RiNo’s The Infinite Monkey Theorem is changing the wine business one can—yes, can—at a time
“Good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people,” William Shakespeare wrote in “Henry VIII.” We certainly agree—although, with no disrespect intended, even a monkey, given enough time, would express the Bard’s same ode to vino.
Borrowing its name from the idea that if you sit a monkey at a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, it will eventually pound out the complete works of Shakespeare, The Infinite Monkey Theorem is an urban winery in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, where the goal, according to winemaker and company founder Ben Parsons, is to create order out of the “inherently chaotic system of winemaking.”
And, when you’re making wine in a warehouse in a back alley in RiNo (where the business started in 2008, way before the neighborhood was cool), and using grapes grown on the Western Slope of Colorado at 4,500 feet with a short 165-day growing season? Well, the word “chaotic” seems appropriate.
“The whole idea was just to think about how many variables are involved in the wine-making process, how many decisions there are to be made every day and how those decisions impact the quality of the wine and liken it to a random letter generator making decisions,” Parsons says. “We’re not the monkey; we’re the Shakespeare. It’s the job of the winemaker to make all of these decisions and hopefully end up with something that approaches a work of art.”
WHAT’S ON TAP
There are two sides to IMT: bottled and kegged wine (reds and whites, plus a rosé, sparkling and muscat), made on the premises and sold mostly in Colorado at liquor stores and restaurants, and canned wine (moscoto, red, white, rosé, dry-hopped sauvignon blanc and dry-hopped pear cider), available nationwide and canned in RiNo and a facility in California. The cans also can be found on the Rooftop at Coors Field and on Frontier flights. Additionally, the company recently opened a new taproom at Stanley Marketplace and has a second location in Austin, Texas, that also produces local wine.
In the IMT taprooms and patios (the RiNo space has been recently renovated), you’ll find wine on tap, by the glass and by the bottle. Public and private tours are available, as well as barrel tastings and blending trials (“we talk about different varietals of wine and can blend them together and create it as a growler,” Parsons says).
But it’s the aluminum cans that are IMT’s real moneymakers. “In Colorado, everyone’s camping, hiking, skiing, climbing,” Parsons says. “It’s single serve so you can take it anywhere—a lake or the beach, a concert, the baseball stadium. The first few years, we really had no idea whether it would take off; people were used to more traditional packaging. There were people saying you couldn’t possibly put wine in a can.”
They were wrong. In 2011, IMT was one of the first wineries in the country to put wine in a can in the single-serving 250-milliliter format—and the innovation has been a success. “Think about Colorado craft beer: Dale’s was the first craft brewer in the U.S. to put his beer in a can,” Parsons adds. “Maybe it’s only fitting IMT is the first Colorado winery to put its wine in a can.”
CREATING A COMMUNITY
Volunteers assist at the warehouse with the fall harvest in September and October for the bottled and kegged wine, and the stems and skins left after pressing go into compost piles to be used in 6,000 square feet of on-site raised garden beds, home to tomatoes, eggplant, kale, peppers, edible flowers and more, which are sold at farmers’ markets and to local restaurants.
But growing grapes in the state can be challenging. “There are less than 1,000 acres of grapes planted in Colorado, and because the climate’s so marginal, you have to be selective as to where you’re going to plant,” Parsons says. It’s the higher elevation, however, that changes everything. “With that sunlight exposure come all sorts of beneficial reactions that create color, flavor and tannin in grape skins. We find that in a good year the fruit can be as good as anywhere in the world. The wines speak for themselves.”
FROM LONDON TO PALISADE
It was a circuitous path that landed Parsons in RiNo. The Brit was selling wine in London in the late ’90s when a scholarship to study oenology, the chemistry of wine making, took him to Australia and New Zealand. Then, in 2001, an ad looking for a winemaker in Palisade brought him to the States. “I didn’t even know there were wineries in Colorado,” he says.
Later, after that gig and consulting for several wineries in the state, Parsons moved to Durango, working for a winery outside Cortez, and began selling its bottles in Denver in the off season. “I started driving back and forth from Cortez to Denver in my old ’88 4-Runner with 56 cases of wine and I’d knock on restaurant doors,” he says. “The restaurant community was really excited about having an excellent wine made from local produce in Colorado. It became a no-brainer to me: Why is the winery a six-hour drive from where everyone drinks the wine? It made zero sense.”
That’s when the idea to start an urban winery in Denver took root. “I bought an old Dodge truck—the only lights that worked on it were the snow plow lights—and a 24-foot gooseneck trailer, drove 20,000 miles in two months to pick up used equipment and started the winery for $280,000 in the Santa Fe Arts District. The first year we did 2,000 cases; in 2009 we doubled to 4,000 cases; in 2,010 I think we did 6,000 cases; and in 2011 we launched the wine in a can and have ramped up production every year. I never thought I would stay in Colorado, but it really grew on me.” (It’s also where he met his wife—she had been managing the Village Cork when he was still selling wine; the couple now has two young children.)
In nearly 20 years, Parsons has seen the wine business in his adopted state change significantly. “When I moved here there were only 35 wineries and now there are 148,” he says. “This is an industry that’s thousands of years old. You would think people could come up with a new creative outlook on wine, which is what IMT has done by putting a winery in the city, embracing the local community, putting wine in a can and putting wine in a keg. All of these things are about driving the industry forward, and we’ve done it from Colorado, of all places.”
INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM
RiNo: 3200 Larimer St.
Stanley Marketplace: 2501 Dallas St., Aurora