How COVID-19 is affecting the Vancouver International Wine Festival


The festival is back for a 43rd year, after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic.

Event organizers in British Columbia are planning larger gatherings thanks to fewer serious COVID-19 infections and the lifting of health restrictions by the British Columbia government.

The pandemic, however, continues to wreak havoc on the logistics of the Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF).

For example, wine tasters at this year’s three tasting nights at the Vancouver Convention Center will have more space than ever to mingle and chat with representatives from 101 wineries from 14 countries.

Before the pandemic, the capacity for these events was 2,500 attendees per night. This year, the festival is reducing that number to between 1,000 and 1,250 people per night for public tastings on May 20, 21 and 22, said festival director Harry Hertscheg. VBI.

“You’ll never have more leeway than at this year’s festival,” he said.

“We decided to go to 50% capacity in the tasting room due to supply chain issues and various challenges.”

The Hertscheg team began planning for the 2022 festival last summer, and it seemed practical at the time to assume that the VIWF would have to operate at reduced capacity, he said.

The event normally takes place in February, but Hertscheg pushed it back to May to give the pandemic and health restrictions more time to subside.

This decision now seems prescient, given that:

  • Canada plans April 1 to lift requirement for travelers entering country to show proof of negative COVID-19 tests;
  • British Columbia lifted its mandate that people wear masks in indoor public places on March 11; and
  • On April 8, British Columbia plans to lift its mandate that restaurants, sports arenas and other venues require attendees to show their British Columbia vaccination card.

Hertscheg said his festival may still require attendees to present vaccination cards.

“We are not currently confirming any milestones regarding vaccine cards, until they are fully lifted,” he said. “With the new [BA.2] upcoming variant, it is folly to speculate on exact procedures or policies for mid-May.

He would have preferred the B.C. government to maintain its vaccination card requirement for the festival, as exhibitors, volunteers and venue operators have told him the cards make them safer.

The pandemic is having a huge effect on event organizers

The pandemic has also affected the VIWF in that it has caused supply chain issues, which have caused shipping costs to skyrocket and lead to shortages of some wines.

Hertscheg said if the VIWF had stuck to its February schedule, perhaps it should have asked wineries to remove inventory from their holiday season supplies to ensure their wines would be available for the weekend. festival.

“It would have made me the most unpopular person in town,” he said.

Fewer people at major tasting events means winery owners only need to allocate four to five cases of their wines for the three public events and three industry-only tastings, not the eight to 10 cases of wine that they would normally have had to put away.

The VIWF is much more than its tastings at the convention center.

In the pre-pandemic period, the festival held 54 events, including restaurant dinners, stand-up grazing events, seminars and themed tastings with expert panels.

Its signature event has long been its gala dinner and auction, and that event will take place May 17 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

This year, the festival will likely have 27 events, with dinner and seminar capacity similar to previous years. Tickets will go on sale April 6, with the schedule of events expected to be finalized at least a day or two before, Hertscheg said.

Festival-goers will be able to attend the same number of events as before, but they will have fewer choices in each time slot. In previous years, participants could choose between four or five events held simultaneously. This year, they may only have the option of one or two events running at the same time.

Proceeds from the VIWF are donated to the not-for-profit Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. In 2020, the VIWF generated around $220,000 for Bard on the Beach, while this year Hertscheg said he aims for the festival to break even and, if all goes well, generate around $100,000 for the theater company.

COVID-19 also affected festival planning as the unpredictability of the pandemic meant organizers could not reliably plan for a country to be the theme region of the festival. The result is that there is no themed region, nor a themed wine style.

With 41 BC wineries participating in the festival, the province is the most represented region. Another 18 wineries are from Italy, while 14 are from the United States

For the first time in the 43-year history of the festival, a winery from the country of Georgia will be present.

Hertscheg said his participation provided the challenge of finding a Georgian flag to display in the tasting room alongside the flags of other participating countries.

“The price of flags has gone up significantly, but it’s a big expense to make sure we have a flag from every participating country,” he said.

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