Wine Ink: Gin Dandy.Polo star Nic Roldan’s High Goal gin

Photo courtesy Juan Lamarca

Even wine lovers occasionally stray from their initial passions. And with the dog days of summer upon us a cooling cocktail can tempt. The spirit of choice? Let’s do gin. Maybe a simple, straight up, clean, gin & tonic with a slice of lemon on the rim. How about a gimlet made with gin, simple syrup and fresh squeezed lime juice?

Or perhaps you might want to “reimagine” your gin cocktail and go with “The Roldan.” What’s that you ask? Well, Nic Roldan, for whom the cocktail is named, explained: “It’s a cocktail made with muddled strawberries and gin garnished with some fresh basil served on ice. Fresh, and perfect for Summer.” And his gin of choice? Why his own High Goal Luxury Gin, of course.

Those who know Polo, and there more than a few aficionados of the “Sport of Kings” in this rarefied Valley, know Nic Roldan well. He is one of the top polo players on the planet, and he currently boasts an impressive 8-Goal Handicap Rating. They tell me that’s below par. A former Captain of the U.S. Polo team who travels the global Polo circuit for matches, he spends his summer months here in Aspen playing weekly at the Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale and at assorted other venues in the Valley.

In April of this year, he launched the aforementioned High Goal Luxury Gin, an homage to the sport that Nic excels in, and an extension of the aspirational lifestyle that polo represents. “Polo is not a mainstream sport, so we have to find ways to broaden the reach,” Nic said on a recent afternoon in the club room at Aspen’s Casa Tua where he sipped a house made version of his namesake cocktail.

The High Goal Luxury Gin is a collaboration among a trio of friends from Florida – Roldan, financier and entrepreneur Diego Urrutia and spirits professional Matti Anttila, all of whom have a taste for the finer things in life, including gin. “I fell in love with gin-culture in the UK where I went to for eight years to play polo,” Roldan says. He rode on the winning side in the 2018 Queen’s Cup, a prestigious and decidedly posh British polo competition. “Everywhere you go, especially in the summer at the Polo Fields, Gin and Tonic, G&Ts every calls them, were poured. I just loved the different styles of the spirit.”

In early 2019 a conversation between the three Floridians turned into a business plan. “We felt like the American market was in a perfect spot for an innovative gin product.” They gathered 20-30 brands of gins with different styles and did a thorough analysis — and taste test — of what attributes they liked and didn’t like. “My palate did not gravitate to the stronger juniper flavors, I prefer something a little subtler than some of the gins that rely heavily on juniper as the main flavor,” said Roldan.

Working with Antilla, who is co-founder and CEO of Grain and Barrel, a company that produces a variety of different spirits brands, they settled upon an infused blend that has instant hits of Meyer lemon and mint on the palate. It is a combination of botanicals that seems to suit Roldan. “We think it is something that can appeal to a younger generation of drinkers. They might say, ‘hey I like this, I can drink gin,’” he said of the High Goal formulation. “We like to say that it is best served on the rocks with a slice of lemon and fresh mint.”

Agreed, but High Goal also works well as a lead spirit for a plethora of refreshing cocktail concoctions. In addition to The Roldan, I poured G&Ts, Gin and Ginger’s, both with Fever Tree mixers, and combined a mint muddled, simple syrup for a mix with High Goal and sparkling water. All made the heat of this summer a little more bearable. Roldan and the High Goal team are in the process of calling on local bars and restaurants with the gin, hoping to expand the opportunities here for consumers.

Nic Roldan, who splits time between polo grounds in the Roaring Fork Valley and Florida, has started a line of gin.

Launched in April of this year, High Goal is produced in Charleston South and is crafted in small batches of just 3,000 bottles at a time. The base is six times distilled from corn, and a macerated seeping process infuses the flavors of the regionally inspired botanicals, including Meyer lemon, mint, juniper, coriander and cardamom. An Italian made bottle features an embossed image of a Polo player (Nic?) in action and the label highlights a quote from the iconic British Prime Minister – and noted bon vivant – Winston Churchill, who once said, “A polo handicap is a passport to the world.”

For Nicolas Ezequiel Roldan (known as Nic) that has surely been case. Born in Argentina to a German mother (Dee) and a third -generation polo champion father (Raul), his family moved shortly after his birth to Wellington, Florida, the hotbed of American polo. “I guess I was about 3 years old when I started riding and I turned professional in high school.”Want to see Nic play polo?

The Aspen Valley Polo Club (3275 County Road 100, Carbondale) hosts weekly matches on Sundays at 11 a.m. through August. The matches are open to the public and refreshments are available. High Goal Luxury Gin will also be poured in the Grand Tasting tent at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Sept 10-12.

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In the three and half decades since, he has competed on five continents and won just about every prestigious polo trophy including the US Open (at the age of 15, the youngest to do so), Argentina’s Copa Camara de Diputados in 2006 (80 years after his great-grandfather won it), the Australian Open and the aforementioned Queen’s Cup. In addition, the affable and handsome athlete has become a regular in fashion magazines as a professional model, as well as the gossip sheets as an eligible bachelor widely known for his high-profile relationships.

Nic Roldan takes kids from the Buddy Program on a barn tour at the Aspen Polo Club recent.
Courtesy image

Currently he splits his time between Aspen and his native Florida, where he is a regular rider at Marc and Melissa Ganz’ Aspen Polo Club and Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, two of the premier polo facilities in the country. He is also an ambassador for the local Aspen Buddy Program and just this past Fourth of July won his age group, finishing second overall in the July 4 Buddy 5K race.

“I am so fortunate to have the opportunities I have had and I really try to give back in some way.” The week of this interview he had hosted a number of kids from the Buddy Program on a barn tour with the horses that are the stars of the polo season. “Kids need mentors in this toxic world and because I travel so much I can’t do that, but I do what I can to help. Seeing the kids around the horses at the barn…it just hits my heart in a different way than other things. I love the Buddy program.”

Cheers to that.

2018 Shafer One Point Five

OK, back to the wine. I love it when wines have names that mean something to the wine makers and Shafer Vineyards has great wine names. One pays homage to a tractor (the TD-9), another to the journey of their winemaker (Relentless) and then there is this One Point Five. The name John and Doug Shafer, father and son, used to express their partnership representing, “a generation and a half.” This Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2018 vintage is the last that John Shafer saw before his passing in the spring of ‘19. And a great vintage it was for this Stag’s Leap release. A big wine with finesse, there are the traditional dark berry and plum aromas with hints of both vanilla and bit of mocha on first taste. The finish lingers long and the wine is pure pleasure. The product of a generation and a half of Napa Valley passion.

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