The Vancouver International Wine Festival is the largest event in Vancouver for wine lovers. Each year, there is a week long of events such as seminars, dinners and the famous International Tasting Festival! This is my my second year attending the International Tasting Festival and I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences.
About the Vancouver International Wine Festival
The Vancouver International Wine Festival happens every year around the last week of February. Each year, a certain region is in focus but there is usually representation from BC and Canadian wineries as well. Last year, they featured Portugal while this year featured California.
For 2019, there was a total of 54 events in the span of 8 days! The seminars and dinners seem a bit intimidating to me but the International Festival Tasting is the event you need to put on your bucket list! It’s essentially a 3 hour all you can drink with 150+ wineries! The tasting events are on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. The tickets range from $94-$119. It always sells out, so maybe sure to buy your tickets early when it releases in early January!
The evening tasting sessions start at 7pm and run until 10pm. The Vancouver Convention Center is open much earlier than 7pm though so I’d definitely suggest arriving earlier. The event has a line up queue ready and the staff for coat check is available for at least 30 minutes before the event. I arrived at about 6:45 and while there weren’t many people in line yet, a queue was definitely forming. Coat check is $2 and the line moved very fast so it’s worth while to coat check and not carry a jacket around.
If you get in early, you can also grab a copy of the program which will list out the participating wineries, what wines they’re pouring and a map of the layout. It’s really useful to read so you can hit up your favorite wineries first!
Don’t Bring Your Own Wine Glass
You don’t need to bring anything to the event! When you enter, each person will be given a wine glass. You will bring this wine glass to each winery and receive the samples. There’s water pitchers on every winery’s display so you can rinse your glass in between samples. You can also feel free to get a new wine glass from the staff at any time. There is also bottled water from Fiji available at the event so you can pick up a free bottle of water to hydrate whenever you feel like it. The wine glass can’t leave the tasting room though so you’ll drop it off before you exit for the bathroom or for the night.
Even after going for 2 years, I get a bit too excited at the beginning and try to hit up too many wineries. In 2019, there were 160 wineries at the International Festival Tasting and a total of 725 wines being served! You definitely can’t try them all! If you have specific wines you want to try, make sure to make a check list before the event.
I usually go down one aisle and head to the wineries with the shortest lines. My taste buds feel numb after a few glasses of the same varietals but usually I’ll switch up the region. For example, I was really interested in tasting the California Chardonnays. But after 5 or so, they all started to taste the same. So I headed over to the other side of the hall to have some French and Italian wines.
I have been going up to the wineries and picking one wine I want to taste and moving off to the side so the lines keep moving. But I do notice some people will taste all the wines in a particular winery and be pretty chatty to the wine makers themselves as well. If you’re very interested in a winery, it’s totally normal to stay and try all of their offerings in one go. Otherwise, just get your pour and drink it out of the line up. I have to say the samples being poured here are a lot less than the Meat & Cheese Festival or the Eat Harvest event that I’ve been to. But there’s so much wine available in the room that you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
There are also a few of these “Regional Tasting Stations” where you can try wines from several wineries. These are usually set up by the region and will have 5-10 different wines to taste. I went to visit the California and the Australia wine. But in retrospect, I think I will visit these at the beginning of the night before it gets busy as it’s a great way to learn more about the region and taste the variety of wines to offer! In 2019 the regional tasting stations are: California Napa Valley, Australia, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, South Africa, Spain and Washington State.
Non Wine Vendors
There are a few options if you are wined out or just need to take a break! This year there was a booth from Nespresso, a gelato shop, Arc Iberico and some wine related vendors. There’s a few seating options around it gets pretty crowded later in the night. If you would like to have an exclusive area to sit, you may want to consider the Tasting Lounge which gives you access to a secondary area with lots of couches and seating.
Bring Wine Home
One thing I really love about the International Festival Tasting is the pop up BC Liquor store. There are so many bottles that are exclusive to the festival. I love that you can try something in the tasting hall and being able to bring a bottle home. There are also lots of bottles that are signed by the winemaker. I think it’s a very nice touch.
If you’re walking home or just don’t want to carry bottles of wine on transit, you can make the order at the festival but pick it up from a BC Liquor store location at a later time. The whole set up is awesome and the prices are quite reasonable (normal BC prices aka pretty high).
Get Home Safe
Lastly, I just want to add a plug about getting home safe! Even though it’s a 3 hour event and you think you might be able to “wait it out” and then drive, DON’T! The festival is even giving FREE transit passes as you leave so you can choose a responsible way home!
I really love the International Festival Tasting because there’s so much to try! If you enjoy wine, definitely put this on your bucket list. Next year, I think I will try to attend one of the seminars or wine maker dinners! If you enjoy events like this, make sure to check out my post of my 5 favourite food/drink festivals in Vancouver! Or check out my experience at Blue Grouse Winery in Cowichan Valley!