La Dolce Vita: Fewer choices at wine tastings is good

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Over the years, Angela and I have become less enthusiastic about large wine tasting events, our preference trending toward smaller, more intimate ones. So we were quite happy when we walked into the Flavours of British Columbia fundraiser recently.

Organized by Alberta Theatre Projects and held in the lower level of Willow Park Wines and Spirits in Calgary, the tasting featured several food stations, live music, a silent auction and wines from 14 members of the Naramata Bench Winery Association. Perfect.

We had only eaten the appies designed to match with our tasting earlier in the evening, so we headed directly to a food table that was serving up open-faced sandwiches featuring lamb or chicken. They were scrumptious and a few minutes later we were wandering around the room. The selection of wines was small enough that no particular plan of action was necessary. Walk into a tasting featuring 600 wines, which we have done on more than a few occasions, and one had better have a plan. Or face becoming completely overwhelmed in a matter of minutes.

The only real downside of a small tasting is that there is no particular sense of urgency among those in attendance. People tend to settle in front of a winery’s tasting table and leisurely taste their way through the selection, chatting with the server or their friends. In a larger event, one can expect to get elbowed or brushed aside, sometimes not so gently, when others around sense you have overstayed your welcome.

Of course, I was guilty a couple of times, myself. I never sample wines without moving aside, and not only out of consideration for others. As a spitter, I first head directly for a spit bucket, which is inevitably set at the end of the table, and used only occasionally. But I did take up several minutes in front of the D’Angelo Estate Winery and Serendipity Winery stations so that I could catch up with Sal D’Angelo and Judy Kingston, the wineries’ respective owners. They are among my favourite people on the Naramata Bench and I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to find out what each was up to in the wineries.

While the wineries present represented only about half of the Naramata makers, the selection was a good one. Small producers like Kettle Valley, La Frenz and Van Westen competed comfortably with the bigger and better known Hillside Estate, Poplar Grove, Monster Vineyards and Red Rooster. Visitors to Naramata often miss the chance to stop into Laughing Stock because the wines sell out quickly. A chance to taste those wines in a casual setting was a treat.

Elephant Island Orchard Wines was a popular site among the curious, who were inevitably impressed at the high quality of the products. Lake Breeze is always a welcome participant because tasting their wines takes one back to unforgettable visits to the beautiful property. Moraine Estate is one of the newer labels on the Bench and it was good to see them in attendance. And what tasting isn’t going to improve with a little bit of Therapy? Therapy Vineyards has one of the most innovative and amusing marketing campaigns in the country, and the wines invariably meet the promise.

The silent auction, a great way to raise funds, featured a great number of wine packages, including one each from the participating wineries. The music was an excellent addition, blending in nicely and never making conversation difficult. The food, as at all Willow Park events, was superb.

I have no idea how much money was raised during the evening, but I suspect the theatre group was happy at the end of the night. Once again, Alberta Theatre Projects had associated itself with a well-organized and most pleasant tasting, providing a showcase for Naramata Bench wineries and taking advantage of the excellent facility at Willow Park, one that was until a few years ago used for wine and spirits storage and cleared out only for the store’s own fundraising week each November. It now comfortably holds 300 people.

The Willow Park Wines and Spirits website is worth checking out for anyone planning a trip to Calgary. The calendar is chock full of events and the extremely knowledgeable staff has become masterful at hosting, educating and entertaining.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

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