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Vancouver International Wine Festival set to drive Italian wine sales

Wholesales for Italian wines increased last year in B.C. while overall wine wholesales fell, according to new data
Vancouver International Wine Festival executive director Harry Hertscheg examines his glass of Italian wine | Rob Kruyt

Vancouverites next month are able to attend events where there is set to be more Italian winery representation under one roof than has ever happened in the city. 

The 45th incarnation of the Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF), held February 24 through March 3, is slated to have representatives from 71 participating Italian wineries, as Italy is the host nation for the fourth time in the festival's history. 

The last time Italy was the host nation was 2016, when representatives from 60 Italian wineries showed up, VIWF executive director Harry Hertscheg told BIV. Other times when Italy was the theme region included 2008, when 50 of that country's wineries took part, and in 2000, when there were 38 Italian wineries, he added.

"It's every eight years that Italy is the theme region, like clockwork, those Italians," Hertscheg said.

In total, the festival is set to feature 147 wineries from 17 countries. Each winery at the main tastings pour an average of about four wines.

The festival will include 15 dinners sponsored in part by wineries, as well as many seminars and four main public tastings at the Vancouver Convention Centre – in the evenings of Feb. 29, March 1 and March 2, as well as an afternoon tasting on March 2. 

A temporary British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) store is planned to be next to the tasting room at the convention centre, and to be in operation during the events. All wine poured in the tasting rooms are expected to be available at that store, although many listings sell out quickly, Hertscheg said. 

He added that about 75 per cent of the wines poured in the tasting room, and available for sale in the pop-up liquor store, are unlisted, speculative products or wines not generally sold in the province. 

The high number of Italian wineries is set to turbo-charge sales of that country's wine in B.C. 

Interest in Italian wines has already been on the upswing, outpacing sales growth for wine in B.C. overall.

Indeed, overall sales for wine in B.C. are falling. 

BIV crunched new BCLDB data for the 2023 calendar year, and found that the value of its wine wholesales to its own stores, to private stores and to restaurants and bars in the province, despite inflation, fell 3.39 per cent, or $40,223,235, to $1,146,898,037, compared with 2022. By volume, those wholesale customers bought 69,229,902 litres of wine in 2023, down 4,876,399 litres, or 6.58 per cent, compared with 2022. 

Italian wine sales outperformed.

Wholesale customers bought $117,656,001 worth of Italian wine from the BCLDB in 2023, up 0.92 per cent from the $116,581,483 spent the year before. By volume, however, wholesales for Italian wine also declined: 3.38 per cent to 5,643,122 litres in 2023, from 5,834,732 litres in 2022. 

Evidence that ongoing comparatively high inflation and higher interest rates might be cutting into consumers' budgets may have been on display, given that the fourth quarter of 2023 was the one with the steepest declines in wine wholesales.

Wholesale customers spent $305,279,455 on all wine in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, down $44,338,697, or 12.68 per cent, from the same quarter in 2022. By volume, those customers bought 18,606,814 litres of wine in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, down 2,463,629 litres, or 11.69 per cent, from the same quarter in 2022, according to BCLDB statistics. 

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