Vancouver International Wine Festival hopeful for a full pour in 2022


Restrictions due to the global COVID-19 pandemic rendered it impossible to forge ahead with the event, originally slated to open Saturday

Article content

This year, the Vancouver International Wine Festival will remain corked.

Saturday, Feb 20, would have marked the first day of the 2021 festival. But the ongoing restrictions due to the global COVID-19 pandemic have rendered it impossible for organizers to forge ahead with the celebrated event. The cancellation marks the first time in the festival’s 42-year history that it won’t be taking place.

“We obviously wanted to hold an event that was safe for our staff, our guests, for all of the participating wineries, and obviously, in the current situation and circumstances — it’s just not possible to do that,” Mark Hicken, the festival’s board chair, says. “It’s also not possible to do it because there are various public health orders that make it illegal to hold the event at the present time.

“So, really, it was a fairly easy decision to make that we couldn’t go ahead.”

While easy, Hicken says the decision to cancel was no less disappointing.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“The current pandemic situation is incredibly hard for all organizations like the Wine Festival Society, which are based on holding large-scale events and having people come together socially. We’re a non-profit organization that raises money for a charity — Bard on the Beach — and as a non-profit organization, obviously, we don’t have the same sort of cash reserves and resiliency built into our operation that a large corporation would have,” Hicken says. “So it’s very hard for an organization like ours. And it throws our entire annual cycle into turmoil when you can’t have the event which really provides your revenue and your reason for being for the entire year.

“It is tough.”

Similar to other organizations and small businesses, the society was forced to issue temporary layoff notices to their employees and shut down their office during the pandemic, Hicken explains. Those layoffs have yet to be reversed.

“We have to preserve our cash to get us through to a point where we can restart. So it is devastating,” he says.

While some events have found success in offering virtual iterations during the pandemic, Hicken says the festival organizers decided the wine experience is one that’s truly best ingested in person.

“The real passion and excitement that people get with attending a wine-tasting event, it’s not quite the same when it’s online, he says.

Vancouver International Wine Festival tasting room. HANDOUT. For Salut Feb. 2017. [PNG Merlin Archive]
The public tasting room at the Vancouver International Wine Festival has been a very popular place over the years. ‘The real passion and excitement that people get with attending a wine-tasting event, it’s not quite the same when it’s online,’ says festival board chair Mark Hicken. Photo by Christine McAvoy /PNG files

Early in the year, organizers were hoping to hold an online auction to help with fundraising, though Hicken admitted that even that type of event presented some challenges.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“Even something like that is difficult, because traditionally what happens is we have a committee that asks for donations from individuals and we go out and collect donations and maybe visit peoples’ wine cellars and things. And all of that is obviously not possible. We can’t have people going into peoples’ houses, Hicken says. “So the logistics of even simple things are made much more difficult.

Instead of focusing on the loss of this years event, Hicken and his team remain hopeful for a fully poured festival experience in 2022.

At the present time, we are optimistic that once the vaccine rollout gathers speed and gets sufficient traction through the population, that things will go back to normal, Hicken says. The plan is to carry over this years theme region of South America to next years event, though Hicken says organizers are also eyeing a more local approach should limitations on international travel persist.

Normally, we have about 160 wineries come from all different parts of the world. And under the current rules and guidelines that wouldnt happen. It is possible that the festival in 2022 may be more local in nature than international, Hicken explains. We are the Vancouver International Wine Festival, but we will have to see how possible it is to even hold an event with people travelling from other places, and whether thats a wise decision. Whether people would be comfortable with that, we will have to assess all of those factors.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

FESTIVAL TASTE RECEPTION Pic 10 Vancouver International Wine Festival board chair Mark Hicken toasted this year's efforts with a bottle from Robert Mondavi. The first wine celebration back in 1979 featured just the one California winery. Over 160 wineries will be participating in the 2019 staging. Pic credit: Fred Lee. For 0120 col fred lee [PNG Merlin Archive]
Mark Hicken, board chair of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, at a festival reception in 2019. Photo by Fred Lee /PNG files

Festival organizers already plan to waive the requirement that a winery representative is present for every participating winery in 2022. Instead, international wineries will be permitted to have a local representative onsite to pour the wines.

With the festival planned for relatively early in the year, Hicken admits theres additional uncertainty about the viability of the large tasting room format for which the festival is known. He says proceeding in some form of restricted fashion is being considered, as well as offering a number of small events instead.

We do that anyway in terms of our seminars and our dinners and lunches, so well have to wait and see what the situation is and what the restrictions are, Hicken says. I guess thats the difficult thing about all of this, theres an intrinsic level of uncertainty that you cant avoid. Theres nothing we can do about that.

The festival board of directors has set up a committee to monitor the daily developments and restrictions in order to build some flexibility into their overall planning process, all in the hopes of returning next year with a splash.

Were honestly very sad about losing a year, but we do have a plan to come back in 2022, Hicken says. Were really hopeful that we will be able to put on a first-class festival when we do come back and were really hopeful that everybody will be in the mood to celebrate, come back and enjoy some fabulous food and wine with us once its possible again.

CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.