Vancouver International Wine Festival shifts to more in-house organization

February event will feature Italy but do away with having a theme wine style or varietal

Festival executive director Harry Hertscheg says changes will make the event more efficient | Rob Kruyt

One of North America’s largest consumer-oriented international wine festivals is making some changes this year to bring more organizational tasks in-house, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing costs for participating agencies and agents.

Consumers, however, are unlikely to notice much change, Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF) executive director Harry Hertscheg told Business in Vancouver.

For the first time in more than three decades, employees with the 38-year-old festival are organizing details related to the regional theme highlighted during the weeklong event, Hertscheg said.

“There is no national body that is doing any organizing or representation of this year’s theme country, Italy,” he said. “In past years, the theme country would organize the educational materials, decor and design and layout of the tasting room. We’ve cut out the intermediary.”

The wine festival’s winery selection committee already chooses the participating wineries, and that will not change. Local wine agents then arrange to import wines from their client wineries.

What will change is that there will be a lot less wasted time explaining festival rules, procedures and expectations. That time can now be spent constructively doing the work, he said.

Hertscheg has experience bringing tasks in-house.

The VIWF was part of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Co. until that arts organization dissolved in March 2012 – a disbanding that compelled the VIWF to start selling its own tickets and to do its own accounting.

Wine agents who are active with the festival like the move to bring the organizing in-house.

“The festival’s participation fees might be lower for producers – the wineries,” said agent and Appellation Wine Marketing president Jim Williams. “When things benefit our wineries, we benefit too.”

He explained that his benefit comes because happy winery clients are more likely to take part in the festival, which in turn makes it easier to sell their wines.

The cost savings to wineries also come in part because wineries finance national wine-marketing bodies, which formerly did the work of organizing the VIWF’s theme regions, Hertscheg said.

Having VIWF staff organize the theme region also opens new possibilities for the festival.

For example, it frees the festival to have theme regions for which there is no national marketing body.

One year the theme region could be the Mediterranean, Hertscheg said.

“That theme would include parts of France and Spain near the Mediterranean but it would also allow a Greek or even a Lebanese winery to say, ‘Hey, I want to participate in the festival. I don’t have to wait until Greece is the theme country,’” he said.

One other big change this year is that the festival is not going to highlight a theme varietal or style.

In past years, the VIWF would have both a regional theme, such as Australia last year, and a compatible wine-style theme, which last year was the Syrah grape.

This year, all wineries are encouraged to bring wines from as diverse a range of grapes as possible.

“With Italy being the theme region, it makes sense that the show would focus on regionality and a diversity of grapes instead of encouraging winemakers to bring all the same kind of wine,” said Williams, who represents 12 wineries at this year’s festival including four from Italy.

Tickets go on sale November 3 for the festival, which takes place February 20-28. About 170 wineries from 14 countries are expected to take part. •