Vancouver Playhouse 2011: Day 1

Photo: from L-R Daenna Van Mulligen, aka Wine Diva; Ann Sperling, Winemaker, Sperling Vineyards; Alexandra Schmedes, Owner/Winemaker, Bodegas Ercavio; Jane Forrest Waghorn, Owner/Director, Astrolabe; Mary Ann Yewen, Director, Freixenet; Mariola Varona, Export Director, Bodegas Martin Codax; Morgan-leigh Norman, Brand Manager, Greg Norman Estates


Over the past 33 years, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival has grown into one of the top wine festivals worldwide. Let’s just look at the numbers alone: this week there will be 1650 wines, 176 wineries, 15 countries represented, 62 events, and over 25,000 attendees. That’s a lotta glasses! But it’s not simply ‘by the numbers’ where VPIWF excels.

One of their lines is “The Wine World is Here”, and it’s true. Numerous winery principals, winemakers and personalities make time to attend – pick them out by the royal blue lanyard holding their nametag. And they’re not just here to lead seminars and host dinners (though there’s a glorious amount of those). They’re in the tasting room, on the floor, waiting for your questions and wanting to share the stories of their wines. I have never been to another festival where you have such access to these wine pioneers and innovators all in one place – it’s an incredible opportunity for anyone with even a remote involvement with wine. From those casually interested and exploring the wine waters, to professionals/geeks like myself who relish expanding their palate and connections – and with numerous seminars, minglers, vintage tastings, dinners, lunches, brunches – plus an entire 3 day trade contingent – AND the ‘extracurricular activity’ tastings that inevitably pop up, this is a spectacular wine event.


1. Wear comfy shoes.

2. Don’t wear sweatpants.

3. Taste, taste, taste, taste! If you think you don’t like a certain region or style, head there first and earnestly try to convince yourself otherwise.

4. Spit, spit, spit and drink a lot of water along the way.

5. Ask questions. They’ve heard them all, believe me, and you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself.

6. Try something new. Times 50. There are many wines here not normally available for sale on this market. And there are many rare and specialty wines in the tasting room that you probably won’t get a chance to try otherwise, so here’s your chance.


7. Celebrate Spain, the Theme Region, and explore its diversity. The wineries in the Tasting Room are grouped by country, crossing 33 regions and various styles.

8. Don’t be mortified by fortified (thanks Harry Hertscheg, VPIWF Executive Director for that catchy gem). Fortified wines are this year’s Global Focus, and include Sherry, Port, and Madeira, among numerous others. These are complex, diverse and character-driven wines, little known here, and worth exploring.

9. Do not drink and drive. Obviously and period.

This rivals Christmas for me, truly.

My Playhouse week kicked off in La Grande Dame style, with Diva(s) at the Met. Hosted by the charismatic Wine Diva, aka Vancouver’s Daenna Van Mulligen, this seminar brought together powerful women in the wine industry to share stories, and of course, taste wine. The winery representatives present were owners, winemakers, global sales managers and they represented sites in Spain, New Zealand, Australia and BC.

Some were born into the industry, like Sperling Vineyard’s Anne Sperling, who after building a successful winemaking career across Canada, returned home to her 150 year old family estate in the Okanagan, to “make the wines that speak to her, from the land.” Others fell into the industry, like Mary Ann Yewen, Canadian Sales Director for Freixenet, with the company for 25 years after, on a whim, answering a help wanted ad for tasting room helpers. There was Morgan-leigh Norman, Greg Norman’s daughter, and now Brand Manager for her father’s Greg Norman Estateswine brands. After her successful career as a chef, and advice from her famous father to “follow your passion”, earned the credibility and experience to oversee the company. From the woman-centric and independent Galicia, in Spain, came Mariola Varona, Global Export Director for Bodegas Martin Codax, who proudly let the crowd know that “Spain is more than bullfighting and flamenco.”  And also now based in Spain is Alexandra Schmedes, a world travelling winemaker and consultant, who has opened her own winery, Bodegas Ercavio, in the outback of La Mancha. And there was Jane Forrest Waghorn, who together with her husband Simon, is celebrating her 30th vintage this year in the New Zealand wine industry, the last 14 years of which have been at their own Astrolabe, in Marlborough.


After the women each shared stories and laughter, Diva at the Met Chef Quang Dang presented canapés to pair with each wine, stretching into more stories, and more laughter, as the sold out crowd nibbled and sipped the evening away.


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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