Wine Spectator has learned that longtime Grand Award winner Element 47, located in the Little Nell hotel in Aspen, Colo., has a new wine director. Head sommelier Chris Dunaway will take the reins from Carlton McCoy, who is ending his six-year tenure for a new role as president and CEO of Heitz Cellar in Napa Valley.
"It's a very humbling experience to step into this role. I still cannot believe that it has happened," Dunaway told Wine Spectator. "I have always dreamed of being a wine director and having that kind of influence on other sommeliers and others in the industry and to help grow and promote something great. It is an incredible challenge, one that I have been looking forward to. And having the opportunity to step into this role is truly a dream."
"Chris came to us with a wealth of experience already, and from the beginning, he showed the leadership skills necessary to move up in the company," said McCoy. Dunaway joined the Little Nell's team in 2015 as head sommelier. Prior to this, he worked in New York City at chef Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud, as well as at Corkbuzz wine bar.
"It was a difficult move because the market in New York has so many resources and so many opportunities," Dunaway said about leaving the Big Apple for the luxury ski town. "But when you get the opportunity to come to a place with such an incredible legacy and incredible talent, it's very difficult to say no."
Dunaway follows a long line of accomplished sommeliers that have maintained the Grand Award–winning wine program, which currently offers 2,800 selections with strengths in Burgundy, Bordeaux, California and more. When the restaurant earned the Grand Award in 1997, Bobby Stuckey, now owner of Best of Award Excellence winner Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colo., was the wine director. Stuckey left the Little Nell in 2000, and was succeeded by Richard Betts and then Jonathan Pullis in 2009. McCoy joined the wine team in 2010 and became wine director in 2013.
Csaba "Chubby" Oveges, the Little Nell's food-and-beverage director, has no doubt Dunaway will shine in his new role. "Chris' excellence in connecting with clients and customers is unparalleled in the industry," he said. "He's one of the first people to manage to bridge that gap and start meeting some new clients for the Little Nell and really bring in a younger generation and reenergizing the program. I think it's a big part of his skill set."
The Little Nell celebrated its 20th consecutive Grand Award in 2017 with a party that Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman attended. It included food prepared by chef Francis Mallmann, and a reunion of many of the hotel's previous wine directors.