Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival

Blogging from lovely Vancouver, BC, I am here for 4 days attending the 30th annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. It’s a great show, with something like 30,000 people attending the 60 events over 6 days. More than 175 wineries will be pouring over 1000 wines at the public and trade grand tastings, whose feature region this year is Italy, and feature style is sparkling (one of my favorites). The whole festival sold out early this year, and there is definitely a buzz downtown. It’s clear that there’s an economic stimulus from this wine festival – hotels throughout downtown Vancouver are sold out, restaurants are packed every day and night, and the streets are alive with well-dressed men and women adorned with their festival passes, at all hours of the day. It’s refreshing to see daffodils and tulips, to smell the humid sea air, and to walk upon streets and sidewalks cleaned daily by the intermittent showers and rainfall.

Apparently Jacques Rogge from the IOC was in town yesterday to speak at a Chamber of Commerce and Trade event, complimenting organizers on their fastidious preparations for the 2010 Olympic Games. I wondered what was going on. When we arrived at the Fairmont Waterfront yesterday, the adjacent Pan Pacific Hotel (which is connected to the convention centre where most of the wine festival takes place), was surrounded by lines of police officers and barricades, and there was a police boat slowly crossing in the bay. I thought something more serious was happening, but apparently there are still some actively reticent Vancouverites who are unimpressed with their city hosting the next Winter Olympics.

I wandered a few familiar blocks of the city last night and this morning with a colleague and was reminded of how much I love Vancouver, and the west coast in general. Growing up in Calgary, I never really knew that anything better existed, even when my parents bought a boat and had me spend a few weeks each summer out here. But upon going to university at UVic, my love for the climate, the geography, the lifestyle and the progressive and culturally-oriented nature of the people really took me. These facets independently took my wife too; one of those little common interests which bind us. Every time I or we come out here, I am reminded how much I love this place, whether it’s Vancouver or Vancouver Island. Moving back, whether it’s to the island or to this city, is not far off in our future.

The festival has been great so far, albeit it hasn’t really started yet. Yesterday involved a meeting and a symposium, but today and tomorrow are the two big days. Today’s steady work begins in an hour, when we go set up for the trade show. The main focus of the festival are the grand tastings, where every winery pours selected wines of their choosing, and a reported 21,000 people circulate over 16 hours in 3 days. The trade portion of the grand tasting, which is open to members of the industry (restaurant owners, merchants, winemakers, etc.) only, runs from 1:30 until 5:00. Then I have one of two seminars to attend from 5:00 until 6:45, and then the public grand tasting from 7:00 until 10:00. This cycle is repeated tomorrow, except I have an 8:00 breakfast meeting, followed by a 10:00 seminar, and a 5:15 meeting instead of a seminar. Somewhere in all of this mess I will find time to eat… or not.

The great thing about Playhouse is not necessarily the wine events, though they are wonderfully professional, rather the quality of the industry representatives who attend and the subsequent behind-the-scenes meetings. Playhouse has a waiting list of wineries from around the world who want to participate, so the organizers have the luxury of mandating a requirement that a principle must attend from each prospective winery (a winemaker, an owner, or person of similar stature). This means that the true decision-makers of wineries and the wine industry from around the world are all together, so the side meetings and boardroom discussions are more fruitful than any other festival in Canada, which of course, is incredibly valuable.

More to follow in coming days…

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