VanWineFest 2019 is in the books. Here are notes on five topics arising from my travels around the Festival’s Trade Days Conference, the tasting room, and conversations with some of the fascinating characters who assembled in Vancouver. The wine world was indeed here!

1. Distribution issues are front and centre.
There is a simmering anger and a quiet desperation among some agencies and other businesses operating in the wine supply chain. The LDB Warehouse transition fiasco combined with the cyber-security issues experienced by ContainerWorld have left more than a few operators frustrated, scrambling or at their wits’ end.

2. There may be a light on the horizon for how wine is sold in BC.
On Monday at the Wine Law Conference (not a part of VIWF but always an informative day on legal and industry issues), delegates learned from representatives of the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch that government is closely analysing the main recommendations of the Business Technical Advisory Panel report (aka the “Hicken Report”), and that government will likely have an announcement on hospitality pricing in the March-April time frame. Many fingers are crossed that it relates to introducing a wholesale discount for on-premise (i.e. restaurants) purchasers of wine.

3. The shadow of the elephant (WTO trade challenge) didn’t really loom over the room.
It wasn’t lost on the trade participants at the Festival that California was the feature region in a year when the US and other countries have a trade challenge lodged against BC.

However, California wineries were welcomed, and the trade simply got on with the business (and enjoyment) of wine. Judging by the buzz in the feature section, consumer Festival-goers couldn’t get enough of California’s best: Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varietals and blends, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

At the Wine Law Conference, delegates were told by representatives of the BC government and the Canadian Vintners Association that consultation between government and winery associations has begun on how to appropriately meet the conditions agreed in the Side Letter between the US and Canada on resolving the BC-only wine-in-grocery issue by November 1, 2019.

4. Bringing international speakers contributes new perspectives to our domestic discussion on the world of wine.
Building on enthusiasm generated from last year’s tireless keynote speaker Paul Wagner – who rejoined the Festival this year to moderate popular seminar Pinot’s Siren Call of Seduction, among other cameos – this year VIWF brought refreshingly frank keynote speaker Jon Bonné (author of The New California Wine), to speak at various Festival events. Do read Sid Cross’ excellent summary of Wagner’s Passion for Pinot and Bonné’s Lessons from California.

It was a pure pleasure to witness (and take part in) some of the exchanges among these guests with our own very talented and experienced professionals – sommeliers, writers, agents, winemakers, buyers and beyond. We are all the better for the information, tips, opinions and experiences they shared throughout the Festival.

5. Frank messages delivered at the Symposium are helpful for Canadian wine.
The varied perspectives offered by the five person panel and moderator Jon Bonné at this year’s Symposium Canada’s Place in Key Wine Markets should help hone Canadian producers’ strategies for developing export markets. Other nuggets offered by panellists should help strengthen brands among consumers here at home. (A more detailed post on the Symposium will be published shortly).

Advice from panelists Janet Dorozynski, Nik Darlington, Jamie Goode, Sebastien LeGoff and Christine Coletta included:
• Focus on select wine markets that demonstrate openness to new wines from new countries.
• Most of the world doesn’t know that Canadian wine exists, so it’s an education process that should begin with accessing the influencers.
• Honesty and authenticity are essential to successfully introducing a young wine region to mature wine markets.
• London is Canada’s most dynamic wine market. Not its biggest, but its most dynamic.
• There is latent goodwill in the UK toward Canadian wine, even if not a great deal of knowledge.
• Pursue a premium strategy (not a supermarket strategy) given the small volumes of Canadian wine available for export and the importance of establishing the preferred identity at the outset. However, be aware that FOB pricing will need to be competitive, and therefore lower than the cellar door retail price.

After a successful tour of California in 2019, we welcome France in 2020!