The Vancouver International Wine Festival, Canada’s premier food & wine event, has three mandates: to provide an informative, educational and entertaining wine experience for public and trade; to be a premier marketing opportunity for the wine industry and festival partners; and to raise funds for the Bard on the Beach Theatre Society. The 2020 festival ran February 22 to March 1.
VanWineFest is Canada’s premier wine show and widely considered to be the best wine event in North America. With ~25,000 admissions and at 41 years of age, it is one of the biggest and oldest wine events in the world. Its slogan is “The Wine World is Here”. It has been voted the “#1 Food, Wine & Hospitality Event in Canada” the last six years in a row by New York’s BizBash. The Trade Days Conference, which runs February 26 to February 28 in 2020, comprises ~12 of the festival’s ~50 events.
The heart of the festival is the Tasting Room, where the public can choose from ~750 wines at four International Festival Tastings, and industry professionals can sample those plus an additional ~160 wines at two Trade Tastings. There are ~45 special events that orbit the tasting room (seminars, vintage tastings, winery dinners, lunches, brunches, wine minglers and more) at which ~550 other wines are served.
The 2019 festival featured wines from 16 countries. There is a focus on a different region or country every year; the featured region has its own section in the tasting room and offers thematic seminars and food and wine pairings throughout the week. In 2019, the festival celebrated wines from California (with 53 participating Californian wineries). In 2020, the spotlight will be on France.
The festival grew from humble roots as a fundraising initiative of then Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company board member John E. Levine. The inaugural festival in 1979 featured one vintner – Robert Mondavi – and saw approximately 1,000 people attend the two-day event at Hycroft, the Shaughnessy mansion owned by Vancouver’s University Women’s Club.
In its second year, VanWineFest was also a one-winery show, but had grown by its fourth year to attract 45 California wineries, becoming known as the California Wine Festival. The ninth festival in 1987 was the first multi-national event, with wineries from six more countries joining to showcase their wines. After outgrowing several different venues, the Wine Festival moved to the Vancouver Convention Centre in 1988, where the main Tasting Room sessions have been held for the past 25 years.
In 1996, VanWineFest began shining the spotlight on specific wine regions by featuring a new theme region or country each year, with the French wine region Bordeaux being the inaugural theme. In 2020, France will be the featured country.
Sadly, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company announced in March 2012 that it would cease operations after 49 seasons, thus ending a long and fruitful relationship. Over 34 years, the Wine Festival raised more than $8 million dollars for Playhouse operations, supporting a rich legacy of more than 235 theatrical productions. The newly named Vancouver International Wine Festival announced in September 2012 that its charitable partner would be Bard on the Beach Theatre Society.
Today VanWineFest attracts some of the biggest industry names from around the world and is firmly established as the continent’s premier wine event and among the biggest, best and oldest wine events in the world. It features wine tastings and pairings, gourmet dinners and luncheons, educational seminars and culinary competitions.
This is a rare opportunity to meet owners, winemakers and senior representatives from wineries around the globe. For either the experienced wine lover or the novice, the festival has something to please every palate and pocketbook.