Uncorking the wine world

The aisles upon aisles of wine at the local liquor store have always kind of mystified me. Choosing a bottle isn’t simply a matter of selecting red or white — you have regions from around the world to peruse and, much like choosing a greeting card from Hallmark, I could wander through the store reading labels all day, trying to decipher the brief descriptions on the shelf tags.

I must admit, I’ve fallen victim to the gastronomic equivalent of the old adage “judging a book by it’s cover” more than a few times, selecting a bottle in haste based on a witty name or attractive packaging.

Well, ignorance no more. With Cornucopia around the corner, I’m embarking on a self-guided mission of basic wine education, using the (sometimes) trusty Internet as my companion and aide to help explore the ins and outs of the world of wine.

Mind you, I certainly have no aspirations to become a total cork dork — simply having a basic understanding of regions and types of wines represented at the local B.C. Liquor Store will be more than sufficient, for me.

To kick-start my foray into this vast and complicated industry, I headed down to the Rocky Mountaineer Station in Vancouver last Thursday to attend “Colour,” the B.C. VQA fall release trade tasting where over 40 labels from the five wine-producing regions in B.C. — Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands — offered up a selection of everything from Autumn Gold to Zweigelt.

It was slightly intimidating to plunk myself down into a room of swirling, sniffing, sipping and spitting wine lovers and connoisseurs, but after being handed my glass and making my way to a few tables, I was well on my way to being comfortable around the industry crowd who had gathered to check out the season’s offerings.

The trade event featured well-known mainstay vineyards, like the Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, side-by-side with relative newcomers, like Road 13 Vineyards (formerly known as Golden Mile Cellars).

By the end of the event, I had a better sense of what I personally enjoy in a wine (FYI, in case you’re ever in a position to buy me a glass, I generally prefer a white — specifically, Road 13’s Honest John’s White or Burrowing Owl Estate’s 2007 Pinot Gris).

But my one industry event certainly has not rendered me an expert, so I’ve turned back to the B.C. Wine Institute’s very user-friendly website, www.winebc.com , to learn more.

Off the top, I wondered what a VQA wine is. Well, VQA stands for Vinters Quality Alliance, and it’s basically a designation — an “appellation of origin” system, to be precise — that guarantees the authenticity of origin and sets quality standards for Canadian wines. Wines bearing the VQA icon must come entirely from grapes grown in specific regions or provinces within Canada, produced to a certain set of standards, and undergoing a sensory evaluation. Participation in the program is voluntary, but since the Alliance started in 1990, the VQA wine sales in B.C. have grown from 600,000 litres to over 6.8 million litres in 2007.

B.C.’s wine industry has grown quite dramatically in the past two decades, blossoming from just 14 wineries in 1988 to 143 20 years later. There are also more than 9,000 acres of vines within the five wine producing regions mentioned above.

It looks like I have a lot more sampling and studying to do.


From the farm to your fork


Fans of the annual Slow Food Cycle and Feast of Fields events held in the Sea to Sky region each summer will be pleased to know that there’s another local food-focused event on the horizon.

The Chef’s Trip to the Farm will again be included as part of the Cornucopia celebrations, which are held from Nov. 6 until 10. The event is designed to help participants gain a better understanding of where local food comes from, with participants joining the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s executive chef, Vincent Stufano, and the propietor of the popular North Arm Farm, Jordan Sturdy, on an adventure straights from the fields in Pemberton to the farm’s on-location kitchen, and finally, to the dinner plate.

The event, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Nov. 8, sold out so quickly that organizers opted to add a second Chef’s Trip to the Farm event on Monday, Nov. 10.

A detailed schedule of Cornucopia events and tickets are available at www.whistlercornucopia.com .


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