Ah, champagne. The magic in these tiny bubbles captivated our hearts long before the incomparable Don Ho sang those words. We saw champagne as decadent in the 1920s, with flappers and prohibition, and it has marked our celebrations and milestone moments for decades. They’ve been reserved for special occasions and have become almost mandatory to properly welcome a new year. For me, bubbles are part of a typical Tuesday. Research? Yes. And preference.
Technological advancements in the cellar have helped to reduce labor costs in sparkling wine production and introduced new ways to get those bubbles in the bottle, removing barriers and bringing the party to the people without as hefty a price. These developments have also provided some confusion as to what sparkling wine is – and could or should be.
Next week, I’m going to Australia. Also Chile. Probably Germany, Spain, and Italy, too. The best part: I’m carpooling with a friend and it will take about five hours for us to reach our destination.
The Vancouver International Wine Festival runs February 20 through March 1. From wine-paired dinners and minglers to seminars, all roads lead to the main event: a series of massive tastings in an enormous ballroom where dozens of countries occupy hundreds of tables and pour thousands of bottles of wine. It’s a sweet deal, anticipated by consumers and industry alike.
Whether you’re attending one event or diving in for many, there are ways to make the most of your time.
Choosing An Event
Determine your goal. Each event is suited to help you achieve something different, with a few overlapping benefits. Decide what’s most important to you: a focused tasting with a smaller portfolio, exposure to a wide variety of new wines, in-depth education on a specific region, etc. Ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience, and find an event that matches.
Be flexible. Is the event you want already sold out? Many have wait lists. Get in touch with the organizers, ask, and keep yourself open to jump in at the last minute. It happens.
Skip the perfume/cologne. It interfers with your ability to smell the wine and will make you unpopular with everyone including the visiting winery. We want to smell wine, not you.
Dress for comfort and style. Many events are an opportunity to don your best threads, but keep in mind the situation you’re headed for. Dark tops are good for a wandering, nibbling feast (think hand-held bites) as things can get messy/drippy. Stillettos are lovely, but might not be ideal for a 3-hour tasting room tour with no seating to provide respite for tired toes.
In the Moment
Be mindful.In a crowd, queue up and step away when you’ve had a taste. In a seminar, try to keep chatting to a minimum so your neighbours can hear the presenters. At a dinner, give the host a chance to talk about the wine and food – even at the end, when we might be a little tipsy.
Sip responsibly. Have a designated driver and take advantage of spittoons. Keep hydrated. Eat well, and often. This is a marathon.
Try something new. The best part of Festival is discovering a new gem. Break out of your habits and you’ll be delightfully rewarded.
Best Value (not sold out – yet)
Seminar: Mod Oz, $45, Saturday Feb 28, 5:15pm. Taste some of the unexpected and hard to find gems coming out of a newer, modern Australian wine culture. Bonus: moderated by the talented Treve Ring and Mark Davidson. Access to these folks is worth the price of admission.
Seminar: McLaren Vale Scarce Earth, $55, Saturday Feb 28, 5:15pm. Go glass-deep into the study of single vineyard terroir with shiraz/syrah from this diverse and complex wine region. Bonus: moderated by Rhys Pender, MW. Who better to help unearth the secrets of McLaren Vale than this witty Aussie.
International Festival Tastings: $89 Thurs Feb 26, 7pm | $68 Sat Feb 28, 3pm. The Saturday night event is sold out, but don’t mind that. Enjoy a less crowded Thursday evening or Saturday afternoon; get the same exposure to outstanding wines with fewer elbows.
There’s nothing wrong with the idea of unconditional love when it’s applied within the context of (maybe) family, pets, or your first crush. Beyond those, it’s entirely acceptable to have conditions – it’s the responsible way to care.
I love BC wine. I’m an unabashed cheerleader for it; not because the industry – primarily the people in it – need me, but because it and the folks working in it deserve our support while they grow. Here’s where the unconditional part comes in.
Should we love BC wine unconditionally? Hell no. It’s not my family, a pet, or my first crush. (if it is my family, then all the more reason to give it a hard time)
Instead, BC wine is more deserving of a complicated love affair. We’re still discovering each other, falling in love – hard, and at the same time we’re able to see beyond the initial glow and more deeply into the flaws that make us unique. To love all of this unconditionally would be to do a disservice to the people we care so much about.
I want to go the distance with my BC wine love affair, which means I’m probably in for a bumpy ride. I’m okay with that – as long as it’s willing to go the distance with me. I think it is. The fact that we have such diversity in one province tells me that some are moving beyond the expectation of unconditional love and working to earn their place in the complicated love affair.
For my part, I’m willing to work just as hard – to educate myself beyond a BC palate, to have honest conversations about what I’m drinking, and to shine a light on the beautiful parts of our relationship.
My BC wine relationship status: happily, it’s complicated.
Here are a few of those beautiful parts in this grand love affair with BC wine.
People and place are what lend time context. We can measure it, but we can’t make it – and maybe that helps gives time a value.
Someone who has given one place (the Okanagan) a great deal of his time is Harry McWatters. 2013 marks his 46th vintage in winemaking – a remarkable amount of time in any industry.
The McWatters timeline includes planting what was in its day the largest vineyard in Canada, purchasing fallow land others shook their heads at in disbelief, and starting unproven Bordeaux reds in the Okanagan desert. Add to that the founding of a quality assurance program (today’s VQA brand), growing one of the most successful wineries in British Columbia (Sumac Ridge, later sold to larger commercial interests), and retiring a few years ago only to restart a second (or third? fourth?) career – still in the wine industry. Bringing the word “meritage” to Canada? Harry did that, too.
If people and place lend time its context, then Harry was meant to launch TIME Estate Winery in the Okanagan.
The winery license was obtained in 2011, and TIME began its first vintage of Chardonnay and Meritage (red and white). The people behind the brand are Harry, partner Bob Wareham, and Dick Cleave, viticulturist. Current vintages have been made under the watch of Township7 winemaker Bradley Cooper, acting as Harry’s hands in the process.
Time, it could be said, is on their side.
2011 TIME Chardonnay$27.99: looks like pale liquid gold; smells like hazelnuts and butter; tastes… like it looks and smells.
2012 TIME Meritage (white)$25: looks like sun-bleached straw; smells like honeysuckle, pear, peach, cantaloupe, pineapple…; tastes bright and beautiful, like a summer day after a sun shower.
2011 TIME Meritage (red) $29.99: looks like garnets drowned in ink; smells like memories of boot leather, cherries and cocoa, sage; tastes like the okanagan.
Wine country isn’t just a place anymore. It’s an attitude.