I love a good wine festival. When the feature country is France and the theme is bubbles, it would take a small army to prevent me from attending – so, one damaged shoulder is nothing.
Since 1979 the Vancouver International Wine Festival (#VIWF) has invited a world of wine to the west coast’s front door, if only for a short while. The Festival initially showcased one winery (Robert Mondavi) and attracted 1,000 people over two days. This year, an estimated 20,000+ people tasted wines from 178 countries – no small feat for a province limited by legislation and regulations prohibiting easy movement of alcohol / spirits.
With the opportunity to taste wines otherwise unavailable to us (and bubbles!), I jumped into the Festival with both feet – plus that damaged shoulder and a new notebook. As “media” I was treated to an itinerary designed by the Festival’s public relations firm, Heth PR. It was full-on, with seminars and tastings and lunches from 9am to well into the evening. The folks at Heth took quite good care of me. thanks, Kristine!
The Festival offers consumers a chance to learn about wine; however, its value rests with participating wineries who get products in front of buyers, sommeliers, and decision makers – who influence consumer buying. There are few channels for wines to get on BC store shelves (private or government) and the wines here aren’t all regularly represented at government stores. These are referred to as one time buy* wines, and once they’ve sold out they’re gone.
The tasting room floor is enormous, with one-quarter of the room dedicated to the feature country. I spent the first two tasting sessions in France and elbowed my way through Champagne (tables for the feature country are regional). Hundreds of wines that we might not otherwise see in our province are brought in specifically for the Festival – if you want to pour a wine on the tasting room floor, you must have it for sale on site.
All sorts of politics are at play when it comes to obtaining a listing with the provincial liquor stores. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how it has come to exist: it’s like an hourglass, with a schwack of wines trying to get through one narrow passage. Fortunately, we also have importers and private liquor stores like Marquis Wine Cellars to help de-homogenize the offerings. How this happens is another story – a long, well-researched one. Stay tuned.
For a few days each year, VIWF offers us an opportunity to be hopeful: of more diversity of product, of increased wine exposure to the pubic beyond the large international labels who dominate our market, and that our newborn-esque BC wine industry can benchmark itself against the world while gaining new fans.
It’s not inexpensive for wineries to participate, and attendee ticket prices can range from in-lieu-of-lunch to slip-on-a-ball-gown-and-don’t-ask-the-price. Hundreds of volunteers donate time and expertise. Principals and winemakers of international notoriety are available to approach in small group sessions. It’s awesome, and for wine folks it’s worth every nickel. I was (twice) in a room with Michel Chapoutier, met nice people from Louis Latour, and chatted with sommelier Mark Davidson during an Aussie luncheon. Cool beans.
The value of something like the VIWF varies depending on your perspective. I’ve a piece coming up with EAT Magazine that takes a look at participating from the Okanagan winery angle. Watch for it.
And even when I one day depart from the world of wine-related writing, I know I’ll find value in the Festival ticket – ball gown or otherwise. Because until we change how they get to our shelves, many of those wines will only be available at places like the festival, and fleetingly, if at all.
* correction: “one time buy” wines, as pointed out by Paul Rickett, are brought in for the VIWF – “spec” wines are not available at BC liquor stores but are often brought in to private liquor stores