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Wine Fests in B.C. Attract Skiers Worldwide

on 14/01/11 at 9:20 am


Well-heeled tourists spend generously both during and after high-end events.

Winter may be a slow season for wineries in many parts of the world, but action on the slopes brings opportunities for wineries in British Columbia.

Ski destinations in the province’s southern interior are reaping rewards by offering wine events, and wineries are enjoying solid sales and international exposure.

“Saying ‘wine and skiing’ is like saying ‘beer and football,’” said Michael J. Ballingall, senior vice president of the Big White and Silver Star ski resorts located southeast of Kelowna. “People drink a lot of wine when they’re at ski hills, and that seems to work very well for us.”

Ballingall said it’s not unusual to see magnums of Mission Hill Family Estate’s iconic Oculus or Le Grand Vin from Osoyoos Larose ordered to accompany meals in Big White’s upscale Kettle Valley Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

A wine festival proved a natural expansion of the activities offered to Big White’s guests when it debuted three years ago. Staged during the second weekend in December each year, immediately following the resort’s opening weekend, the Big Reds at Big White festival has sold out two years in a row. Attendance at last month’s event topped 450, and Ballingall told Wines & Vines that he expects to expand the event to three days in 2011, with a projected attendance of 600 people.

“It’s a huge event for local wineries. As one guy said to me, ‘This is better than the WestJet wine tasting at the fall wine fest, because these guys actually buy our wines,’” Ballingall said, referencing the premier tasting event at the Okanagan fall wine festival. “It results in case sales the next day. It’s pretty well coordinated.”

Big White isn’t alone. Rossland, a three-hour drive east of Kelowna in the Kootenay Mountains (two hours north of Spokane, Wash.), hosts a wine festival in conjunction with its annual winter carnival, now in its 114th year. Rossland’s wine festival is a mere 23 years old, but it attracts close to two dozen wineries including Columbia Gardens Vineyard and Winery of Trail, B.C., and Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard in Creston as well as the major Okanagan vintners.

The largest, however, is at the Delta Sun Peaks Resort in Kamloops, where more than 1,200 people will gather this year for the resort’s 13th annual ice wine festival. Typically, half the participants will attend the main progressive tasting, where 24 wineries pour ice wine for guests.

Desirable demographics, big spenders
Blair Baldwin, who organizes the winter wine festival on behalf of the Okanagan Wine Festival Society, said the event draws both locals and international tourists—primarily skiers from Australia and New Zealand, who typically stay an average of 17 to 21 days. The festival, which runs Jan. 19-23 this year, adds an extra incentive to come ski in January.

{Full story via Wines and Vines}

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