Like powder hounds salivating for the first big snow dump , for me, Cornucopia brings all the joy and anticipation of the harvest season. And we are both in the gym getting ready, only instead of readying my legs for bumps; it’s all about my four-inch pumps.
My palate cleansed with two weeks of bland homemade vegetable soup and my mind packed with all the wine reviews Google could find, I’ve been counting down the days to my winemaker dinners, after-parties and workshops like a child waiting for Christmas morning.
Of course, I’ll chat any ears off willing to listen about the four days of dining bliss, but not everyone shares my Champagne glass tinklings.
When I ask friends what events they are attending, most replies come with a shaking of the head and protestations that the festival is outside of their budget.
But just like you put your faith in Ullr for snow, Whistlerites need to put their faith in Dionysus.
If a $300 winemaker dinner is the equivalent of one month’s rent for you, don’t walk away from the opportunity to celebrate with Whistler’s biggest food and wine festival, just opt for the Cornucopia on-a-budget route — no high heels required.
The top of my list is the Slow Food Artisan Market on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Westin Resort. The Slow Food Whistler conviviality hosts this food and drink sampling affair, which is perfect for the curious, Slow-Food-minded and budget-watching adventurer.
Browsing local artists’ wares — everything from photography to jewelry — is completely free of charge. And there is the option of purchasing tickets, at $1 each, to sample what the food artisans are cooking up.
Taste the difference an organic goat cheese makes or try homemade lavender shortcake cookies for the first time. Dip fresh fruit in chocolate fountains or discover how flavour-infused ghee adds flare to cooking. Take a swig at cocktail alternatives without alcohol or apply a face cream so natural you could eat it.
But whatever you do, dig for the change underneath your car seat for a toonie to buy a raffle ticket for great prizes, with all proceeds benefiting Slow Food Whistler.
Keep within the Slow Food learning curve and piggy bank shake by attending the Viking Series: Taking the Slow Road Home demonstration on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre.
A $10 donation to the Whistler Arts Council lands you in a conversation with food journalist Don Genova, who recently returned from studying at the Slow Food-inspired University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. Genova will share photos and adventures from the Slow Food capital of the world while chef Nathan Fong will put the “slow” Italian twist on how to prepare organic local food.
Other by-donation Viking Series visits include Inside the Chocolate Factory with Rogers’ Chocolates on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m.; and Coffee Cupping with the Pros on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 10 a.m.
Even though there are 78 wineries offering tastings, along with 17 restaurants’ best dishes to sample, the Crush! gala tasting at $100 might leave you eating macaroni and cheese for the next couple of weeks.
But don’t turn your nose up at wine tasting altogether, the budget minded can swish and swirl with the best of them at Cornucopia’s mini tasting series and regional tasting series.
The Regional Walkabout Tasting Series is sort of the backpacker’s version of wine tasting on Saturday, Nov. 10 and Sunday, Nov. 11 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre. You’ll find an array of off-the-beaten-track boutique wineries from California and Washington at this tasting. Many of the wineries showcased here only produce one varietal and therefore couldn’t be showcased at Crush! And tickets are only $35 — which wouldn’t even buy you two beer jugs at most local watering holes once tax and tip are added on.
Give your beer mug arm a rest and really put your palate to the test at one of the many Cornucopia Mini Tasting Series affairs. For $30, the one-hour tasting gets guests acquainted with a country or theme. The Rhone, Italy and Chilie mini tastings are already sold out, but still available are Spanish Whites on Sunday at 11 a.m., Worldly Whites at 11 a.m. and Organic Wines at 1 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre.
So you’ve passed on Crush! opted for a mini tasting series and a trip to the Artisan Market and you’ve decided that instead of a new Volcom sweatshirt, you are going to adventure into one of Cornucopia’s after-parties.
The best entertainment value ticket of the festival is the Whistler Arts Council’s 12th annual ARTrageous after party on Thursday, Nov. 8 at 9 p.m. at the Brewhouse. You don’t come to this party for the food and wine (although it is included with your ticket); this party is all about celebrating the arts with circus acts, dance troupes, live music from Soulstream, all-new-showing art exhibit, activity stations, mask making, canvas painting, body painting and more. You’ll find all the locals at this creative escapade; everyone knows artists know how to party. Tickets to this colourful affair are only $45, with all proceeds benefiting the local arts umbrella organization.
After-parties with price tags ranging from $100 to $200 may tempt — the Hilton’s authentic Cajun cuisine with alligator sausage and jambalaya at Arti Gras ($200); Araxi’s award-winning seafood treasure chest of oysters, lobster, prawns and sashimi with Champagne at Bubbles, Rhythm and the Deep Sea ($150); and Ric’s Grill’s filet mignon served 007 style at Casino Royale ($125).
Another alternative to the hundred-dollar splurge is a winemaker dinner — the heart of what this festival’s all about. These magical enchanted evenings tout a never-ending parade of perfectly choreographed food and wine pairings. Chefs create menus specifically to highlight wines. A chef and a winery representative host the evening, with chats between courses.
The winemaker dinner of the festival this year is Araxi’s $300 dinner showcasing 12 Kendall-Jackson wines and five-courses from executive chef James Walt.
A slightly less showy affair cuts the price in half with a $150 winemaker dinner experience at Elements. The boutique tapas parlour hosts an evening with equally cozy and quaint Pentâge Winery from Penticton on Thursday, Nov. 8. The five-course dinner includes venison carpaccio, chorizo seafood cioppino, duck breast, chevre cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding.
Ric’s Grill partners with Quails Gate winery on Sunday, Nov. 11 for a four-course dinner of ahi tuna, crab cake, Kobe filet mignon, lobster, and Valrhona chocolate dessert for $155.
Join in this abundant weekend with Dionysus sharing his intoxicating power of wine and good company, no matter what the cost — from $1 a ticket to once in a lifetime.
For tickets, visit the information booth outside of the Telus Conference Centre or visit whistlercornucopia.com.