Over 20,000 people came to the Vancouver Convention Center last week for the 2014 @VanWineFest; the expected crowd of doctors and lawyers but also mechanics, secretaries and firefighters... for too long I've heard the rhetoric from people explaining to me how much they love wine but how they wouldn't feel comfortable coming to a Wine Festival.
"It's too stuffy for me. I just want to enjoy the wine!"
Take a look at my friend Gustavo from VistAlba wines, Argentina. He sure looks like he's enjoying the wine! The @VanWineFest is, to me, what people want it to be. This was my third year of delving deeply into the inner dimensions not only of wine, but the people behind the wine. That was the true allure and what has me hungry for the 2015 Wine Fest already. I mean, if the event is about people then the year that was focused on France obviously had its highlights... but Australia next year? If there's going to be one wine event you go to - this is it. And it won't be stuffy, that much is for certain!
In the space of three days I spent time with winemakers from France, marketing directors from New Zealand, sales gurus from Chile and vineyard managers from California. I sipped outrageously expensive champagne with a man who traces his family back through 8 generations of winemaking and then swapped Okanagan stories with a recent transplant to Canada who felt that this was his new home... all under the canopy of the Coal Harbor vista and surrounded by thousands of people enjoying themselves as much as I.
Here is a small smattering of the decidedly divine wines I discovered, and the stories of the people behind them.
1. Villa Maria "Private Bin" Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
90 points, GREAT VALUE
$18.99 listed in the http://www.bcliquorstores.com/
. Fantastic~! This winery is 100% family-owned and run, having just finished its 51st vintage and with a more then sizable production. The quality that goes into this modestly-priced white impressed me, and all the more when I started to learn their techniques: multiple passes through the vineyards when harvesting is one. What this does is allow the pickers to choose only the perfect grapes meaning that what then gets pressed for juice (and then wine) is also perfect. This is a sustainable winery, employing some of the highest-standards in organic viticulture in New Zealand and is driven by the fastidious George Fistonich, proprietor. Remember those grapes? I asked my friend who works with them, "What happens if the grapes aren't up to Georges standards?" "George doesn't believe in "good-enough" was the response. "Either they're perfect, or we pass. That's how he built this company and it's not changing."
. THE WINE: aromas of young yet well-balanced stonefruit and floral tones... apricots, peaches, wild flowers. Fresh, clean and very inviting! The palate offers medium+ grapefruit acid which is refreshing on it's own but carries enough weight and structure for great food pairings: brilliantly precise minerality made me immediately want to serve this with oysters, but would be a natural for many seafood dishes including Thai/Vietnamese/Indian seasoned food.
2. Poplar Grove Pinot Gris
Penticton, BC *Okanagan Valley DVA*
90+/91 points, GREAT VALUE
. also 100% estate fruit, I asked Ian Sutherland, winemaker what brought such concentration and finesse to the wine. "We had the courage to wait" he replied. He told me about that particular vintage and how, in the Fall, the fruit just wasn't ripe enough. They could have picked a little early... the grapes wouldn't have been perfect but it's better then letting the bears eat them, or the deer. Or watching them washed away by heavy rains or frozen on the vine by a cold-snap. I'm only one-generation off the farm and so when Ian told me about how nervous he got, watching the weather, watching the grapes, until that late warm spell when a week of sunshine came. Well, I understood what he was saying. "It's about freshness, ripeness and aromatics" he continued, "there needs to be a balance between all of the components. And that, that comes from the vineyard. If we don't do it right out there, then it just doesn't happen." Any of my readers with a vegetable garden will understand Ian as well as I do, I think.
. THE WINE: a fully expressive wine with rich aromas of warm peach cobbler and grapefruit marmalade... crisp young acid, well balanced and a terrific representation of the World-Class work BC can produce. Food pairings? Sure the seafood dishes will work but BC salmon will lend a certain fattiness to create beautiful balance! Another? Duck is a perennial favorite of mine: same reason.
3. LaPostolle Cabernet-Sauvignon
Colchagua Valley, Chile
91 points, EXCELLENT VALUE
$28.99 listed in the http://www.bcliquorstores.com/
. "French by birth, Chilean by nature" is the motto here and, after tasting the wine, I can understand why. "French by birth" is a nod to the restrained, elegant style of wine; a harmony of fruit, earth and floral tones I knew as soon as I tasted this that I had found something special. But it was the "Chilean by nature" that really got me because, for all the finesse, all the stylish charm of the wine, the gusto was pure Chile. It's as if what the wine says is Chilean, but it says this in a French accent! I was hooked, having loved the power and concentration of Chilean Cabs for years but am currently discovering the nuances of Bordeaux. This winery was started by Alexandra LaPostolle, daughter to the head of that famous family that has owned and grown the Gran Marnier brand into a world-wide phenomena. But she wanted to do something of her own and when she walked the vineyards of the Colchagua Valley found that she was humming to herself... she had found a place to call her own. 15 years later and you and I get to reap the benefit of Alexandra's belief that Chile still has much it can show the world, and itself, about the heights of quality it is just beginning to reach. This is the kind of value that is Very Hard to find - even for me.
