Kriata Lemoine, left, and Gabrielle Douchant pour some Wolf Blass Chardonnay at the ninth annual Winnipeg Wine Festival in 2010.
It was exciting, exhilarating, overwhelming, mind-boggling, and in a nutshell, just a whole lot of fun.
I’d been to the Winnipeg Wine Festival once before, several years ago, for one of the tasting nights — the Saturday evening event. It was packed with people, and I usually detest huge crowds, but this was different. I knew I had something in common with all those who were there.
We all liked wine.
That single night was a great time, but since the friends we’d gone with moved to B.C. the next year, we hadn’t felt motivated since then to revisit the event without them.
But along came this wine column, and with it, the desire, and the obligation, really, to see just what was out there. I couldn’t attend due to work and personal commitments for the first few years of Vine Lines’ existence, but last year, thanks to the good folks at the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission and a clear calendar, my husband and I were able to go in for the entire weekend.
And oh, what a time we had.
Since I’d never been to the extended event before, I wasn’t sure what to expect — or how my constitution or my palate would hold up. But we had an absolutely splendid time, and I can’t wait for this year’s Festival. I’m counting down the days until May 4, when, for me, all the fun will begin. (There are a number of ancillary events that begin April 29 — fabulous dinners, winemakers’ talks and samplings. For all the details, check out the festival website. Just Google search Winnipeg Wine Festival and it pops right up.)
The Winnipeg Wine Festival is a great event. If you’re an oenophile and you haven’t attended, it makes for a wonderful weekend jaunt, and I highly recommend it.
This year’s public tastings will, as usual, take place at the Convention Centre and will feature more than 515 wines from 134 wineries. Many of the wines are available in Manitoba for the first time and are exclusive to the Festival, so you’ll be able to taste wines you don’t usually have access to here.
And if you purchase wine at the Festival’s on-site Liquor Mart, you’ll be helping to determine which wines eventually end up on the shelves of the province’s liquor stores, since the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission uses the number of sales from the festival, as well as recommendations from its Product Consultants and Product Ambassadors, to decide which wines to list.
The featured wines this year are from Canadian appellations — Wine Country Ontario and the Wines of British Columbia will be located in a special section on the festival floor. And there are tons of Canuck products — Burrowing Owl, Quail’s Gate, Sandhill, Coyote’s Run, Palatine Hills, Pillitteri, and Strewn are only a few I’d recommend you try. I’m going to attempt to hit all of the Canadian booths, assuming time will allow. Last year, the featured wines were Californian, and we didn’t even complete that section in the allotted three hours Friday night.
So a few suggestions: Take a few minutes once you arrive, or even ahead of time (you can get a complete list of wines being featured by clicking the link on the website), examine the list of booths and wines on offer, and devise a plan of attack. It’s simply not possible to get to all the booths OR try all the wines — believe me, I know, because I set out with that goal last year (silly, silly Diane) and didn’t even make it to a quarter of the locales I’d hoped to. So select varietals, new-to-you wines, wineries you know (or better yet, are unfamiliar with) that intrigue you for whatever reason, and seek them out. It’s amazing how quickly time flies, especially since you’re certain to run into folks you know, who’ll want to chat for a brief moment at least.
Again, I stress this: Don’t try to do all the booths. There’s sort of an "I’ve got to try everything I can to justify the ticket price" mentality that prevails, and I’ve discovered that sucks all the fun out of the event. If you’re on a mission, it’s more like work than a social, adventurous, discovery-type time, which really is what it should be. Stroll, sip, shop — it’s a great place to just indulge and enjoy.
I like Friday night because it’s exciting — it’s public tasting opening night, and there’s a tangible sense of anticipation and energy that’s really fun to be part of. My favourite session, however, is Saturday afternoon, when there are fewer people, and the pace is less frantic and more friendly. Saturday evening, in all honesty, is a bit of a zoo: many folks are there to drink as opposed to sample, and it’s a wild time. But if you’re into partying with a few thousand others who like to do the same, then Saturday is the night for you.
All the wines at the festival, whether MLCC decides to list them or not, are available for purchase in the on-site Liquor Mart during the public tasting times. So one other important tip: If you find some wines you like, make sure you purchase them early. There’s no guarantee we Manitobans will have access to these wines again, so stock up while you have the chance. My husband and I foolishly left our shopping until near the end-of-show Saturday night, and not only was the purchasing area busy, many of the wines we’d wanted to buy were already sold out.
Another bonus: You can buy wine at any time during the tastings and the Liquor Mart will hold your purchases for you, and add products to your collection as you go. A further fabulous touch: If you buy six bottles or more, you don’t even have to worry about getting what you buy home. The Liquor Mart will ship your purchases to the Liquor Mart of your choice, and staff at that store will phone you when they arrive.
Anyway, for a good time call 204-780-3333 — that’s the TicketMaster number through which you can purchase Winnipeg Wine Fest tickets. But if you prefer to buy online, go to ticketmaster.com.
The Winnipeg Wine Festival has been hailed as one of Canada’s premier wine events, and for wine lovers, it’s not to be missed.
Hope to see you there. But if we manage to connect, let’s not chat too long. Because with all due apologies to Robert Frost ...
There are Syrahs, most dark and deep
Plus Cabs so good they’ll make you weep
And more to taste before I sleep
Still more to taste before I sleep
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 14, 2012