VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL WINE FESTIVAL
Where: Multiple venues, including the Victoria Conference Centre (720 Douglas St.) and Parkside Hotel & Spa (810 Humboldt St.)
When: Thursday, Sept. 29 through Sunday, Oct. 1
When it comes to wine, allegiances are like the password to your online banking app — impossible to change.
Pinot Noir, for example, has its diehard devotees, some of whom eschew other varietals. The same goes for fans of everything from Chardonnay to Cabernet.
That’s not where the difficulty lies in planning the ninth annual Victoria International Wine Festival, according to festival manager Dave Bain. His job is to convince those with a passing interest in wine that there is a spot for them at the wine bar for the city’s only international wine festival.
Bain said he was firmly entrenched in the newbie group, not that long ago.
“The reason I started this festival was that I was intimidated walking into a wine shop,” he said with a laugh. “I started with the principle: ‘How do we make a festival that is accessible, and one that when you walk into it you are going to feel welcome?’ ”
He wants those who attend the multi-day event, which takes place at several downtown venues, including the Victoria Conference Centre and Parkside Hotel & Spa (810 Humboldt St.), to “extend their knowledge” of wine — to take the advice of experts on hand, and pair that with their own understanding and tastes.
That helps both the industry as a whole, which has product to sell, and customers with ever-expanding palettes.
“When we started this festival, we had one event for 350 people over one day. Now, we have eight events over four days. Everybody benefits from that. If we have people coming into the region because they are part of the festival, a local restaurant hosting a wine dinner benefits from that support.”
The majority of patrons participate in tastings at the Victoria Conference Centre, which take place Friday evening (7 p.m.), Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.), and Saturday evening (7 p.m.).
But Bain has also put together a range of seminars and classes, which cater to both the experienced wine connoisseur and those new to the pursuit.
He’s not surprised many have sold out in advance, as the closed-door events have become popular draws at the festival. With an on-site liquor store selling many of the wines being sampled, ticketholders are eager to put their tastebuds to the test. “The idea of the seminars is that they give you access to experts who can make you more knowledgeable on a particular topic,” he said.
“The [seminars and classes] are unique, in the sense that they are being hosted by world-class speakers who are interested in sharing their wisdom and getting other people excited about it.”
This year’s festival will feature more than 350 wines produced by 50 wineries from 14 countries — including ones from Vancouver Island. In the nine years Bain has been producing the festival, he has seen the wine industry come to embrace product from a region known widely for its beer and gin. He expects the Island’s reputation to continue its expansion.
Food also factors prominently throughout the week, with culinary experiences and pairings at several local restaurants, including Zambri’s. The festival aims to promote affordable bottles along with hard-to-find ones, courtesy of wineries from B.C. through the Pacific Northwest and into California.
This year, California Wines is the regional focus for the festival, showcasing eight rare wineries.
Several cheese producers whose products have not yet not yet made it to the Canadian market will also be showcased, thanks to a relationship Bain forged with the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association and the United States Department of Agriculture, which enables the festival to involve eight cheese producers from Oregon and Washington.
That is yet another sign that Vancouver Island is raising its profile.
“We have a big hospitality industry in Victoria, but we’re always seen as a secondary market, because we’re up against Vancouver or Seattle.
“I would love to see this festival established as a destination festival.
“We want communities in places like California see this festival as somewhere they want to be. We want to continue to expand that.”