Afterward, I am buzzing like someone’s given me drugs. Giggling, feeling like the world is full of hidden happiness just waiting to be discovered. Park City continues to subvert all of my expectations.
Our lunch is another wine tasting followed by glass blowing. This is when Julie and my shared love for cellarmaster Jeff bubbles into a full-blown obsession.
“I probably won’t always buy this wine,” I say to Julie after a ten-minute photo shoot together that can only be described as romantic. “Because of money.”
“Sure, sure, sure,” Julie says. “But if we were getting something nice, like for a party, I would buy it.”
And I do end up getting a couple of bottles to take home. Because maybe it was a side effect of the bewitching magic of Park City, but it felt like a wine that was somehow younger and hipper than other wines. It probably didn’t hurt that the alcohol content was a bit higher than normal. It felt like something to drink on a rooftop party in Brooklyn or a gallery opening in Miami. But I think the thing I loved most was getting to connect to the face behind the wine we drank. We spend so much time being unaware of where our foods and drinks are sourced. We consume without knowing history or sustainability. Meeting Jeff, seeing his passion and thoughtful curating, made me understand what I was drinking in a new way.
Those two days in Park City made me want to seek out other experiences that will connect me to what I eat and drink. On a surface level, it was way more fun than I expected, but it was also a way more connective experience than I expected. I connected to my inner yoga goddess and unselfconscious self, I connected to the mountains, and not only to my best friend but to the strangers who are apparently going to have me on their podcasts. Connection buzzed in every place and interaction throughout the mountain town and that, above all things, was the real fun of the trip.
If Park City is magic, I guess it’s the good variety. It did make me look exactly like Beyonce after all. Exactly.
This trip was hosted by Cooper and Thief. You can learn more about the Uproxx press trip/hosting policy here.