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An expert's guide to the Vancouver International Wine Fest

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The Vancouver International Wine Festival (née Playhouse) returns next week to the Vancouver Convention Centre for the 35th straight year. There is little doubt it's the best wine show in the country and with more than 60 events to choose from, consumers are likely to be as happy with Year 35 as they were with Year One.

For those of you who missed the first one — likely most of you reading this — the quick version is famed Napa Valley winery, Robert Mondavi, was the only producer at the original two-day, two-event show held at Hycroft, home to The University Women's Club on the edge of Shaughnessy. The event was a "component tasting" designed to introduced newbies (and there were lots of us in 1979) to acid, tannin and fruit — the main components of wine. It wasn't nearly as boring as it sounds, but it was hardly what you can expect in 2013.

In many ways the festival is an amazing event for local wine drinkers who live under some of the most oppressive liquor taxes and regulations in the world. But somehow British Columbians have managed to rise above the taxes and the mishmash of quasi-privatised wine shops to make this wine market one of the most vibrant in North America. Festival week seems to set one free, at least when you are inside the tasting room where not only is the selection vast but the chance to meet the people who make the wine happens at every booth. It's what makes the week-long grapefest so vital.

For one week, consumers and producers have a chance to interact directly and, hopefully, put a bit of pressure on our antiquated listing system to get some new wines into the province. Certainly, without the previous 34 years of missionary work at the Vancouver International Wine Festival (as the previous Playhouse fundraiser), this province would be little more than a wine backwater.

Today, we prepare you for your trip to the International Tasting Room inside the magnificent, new convention centre (the beautiful new building to the west of Canada Place).

Getting to meet big name producers at consumer wine shows rarely occurs in the modern wine world so don't miss the opportunity get all those persnickety questions answered. And if you're planning a trip to wine country later this year, use your precious one-on-one time to find out where to stay or eat, and/or organize a visit to the winery.

For those of you wondering how it all works inside the room the answer is one word: volunteers. All those wines and water jugs and spit buckets do not just appear, nor do they get dumped and replenished by themselves. The festival has an army of volunteers who are so efficient you seldom notice the constant swapping that leaves the tables in perfect condition all night long for each of the 3,000 tasters.


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