People lined up for shots of spirits from Taynton Bay Spirits at last year’s Castlegar Winefest. Photo: Chelsea Novak

Castlegar’s Winefest going strong after 20 years

None of this would have happened without the keen interest of one Jim Willard.

After 20 years of hosting B.C. wineries from the Okanagan and the Kootenay, Castlegar’s Winefest is still going strong. This year nearly 30 wineries have chosen to present their new wines on April 6 to the delight of hundreds of local tasters. Tickets are still available at Bubblee’s and Oglow’s Paints.

Twenty years ago, the Sunrise 2000 Rotary Club wasn’t certain a wine-sipping event would take off. What if only a few wineries chose to come, perhaps not enough wineries to give people a complete experience? What if local people didn’t show up to such a new (at that time) concept and event?

As it turned out, quite a number of Okanagan wineries (16 that first year) were interested in showcasing their products and expanding their markets into the West Kootenay. And as it turned out, Castlegar and area citizens (more than 100 that first year) were interested in tasting wines. Both those numbers have grown immensely over the years, so it has been 20 years of successful co-operation between the wineries and the local Rotary Club.

All of this would not have happened without the keen interest of one Jim Willard. Willard, sales representative for Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in Oliver, recognized immediately the potential of getting a foothold in the West Kootenay. He was one of the first to sign up and bring Gehringer’s German-style wines to the region.

His enthusiasm at the time of the Sunrise 2000 Rotary’s first wine-fest in the millennium year of 2000 ran to more than just his attendance at the Castlegar event. He was so well known in Okanagan wine circles that he convinced several other wineries into coming to Castlegar to try out their wines on Kootenay folk. To some extent, his influence with other wineries made the Castlegar Winefest what it is today.

Over the years, Sunrise Rotarians have become friends with a wide array of wine personalities — from owners, wine-makers, family members, and agents to simply friends helping the wineries display their wares. Right now, there are probably 200 wineries of every shape and size and product-type in the Okanagan. In addition, there are five Kootenay estate wineries making good wine. All of these people have shown up in Castlegar at various points during the 20 year-run of Castlegar’s Winefest.

The year 2000 wine-sipping event began with 16 wineries attending and a small silent auction for locals to participate in. Wineries in that first year that have hung on over the 20 years have been Gray Monk from Okanagan Centre; Gehringer Brothers from Oliver; Fairview Cellars, Oliver; Hester Creek, Oliver; House of Rose, Rutland; and Crowsnest Estates from Keremeos.

Our local winery, Columbia Gardens, came on board in 2002. Our favourite German-style winery, Wild Goose from O.K. Falls, began coming in 2004. The people’s favourite winery every year, Anna Manola’s Silver Sage from Oliver, attended for the first time in 2007.

Wineries with first-rate wines that the Castlegar Winefest group has come to count on have been Desert Hills (2005), Quinta Ferreira (2008), River Stone (2013), and Kismet (2016). Wine lovers have been able to taste these estate winery offerings every year since they began coming.

Along with Columbia Gardens, three Creston wineries now attend — Skimmerhorn, Baillie-Grohman, and Wynwood, all with good wines. A new Creston winery, Red Bird Estates, will be pouring its two whites and one red at this year’s winery gala.

Six new wineries will be exhibiting their wines on April 6. Among them is Black Hills Estates whose wines are in high demand by connoisseurs and high-end restaurants throughout Canada. Tasting its wines will be worth the cost of the ticket alone.

Gord Turner writes here every other week.

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