. THE WINE: so restrained, but with such force, such concentration... red and black berry aromas melting with roast beef and savory herbs warming in the garden. The palate opens with a burst of lively red current acid then is followed by earth/wood tones and that same herbaceousness from the bouquet. Well integrated tannin with plenty of chew to them, this is a brilliant wine for top-tier beef and while it can be enjoyed now - cellar it for a decade or more and watch it turn into a sophisticated powerhouse!
Northern Beaujolais, Burgundy, France
90+ points, EXCELLENT VALUE
about $25 in BC, http://www.duboeuf.com/
. when Laurent Gamonet, brand ambassador for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf and I met, I knew that I had found a kindred spirit. A ready smile, a firm handshake, and an eagerness to share the joy of the Duboeuf story (and wine) - Laurent is not only a true gentleman, but a kind one as well. It was a welcome reprieve from a very long day when I shared a table with him and listened as he spoke with genuine passion about the dedication that Georges has had since the beginning. One story stuck with me of how when Georges was barely 20 years old the local merchants refused to pay him enough money for the high-quality grapes his family vineyard was producing. Rather then sell himself short, or stint on quality, Georges decided to start making wine himself! And when the wine was made, off he went on his bicycle and sold it by hand to restaurants in the local villages. Now 81 years old, George's business sells 2.5 million cases annually. It reminds me of a Kevin Costner film: "If you build it, they will buy it..."
. THE WINE: what an elegantly perfumed, slightly-sweet raspberry and red flower bouquet. Nuanced hints of wild scrub-brush (known as sous-bois or under-growth) and a brilliantly keen/precise mineral backbone. Ultra fresh yet inviting acid, very fine tannin - it would be very difficult for most people to tell this Gamay Noir from Pinot Noir. The difference however is that this is about half the price (or less) then the same quality in Pinot from just across the border into Burgundy proper. Food pairing? There's a reason we called braised beef with mushrooms Beef Bourguignon!!!
5. Bodegas Santa Ana sparkling Malbec rose (15% Pinot Noir)
90 points, EXCELLENT VALUE
about $14 in BC
. If I hadn't been impressed by the fact that this company is just around the corner from celebrating its 125th anniversary, I was most certainly impressed by tales of "Opi" Sadler, its current winemaker. You see Opi, as he likes to be known, has been working here for 27 years... so what you ask? Well, this was Opi's very first (and only) job. He has never worked anywhere else, nor could he imagine it. Opi is the third generation in his family to work as winemaker and the only thing he likes more then telling a bad joke, is telling people about the history of Santa Ana and his family. Opi loves to talk about when he was a little kid, maybe 5 years old, and the family would congregate at his grandfathers house for a feast. Grandpa would ask little Opi to go down to the cellar and grab a few bottles of wine but Opi was scared of the bats that lived down there! That is, he was scared until he learned to look at it a different way: he started to see the bats as the Guardians of the Cellar, the Protectors of the Wine. Now he is the Protector and it is us he protects the wines for; careful stewardship of the land, passion, commitment... these are the things that I could taste in the wine. One of the best values in sparkling wine I have ever had.
. THE WINE: so utterly fresh! Lightly spiced young raspberry aromas with complimentary tones of pink roses and clean minerals... the palate also so vibrantly alive: fresh cherries at the beginning of ripeness, red raspberries and the same mineral/floral bouquet. Great balance, this over-delivers for the price! Food? The start of a meal with light appies, the end of a meal with creamy dessert, after a meal with the one you love... you decide! If you need more choices, this wine will SING with a variety of sushi especially tuna, scallops and salmon.
And this literally was the tip of the iceberg. The wines were as beautiful as they were plentiful. Always something to nosh on if you're so inclined, great people from all over the world to talk to - it's easy to understand now how people can book the week of WineFest off and absolutely fill it with activities. France may have been the focus region this year on paper, but to me I will remember this year as focusing on the human heart. Perhaps it was just all the bubbly wine? But every time I turned my head I saw another smile, heard another laugh and felt another genuine person standing across from me - just wanting to share the story of their families passion.
My thanks to the @VanWineFest and Heth PR ( http://hethpr.com/ ) for access to the Consumer Tasting room and for coordinating such a stellar event so close to home.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine