Saturday, March 3, 2012

Playhouse Festival - Day 3 - Meet Your Match

I'm going to have to admit that Day 3 of Vancouver Playhouse Festival's International Tasting Room was a bit of bust for me. Now, that's just me. The Tasting Room, itself, wasn't a bust. I just didn't manage to accomplish nearly as much as I'd set out to. I'd put together a hit list of 20 wineries and/or specific wines that I hadn' t managed to make it to on the first two days - and then there was that whole "I've yet to taste a single Spanish wine thing" going on as well. I think the goal was attainable - and I made a pretty valiant try - but I barely fit in seven of the pre-determined picks.

Admittedly, I didn't exactly set myself up for sure success. Boo and I attended the "Meet Your Match" seminar just prior to the start of the Tasting Room and the event didn't conclude until after the Big Room had opened to the Saturday night guzzlers. My appearance was delayed a touch longer though when I grabbed a bite to eat at the Gold Pass Lounge - where I somehow got sidelined trying some of the premium wines that had been dropped off as seminars and tastings finished. These were wines that, for the most part, wouldn't be available in the Tasting Room and, as such, it seemed a shame to pass up on them.

When you throw in a bit of a shop at the on-site liquor store (previous experience tells me that you have to nab the most popular wines at the start of the evening because they won't be there by the end of the event), I didn't even taste a first pour in the Tasting Room until after 8.30. The whole she-bang winds up at 10.00. Ooops.

All this simply dictates that my "Best of..." comments for the day will be drawn from options beyond just the International Tasting Room.

There was certainly no shortage of candidates for Most Engaging Winery Principal of the day. The whole concept of the Meet Your Match seminar is to provide an opportunity for intimate access to some bona-fide movers and shakers in the global wine world. Let's call it speed-dating with a twist. Small groups of seven or eight wine lovers are afforded an eight minute session for a combination of descriptive commentary and as much Q&A as you can fit in with each of eleven winery principals.

Jane Ferrarri, of the Barossa's Yalumba wines, is inevitably introduced as one of the most accomplished and entertaining storytellers in the business. I've heard her speak on more than a handful of occasions now and she never fails to impress with her vast collection of stories. You could undoubtedly meet her fifty times and she would likely recount different stories every time. Admittedly, I hadn't previously experienced her handing out Cadbury's Cream Eggs to nibble on along with her wines - with a wry "I don't ever think it's a worthwhile date if I can't match up my wine with a little chocolate." Having just been named Australian Wine Communicator of the Year for 2012, I don't think Jane will mind if I let someone else take the spotlight here.

It's not just me who found Paul Pender, winemaker at Ontario's Tawse Vineyards, completely engaging. Boo and others around us commented on how they thoroughly enjoyed their time with him. It seemed like our little group had barely scratched the surface of his humorous presentation when the bell to conclude our eight minutes rang out. When asked about the winery's introduction of lambs into the vineyards, as part of their biodynamic outlook on winemaking, Paul matter-of-factly stated that they don't need to worry about the lambs eating the grapes because the winery folk eat the lamb before the grapes are ripe. Talk about your circle of life.

I could (and probably should) go on about the other principals but time dictates that I move on.

An added treat, of course, is that each of the principals pours and discusses one of their winery's premium and most interesting wines. I think it only makes sense that I set out, as my Favourites of the Day, the entire line up for the seminar - principal, winery and wine. Seeing as how I misplaced all my notes from the seminar, this'll hopefully help jog my memory down the road:

- Paul Pender, Winemaker, 2010 Tawse Vineyards - Robyn's Block Chardonnay (Ontario)
- Jane Ferrari, Winemaker, Communications, 2006 Yalumba - The Signature Cabernet Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)(this wine hasn't even been released yet and she told us we were the first to try it prior to its North American release)
- Stefano Leone, Global Export Director, 2006 Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany - Italy)
- Eduardo Chadwick (pictured), Owner, 2007 Viña Errázuriz - Don Maximiano (Aconcagua Valley - Chile)
- Alvara Espinoza, Consulting Winemaker, 2007 Emiliana Vineyards - Gé (Colchagua Valley - Chile)
- Andres Ilabaca, Chief Winemaker, 2005 Viña Santa Rita - Triple C Red (Maipo Valley - Chile)
- Luc Bouchard, Family Member and Export Director, 2008 Bouchard Père & Fils - Corton Charlemagne (Burgundy - France)
- Jean-Claude Mas, Owner & General Manager, 2006 Domaines Paul Mas - Mas des Mas Pézenas (Languedoc - France) (a wine that hasn't previously been seen in Canada)
- Randy Ullom, Winemaker, 2007 Kendall-Jackson Highland Estates Raptor Peak Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma - California)
- Rick Sayre, Winemaker, 2007 Rodney Strong - Brother's Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma - California) and, last but hardly least,
- Daniel Castaño, Family Member & Commercial Director, 2006 Bodegas Castaño - Casa Cisca (Yecla - Spain)

Unfortunately, I won't be able to add all (or even many) of these wines to The List. The prices started at $44 for the Tawse Chardonnay (which I did pick up) and covered a full range, topping out at $158 for the Bouchard Chardy and an estimated $200, in Canada (thanks to all our taxes), for the Raptor Peak Cab. I didn't get either of the latter two wines, much to my dismay.

Rather than pick a Most Intriguing Wine/Winery today, I think I'll use the "most intriguing" topic heading in a more expansive sense. I was somewhat surprised, and totally intrigued, by the fact that two of the Meet Your Match wines were biodynamic. We didn't get a real opportunity to delve into the topic with either of the Emiliano or Tawse reps, but both gentlemen addressed the principles and practices that embrace the concept of ecological self-sufficiency throughout the vineyard. An interesting comment was made that Rudolf Steiner passed away before he'd fully defined the reasoning of the various biodynamic preparations or their application methods. Accordingly, practices can vary between different regions and adherents.

Sometimes defined as quackery because of the mysticism that is part and parcel of the biodynamic movement, I encountered even more discussion of the topic in the International Tasting Room. Quackery or not, biodynamic methods seem to be more prevalent with each passing year.

Finally, a Best New Find for the day. This wine might not be all that practical as a "Best New Find" since I don't believe the winery's products are normally - at least not easily - available in our market. But I really enjoyed the 2010 Poderi Dal Nespoli - Vino Bianco da Uve Stramature - Bradamante (Emilia Romagna - Italy), an intense dessert wine that is made with a blend of Albana (predominantly at 60%), Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Despite some Ports and Icewines in the Big Room, I decided to make this my final wine of the 2012 Festival. Having never heard of Poderi Dal Nespoli before, I hope to find the winery even more down the road.

It's been a tiring three days. Enjoyable and tasty days, yes - but tiring all the same. I'm going to look forward to a little relaxation and maybe a touch of detox. Besides, I still have to catch up with and add a handful of wines to The List - especially since Boo reluctantly allowed me off the "No Buy Leash" for the Festival. After all, reaching those 2001 wines is still the goal and raison d'être for this blog and I'm going to need a few more to hit that total. Being a little more than half way to 2001, I'm rather certain I'll still be writing come the 2013 Playhouse Wine Festival. Guess I'll just have to wait and see what's in store for next year with the just announced Theme Region of California and a Global Focus of Chardonnay. Could there be a little Zin about to fill a day or two of this Wine Odyssey?

Photo Credit - Andrew Chin

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