From the VanWineFest : Wednesday


From the VanWineFest : Wednesday


Although the 35th annual Vancouver Wine Festival  began Monday evening with wine dinners around town, EAT joined the festivities mid-week, and at the start of the Trade events. This year the Wine Marketing Symposium’s topic was Wine: A Growing Culture.

The discussion circled around the question What is wine culture? Is there a Canadian wine culture? How to we preserve it? How do we build it?

The panel, led by moderator Anthony Gismondi, was made up of wine professionals from inside and outside BC’s wine scene, and crossed demographics and audiences. Gismondi set the tone by reminding the room that even in light of some of our archane liquor laws in this province, “Vancouver has a fabulous wine culture.” From presentation to education and storage to sharing, the bar is very high in this city. And festival week, in particular, “the wine world is here”.

Much of that culture is in thanks to the continued presence of Wine Fest itself, and panelist and Executive Director of the Vancouver Wine Festival Harry Hertscheg took attendees on a trip down memory lane back to the very first, two night wine festival back in 1979. “In Praise of Wine”, as it was billed back then, was John Levine’s brazen leap at establishing wine culture for the public in a time when there wasn’t any. This humble fundraising initiative for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company featured just one vintner – Robert Mondavi – and saw approximately 1,000 people attend the event at Hycroft, the Shaughnessy mansion owned by Vancouver’s University Women’s Club. By its forth year, the festival had grown to attract 45 California wineries, becoming known as the California Wine Festival. By the ninth annual festival, in 1987 wineries from seven different countries decended on Vancouver for the event, and it has grown to today’s numbers, with 15 countries present this year and 176 wineries (and winery principals) in attendance. Of course this year the regional theme is California Wines, a fitting tribute to Robert Mondavi being the first presenter 35 anniversaries ago.

This year also marks 30 years of BC Liquor Stores’ involvement with wine fest, and operating an on-site retail outlet for festival-goers. European Portfolio Manager, Barb Philip MW, and Director of Marketing Paulette Parry from BCLS shared some current stats with the crowd:

  • The BC Liquor Stores do $1 billion in sales annually
  • Over the last 12 months, there was been a 6.8% increase in purchase value, and a 5% increase in volume
  • The $15-20 category of wine has experienced a 9% growth
  • The numbers show that wine sales in BC are set to surpass beer sales in 2 years

Impressive numbers, but the last stat, in particular, really shows how important wine has become to people in this province.

The panel agreed that sharing the passion of wine was the key in building this wine culture. From early sommeliers and wine instructors (Mark Davidson, Park Heffelfinger) to today’s numerous options for formal education (WSET, ISG), to casual, unintimidating classes (East Van Wine Academy), fewer cities have as many options as Vancouver for learning a little, or a lot, about wine. Panelist Kurtis Kolt, founder of East Van Wine Academy talked about taking the snobbiness out of wine and replacing it with personal and passionate opinion. “Through wine education, the passion and enthusiasm for wine becomes contagious. I want to show how I have fun with wine.”

Yes – we’re doing a great job, at least in Vancouver, but before we let our wine heads get too big, Kolt cautioned about taking all of this for granted. The recent closure of cultural hub The Waldorf Hotel, and the folding of Canada’s main national wine magazine, Wine Access, is proof positive of that.

Panelists were invited from outside of BC to show wine culture in other regions. Peggy Perry, of Calgary’s exemplary Willow Park Wines and Spirits talked about including the younger generation in decision making events and store planning to reach that important demographic. The wide reaching success of the store, a model for wine stores across the country and North America, is evidence of their approach. And Peter Lehmann’s Matt Lane spoke of a global, Aussie-tinged viewpoint of how Vancouver’s ‘cliqueyness’ can prevent us from accepting outside perspective. Noting that “Aussies and Canadians are united by our shared desire to drink”, he and his company is now well accepted in the BC market, but it wasn’t always the case. Lane also noted that companies should target a single demographic, study them and then speak to them, rather than diluting the message across many planes.

The final panelist astutely summed up a well-executed and delivered marketing plan, not directed at generation but to segment. Honore Comfort, Executive Director of Sonoma County Vintners showed how Sonoma is strikingly similar to BC in that “diversity is its winemaking strength, but its biggest marketing challenge.” Sonoma directs their attention towards ‘Experience Seekers’, involving guests in all aspects of wine, tourism and agriculture – either in person or via the website and marketing materials. She shared a fantastic video by Sonoma’s Gundlach Bundschu winery – one family, one vineyard, 154 years of winemaking – and their love for Merlot. The short clip cheekily shows the ‘comeback‘ of Merlot, but the medium is certainly not your typical traditional (boring) wine clip.

By the end of the 3 hour session two points were crystal clear. Firstly, there is a very strong wine culture here in Vancouver, built on educational exposure, and trickling out to the rest of BC. Second, we can’t take it for granted, and those in the industry owe it to share their passion and knowledge with the younger generations in a way that will reach them and they can use and access.  Wine culture, like wine, is a living thing, and if we continue to nurture it, it will continue to grow.


Watch for DRINK Editor Treve’s daily posts & tweets from #VanWineFest @VanWineFest

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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