By Anthony Gismondi
There is something about French wine that draws a crowd and with days to go, most of the tickets to the 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival tickets are gone. The response has to be gratifying for organizers and perhaps hopeful for the French who have gone from a country who absolutely dominated the import wine market in British Columbia back in the early 1990s to sixth place overall behind the United States, Australia, Italy, Chile and Argentina.
Ita��s more than ironic that France has lost ground to the very countries that idolized their wines and that more recently have gone about challenging them at almost every price point. Over the last 25 years, the rest of the worlda��s wine producers appear to have deciphered the unspoken code of French wine making and perhaps more important have done a better job of marketing their New World wines to consumers.
It started with California coming of age in the 1980s and was followed by the great Australian surge in the 1990s. Others had their moments before local wines started to take a huge bite out the market. Ita��s not that French wine is any less desirable, in fact a case could be made that it is better than ever, but in 2014 its dogfight on store shelves and competition is everywhere. Nobody is counting them out but leta��s just say therea��s a lot of work to be done before the wines of France can regain the lustre with the next generation of wine drinkers.
Luckily names like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhone, Loire and Languedoc have a certain cachet that can withstand the test of time. Bet on the French pulling out all the stops this week to try to turn the ship around. It just wona��t be easy.
As the international wine world descends on Vancouver there wona��t be much celebrating over the recent BC Liquor Policy Review and its 73 recommendations to modernize B.C. liquor laws. None of the major issues facing import wine producers, distributors or retailers were addressed by the government review, leaving just about everyone facing the same high taxes, limited access to listings and a highly overregulated and inefficient system of wine movement.
Nevertheless, it is an important week for visitors to continue to preach diversity of selection and styles, lest the culture of wine in British Columbia take a giant step backward. Breaking down a few beer garden fences and endorsing happy hours may generate a few votes for government, but freedom and competition is whata��s best for the future of wine in B.C. The wine festival and its 23,000 participants are an excellent example of how local and international wine can generate a giant economic benefit to the province, touching the airlines and airport, taxis, hotels and restaurants, wine shops and much more. And it is a benefit that persists throughout the year.
This year the festival will do what it done best for 37 years, namely level the playing field inside the International Tasting Room and let consumers decide which wine they like best. In all, 178 wineries will stand side-by-side, each with identical space, pouring close to 900 wines at effectively the same price, your admission ticket. The only favouritism in the tasting room will be yours for the wines you like best. It is a perfect recipe for success.
If you want to experience a real a�?Happy Houra�? make sure you have a ticket to for one of the public tasting sessions Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, or for the first time this year, Saturday afternoon. As you wander from country to country, culture to culture tasting every manner of wine in the world, know that it the differences between wines that make the subject of wine so compelling.
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