Wine Festival! As just about everyone in Vancouver knows, it’s that time of year when the whole city puts on its #winelover hat and heads down to the convention centre. This year, at the 30th #VIWF, however, things are a bit different. The theme region at Vancouver International Wine Festival—for the first time ever—is Canada. And the official reason is to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.
But the unofficial reason is: it’s way past time to celebrate what many people, at various times, said wasn’t worth celebrating: Canadian wine. (Or, maybe I should say, Canadian-grown wines.)
I remember when I first brought up the idea—some time in the 1990s) that I should write about BC wines for WHERE magazine. (For whom I’m happy to say I still write.) Maybe, I suggested, visitors to Vancouver would be interested in knowing about Okanagan wines, where to try them; and even buy them to take home. The response was just a tad lukewarm, as in, “Do you really think so?”
Soon after, however, WHERE became an enthusiastic ambassador for the blossoming BC wine industry. Along the way we’ve introduced a whole lot of people to something they had no idea existed.
On the flip side I also recall the utter disdain which the wine ‘establishment’ showed towards BC wines in the 1980s. To be fair, the Okanagan had had its share of challenges. But the snobbery was palpable. And if you couldn’t tell your Burgundy from Bordeaux—let alone your Left Bank from your Right—then you had no right to be buying wine. Let alone drinking it.
A small group of intrepid, early Okanagan pioneers changed that attitude, along with a healthy assist from Australia, California and, later, Chile.
Most people today don’t truly grasp the impact that BC wine has had on our regional cuisine. It really didn’t exist until the Okanagan (and Vancouver island) came along and sowed the seed.
Even in Expo era Vancouver, most people didn’t have a clue what ‘regional cuisine’ meant. Sure, there was some good dining. But it was very euro-centric. At least until the likes of Cherrystone Cove, Raintree, Raincity Grill, C etc. arrived in the late 80s or 90s.
They and others really pushed BC wine by the glass and helped establish a strong food and wine pairing culture on the coast. BCWI’s first executive director, Christine Coletta was a big part of that,. She came up with the first pairing promo: ‘A Marriage made in BC’ matching wild salmon and Pinot Blanc (because Chardonnay hadn’t arrived yet …). You’ll find her at wine festival, too, pouring her Haywire wines.
A cross-Canada wine festival salute
However, this wine festival isn’t only about BC and its regions (from the Island to the Okanagan and beyond.) Also here are Ontario wineries from Niagara, Prince Edward County (although there should have been more …) and a great turn-out from Nova Scotia. Yes, Quebec is missing—but that’s more by accident and lack of supply than default.
Aside from offering an excellent showcase of just what each region has accomplished. I’m hopeful that this festival will also achieve something else.
For one thing, I hope that it will prove to politicians, especially to BC politicians, that the wine and hospitality industries are a force to be reckoned with. No longer to be trivialized and played as the petty pawns of politics. Or regarded as the eternal cash cow …
Tackling the International Tasting Room
Scan the list of wineries and you might find well yourself exhausted before you even get there. However, as with every major tasting, all it takes is a plan—and the willpower to stick with it.
The best way to start any tasting is with a glass of bubble. Also it’s here that you can really kick things off with a cross Canada sampling. Head for the far right hand corner of the tasting room, as you face the water…
Start on the east coast—because Nove Scotia has figured out what it can do best: sparkling wine. A couple of trend setters at wine festival not to be missed: L’Acadie (where ex BC-er Bruce Ewart will pour you his Prestige Brut 2010 and other sparklers), and Benjamin Bridge for their very convincing methode classique wines. Then head over to Ontario for some Trius Brut, and Pelee Island Secco, before winding up in BC, where the choices range from Haywire Pink Bub to Maverick Ella, Sperling Brut Rosé and Summerhill Cipes Brut. If you can’t get around the room that quickly, take ‘bubble breaks’ to help revive your palate.
Focus, Focus, Focus
First and foremost, always spit. But also restrict yourself to two or three varieties. My suggestion is to focus on what people do well. In Ontario you should taste Pinot Noir (don’t miss Domaine Queylus) Riesling (Hidden Bench, Trius) and Chardonnay (to be updated).
In BC you’ll find plenty to tempt, from Pinot Noir stars like 50th Parallel, Averill Creek, Cedar Creek, Foxtrot, haywire, Quails Gate, Spierhead and Howling Bluff (plus many others). For Riesling be sure to catch Tantalus, Culmina, Harpers Trail, Wild Goose and many more.
Our final wine festival red focus has to be Syrah, which has emerged as the BC red trendsetter, and arguably the wine which (perhaps along with Cabernet Franc) best defines BC. The choices here are wide ranging and excellent. Not to be missed: Black Hills, CC Jentsch, Painted Rock, Laughing Stock, Moraine and more.
Finally, save some time for the rest of the world, which also has plenty to offer. Plus, to keep things interesting, focus on the same varieties, so you can really get a sense of how BC and Canada at large is making waves in the wine world.
Find my previous wine festival Tasting Room survival tips here.