THIS is the week that the wine world descends on Vancouver.
Question is: Will you be there too?
Vancouver's weeklong celebration of the vine is much more than a packed program of events and tastings. As the most successful consumer and trade festival of its kind in North America, it can take much of the credit for having nurtured the now extremely robust food and wine culture that Vancouver and B.C. enjoy. In fact, we'll even go so far as to suggest that the festival has also played a role in the rapid growth and success of the B.C. wine industry.
"How come?" You might ask.
When it comes to selecting who can exhibit (a process that takes the best part of a year), the Playhouse has stringent requirements.
You can't just send your wine to Vancouver and have someone else pour it. Organizers are adamant that a principal must attend. And it's that fundamental singlemindedness of the desire to connect the family owner/ principal/winemaker (or other key individual) directly with the consumer that sets the festival apart.
That requirement has helped foster new friendships and alliances with the movers and shakers of the wine world well beyond B.C. - and also showcased the Okanagan and other local regions to an audience who might not have otherwise become aware.
The International Festival Tastings 7-10 p.m., March 1, 2, 3) can be daunting for the first timer - or even for seasoned tasters. But make a plan and stick to it, and for about the price of a good meal (with wine) you can connect with some serious (and fun) grape gurus that rank among the oenoglitterati.
Some key peeps you shouldn't pass up a chance to share a glass with include Yalumba's Jane Ferrari - who travels around the world about as fast as her namesake Italian thoroughbred sportscar; drop by Montes and you can taste through with Chilean visionary Aurelio Montes; or grab a glass of organic Emiliana (Chile) with groundbreaking "natural" winemaker Alvaro Espinoza.
The flip side of that "key people must attend requirement" is their participation and often their leadership in myriad seminars that add up to some of the best tasting experience and advice you'll encounter anywhere - even at some of the more heralded international wine trade shows.
Move quickly and you can still score a front-row seat to hear Vina Errazuriz dynamo Eduardo Chadwick, the sixth generation owner of one of Chile's most lauded wineries, whose wines have sometimes outscored top Bordeaux in major blind tastings. Hear him at Chadwick's Iconic Quest (March 1) and at The Next Star Grape, Syrah.
Also on deck, Napa legend and Caymus owner-winemaker Chuck Wagner, who leads a rare vertical tasting of seven vintages of iconic Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. (Feb 29).
Also not to be overlooked is the impressive list of Canadian wine educators who also contribute so much to the festival's success either on stage or behind the scenes.
For a full list of who's who and what tickets are still available, go to www. playhousewinefest.com and click on events.
Belly's Budget Best Morandé Pinot Noir Reserva 2009. While the Chileans will be pouring no shortage of icon wines, it's good value drops such as this that continue to drive interest in the region. Here's a medium bodied, strawberrycherry toned Pinot from maritime influenced Casablanca that makes for a delicious match with duck breasts or barbecued salmon.
At Everything Wine, $20.99.