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Playhouse Festival Wrap-Up

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By Judith Lane

It’s taken three days to collect and reflect on a full week’s treats and excesses at the 31st Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.

And what a week it was. More than 1,700 wines from 183 wineries in 15 countries were poured at 61 official events. Fifty-eight of the wineries were from British Columbia, 2009’s feature region. Pinots of every sort—Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Grigio—were the varietal focus.

The kick-off was Monday’s Get Uncorked, a casual late afternoon grazing wine and food pairing event, complete with words from Inniskillin Okanagan winemaker Sandor Mayer who presented his small production Discovery Series wines. B.C. Zin? B.C. Malbec? You bet. Tasty too. Festival Executive Director Harry Hertscheg officially greeted the gathering and the Festival was well and truly underway.

Winemaker dinners kept many of us busy on Monday evening (B.C. winemakers), and Tuesday too (California and Australia). Things got cooking on Wednesday with a fascinating in-the-round interactive dialogue entitled Eco-friendly Wine: Over-hyped, Over-Priced? Fifteen international panelists, and a vocal audience of winemakers and the public offered opinions, solutions, and more questions.

I dashed off to judge chefs from 11 B.C. restaurants competing in the Fetzer Wine and Appetizer Challenge for magnums of wine and travel vouchers, and most importantly glory and bragging rights. Once the judging was done, the public flooded into the venue, ate and drank and voted for their choice. This year’s winner chef Ryan Mah of Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House was also the public’s pick. Mah won last year too when he worked at Wild Rice Modern Chinese.

While we were eating and sipping, others sat down to a vertical tasting of Oculus, Mission Hill Family’s Estate’s iconic wine, one of B.C.’s revered best. Four hundred deep-pocketed guests donned their finest gowns and tuxes and tripped off to the Bacchanalia Gala and Auction, the Festival’s big-ticket Champagne-soaked fundraiser. Handsome bottles, and spectacular dinners were auctioned off and pulled in a hefty $273,000 for the Playhouse Theatre, the Festival’s namesake beneficiary.

Both Thursday and Friday mornings were focused on the ‘Trade’—restaurateurs, sommeliers, and wine store operators—with a raft of seminars, vertical tastings, and two full afternoons in the Tasting Room where wine tasting vied with schmoozing.

There were amazing seminars including the man—George Riedel himself—demonstrating how glassware affects the taste of wine. There was something suited for every wine palate, but the really big fun took place in the vast Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre ballroom under the sails at Canada Place Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The Festival Tastings are truly the heart and soul of the event, and the people who come out to them are what set our Wine Festival apart from all others on the continent. They’re what bring wineries back again and again. No easy feat since each winery must be represented by a principal—owner or winemaker—who stand behind their tables pouring and talking about their wines. They’re enamoured of our wine drinking public whose level of interest and wine knowledge is a cut above. Sure, there are always those who ask for the expensive stuff, and those who drink too much, but mostly they’re respectful and interested. So much so, that the on-site wine shop sells out many labels early on.

Referring to the crowds, wine agent Jaime Cowan of Landmark Selections says, “I love these people. They’re our customers and they’re the most important people in the world. I love pouring wine for them.”

The weekend saw a couple of dozen wine soaked lunches from instant sell-outs like A Culinary Tango, Dine Out Italia, and Licensed to Thrill—Germany’s 07 Vintage. Tickets were scarce too for Blasted Church’s (this is a B.C. winery with a colourful history) Midnight Service featuring wine, BBQ, and gospel in Christ Church Cathedral. Proof that there’s nothing stuffy about this Festival.

Sunday wrapped with two huge brunch events—each swamped with B.C. restaurants producing dishes paired with a chosen winery’s wines, and several more winemaker dinners for good measure.

And so we survived another great Festival. And the best part? We get to do it all again next year, in April after the 2018 Olympics. The featured regions are Argentina and New Zealand, and rosé wines will be in the spotlight. Best, yet it will be next door in the spanking new Convention Centre. We had a sneak preview this week during building’s inaugural event, the B.C. Restaurant’s Hall of Fame Dinner. It’s truly breathtaking. Have a peek.

Here are my top tastes from the 2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival:

Caymus Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir 2006, Napa  

Beaune 1er Greves L'enfant Jesus - Bouchard Pere 2005  (aka Baby Jesus)

Galil Mountain Pinot Noir 2006, Israel

Ukiah Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Magnanimus Wines, California

Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington

Long Shadows Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2005, Columbia Valley, Washington

Olivier Leflaive Volnay 2005, Burgundy

Santa Margherita Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta DOGG N/V, Italy

Thompson Estates Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2005, Margaret River, Australia

Oysoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2006, Okanagan Valley, BC

Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2005, Naramata Bench, Okanagan, B.C.


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