At the close of last year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival the traditional theme revelation for the coming year took many by surprise, with the exciting news that home country Canada would be in focus for 2017. The opportunity to coincide and connect the long-running Festival’s 39th year with the nationwide Canada150 celebrations wasn’t one to be missed, and the advocates and organizers pushed hard to make it happen. After waiting all year long and seeing the build-up and announcements as more wineries and events were added I’m beyond pleased the big, busy week has finally taken place! Humbled with generous media credentials, and armed with a Gold Pass for good measure, I devoted the past week to everything Canada has to offer the oenophile, from sea to shining sea.
Particular anticipation for the grand Festival Tasting Room was obviously present in spades, given the presence of 76 Canadian producers and their principals, alongside the friendly competition found in over one hundred additional international wineries. Before and between the big trade and consumer tastings Thursday to Saturday there were dozens of parties, dinners, and educational seminars as well, with precious little time to attend even a handful. I myself managed to sneak in a few visits to other events in between my time in the Tasting Room, starting with the Wines of Canada Party on Wednesday night. “The Permanent” a restored heritage hall in downtown Vancouver, hosted 31 Canadian wineries to kick off the Festival, and offered a diverse collection of national foods (including mouth-watering Lobster Profiteroles, Sweet Cheese Beignets, and PEI Potato Tart Pizzette). Nova Scotian bubbly champion L’Acadie Vineyards joined several Ontario wineries and many of my personal BC favourites to pour a number of samples not to be found in the Tasting Room.
Exclusive to Wednesday evening’s festivities were several sparkling rarities such as 8th Generation’s “Confidence” Frizzante Rosé, generously aged 2009 “Zephyr” Brut from Lake Breeze, renowned traditional method “The One” from Noble Ridge, and Sperling’s beautiful 2010 Sparkling Brut – a memorable highlight of the night for me. Just some of the other treats for this special crowd included sold out 2015 Rosés from 50th Parallel, Bench 1775 (the rare “Glow” Malbec), Hester Creek, and Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Vineyards, plus newly bottled 2016 from Evolve Cellars. Hester Creek was also showing off their never-to-be-missed Trebbiano, and Moon Curser’s Arneis made for another Canadian curiosity; meanwhile ripe Viognier from Red Rooster and delicate Ehrenfelser from Summerhill offered more reasons pay attention. Only several reds were on hand, and I couldn’t resist a sip from Howling Bluff’s legendary Pinot Noir and the ravishing Road 13 Syrah Malbec, despite both wines returning to the Tasting Room in the days to come.
Before the Thursday opening of the Tasting Room to members of the public, a small Festival Toast reception was held in private, serving additional wines from selected participating wineries. I was lucky enough to be present, where the talented Vancouver Convention Centre culinary team provided an extensive menu to fortify guests for the evening ahead. Delicious morsels to pair with a dozen-plus wines included Alberta Beef Tataki, Maple-seared Sockeye Salmon, Weathervane Scallop Ceviche, and Baked Oysters Rockefeller. Closson Chase and Devonian Coast Wineries charmed with Ontario Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, plus refreshing Nova Scotian sparkling; and a half-dozen BC wineries shared a few bonus bottles as well. Among those local exclusives were Private Reserve Pinot Noir and the exciting Old Vines Auxerrois of Gehringer Brothers, as well as Viognier and Merlot from Golden Mile neighbours Gold Hill. Liquidity, Tightrope, and TIME shared the top selections from their Tasting Room tables, and Tinhorn Creek brought out the ever-reliable Oldfield Series Merlot to supplement the full slate of Oldfield (Reserve) wines to be found inside.
Three days of extensive exploration in the Festival Tasting Room guaranteed enjoyment of hundreds of BC and Canadian wines, not to mention the stellar international contingent. Commentary on the great many standouts from our local producers is coming soon; it was exciting to see how many wineries pulled out all the stops for this very special year. For a prized opportunity to delve into food pairing the on-site Saturday luncheon celebrated all things Canadian in great style. In the Convention Centre’s beautiful upstairs promenade, overlooking the harbour and North Shore mountains, the stellar coast-to-coast grazing menu complimented another couple hundred wines from all 76 Canadian wineries in attendance. Beyond the convenience of going straight into the afternoon Tasting Room session to follow, the theme region Saturday lunch is a hugely valuable event, with near-endless, mouth-watering food all crafted with the wines in mind.
Other countries may have their legendary foods but the variety of historical flavours and styles in Canada is a cuisine unto itself, and it was all on display for the lucky attendees. It was honestly challenging to try it all, with the seafood alone including Wild Prawns, PEI Mussel and Clam Chowder, Nova-Scotia fried Oysters, West Coast King Crab & Halibut Cheek Cakes, and Maple-seared Sockeye Salmon (with Wasabi lime foam no less). If that wasn’t enough, and a hearty red wine one had in hand, St-Albert Cheddar & Leek Quiche led into Oven-roasted Ratatouille, then Bison Tataki, Coffee BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders, Alberta Beef Short Rib & Poplar Grove Tiger Blue Polenta, and Ivanhoe Aged Cheddar Gratin Potatoes. Of course one also couldn’t miss the Butternut Squash Agnolotti & Lac Brome Duck Confit, nor the Canadian Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with White Truffle oil. A Canadian culinary celebration wouldn’t be complete without our much-loved regional desserts, and the kitchen didn’t miss a chance to provide Nanaimo Bars, Maple Sugar Tarts, classic Blueberry Grunt, and groan-inducing Apple Pie Ice Cream Shots. The best part was that no matter what you piled on your plate, there was a Canadian wine to match and enhance the food, a reminder (or enlightenment for some) of the great breadth and depth available here at home.