VANCOUVER — It’s a sip that can take you across continents from sun-drenched California to the vineyards of Romania.
The Vancouver International Wine Festival celebrates its 41st year starting Feb. 23 as it offers the chance to taste more than 700 wines spanning 16 countries.
For the first time this year, wines from Romania will be featured alongside those of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Croatia, said Harry Hertscheg, the festival’s executive director.
The festival focuses on a different region or country every year, and the featured region this time is California.
“It’s kind of like a dance. You can’t tell someone to dance with you. You have to invite them and they have to be interested,” said Hertscheg. “Last year we were dancing with Portugal and Spain and we had a great time, and the timing just seemed right with California. It hadn’t been the theme since 2013 — for six years. A lot has happened since.”
The featured region has its own section in the tasting room and offers seminars, as well as food and wine events throughout the week.
British Columbia was celebrated last year when the festival shone a spotlight on Canada as it celebrated its 150th birthday.
Although both British Columbia and California share the west coast, their wines are markedly different, said Hertscheg.
While climate plays a major role in the colour and taste of wines, he said the soil is also a significant factor.
“The reason wine is so interesting and special is because it comes from a place that has a certain kind of soil, a certain kind of climate.”
In B.C., the cool nights of the Okanagan don’t allow the grapes to get as ripe and sweet as they do in California, so the style of wine is a little more firm and structured, said Hertscheg.
John Skinner of Painted Rock Estate Winery in the Okanagan said the region’s cool climate gives the grapes bright acidity with crisp flavours that jump out at you.
“Because of warm days and cool nights we get very specific nuances to what we produce,” he said. “We aim to the premium market. That’s where we compete.”
The industry is young in B.C. and is just getting onto the world stage, he said.
“It isn’t just ice wine that we produce,” Skinner said, adding that the province produces some of the highest quality wines in the world.
Hertscheg said the international festival, which runs to March 3, will attract about 25,000 people. More than 30,000 bottles will be sold and tasted.
Hertscheg is looking forward to trying wines from Romania, which includes some that feature Dracula in their marketing.
“I’m not very familiar with Romanian wines so I’m excited to go and try them out,” he said. “They seem to like rich reds and they do have Dracula themed wines. It says Dracula on the label.”
If you go:
Dates: Feb. 23 to March 3
Venue: Festival is headquartered at the Vancouver Convention Centre West.
Prices: Event prices range from $40 to $450.
Tickets: Tickets to public events go on sale Jan. 9.