This week, the 2011 edition of the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo happens in Toronto. This is the largest food and wine show in all of Canada, taking place from Thursday Nov. 17th to the Sunday Nov. 20th. An expected 38,000 foodies and wine lovers from Canada, the US and abroad will attend as ver 350 domestic and international exhibitors will present their wine and food for sampling, which includes over 1500 types of spirits, beers and wines including sweet wines, of course.
Overseeing the fun and the chaos will be Jennifer Campbell, the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo’s Executive Show Manager. With the show only days away, she’s been working 6 AM to 2 AM days in preparation. Despite her lack of sleep, she graciously agreed to an EXCLUSIVE interview with me for Wine Berserkers during her own lunch time.
Berserkers have undoubtedly attended quite a number of tasting and foodie events like this, but I wanted to gain and provide us all with some insight on what it takes to put on an event of such massive scope. I want to thank her for the privilege of allowing me to share this with all of you. As you’ll see, she’s got a thing for sweet wines as well.
• Thanks for the interview, Jennifer. First of all, what makes the Food and Wine Expo such a great opportunity for a winery to showcase their sweet wines?
It’s the perfect venue to get liquid to lips. People get to try as many as different kinds as they want all in one venue. It’s set up and designed for it, with just a few sample tickets you get to taste whichever ones you want to try.
You don’t open dessert wines that frequently so you often have to buy a bottle at restaurant, which can be quite pricy, or a full bottle at the LCBO. At the show you’re able to taste it for a few dollars and you don’t have to invest all that much money into it.
• I can vouch for this, as last year a booth attendant opened a brand new bottle of 06 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes for me on opening night! I sampled a $52 fine wine for a mere 3 tickets. When I went last year on opening night, every sweet wine was available. When I returned on Sunday with a friend, almost every single one was completely sold out. Does this surprise you?
It is the busiest food and wine show in Canada, so things are in demand and they do run out. There’s a limited quantity of sweet wines, so it’s no surprise they sold out. Every year gets busier, a winery might sell 5, maybe 10, 12, or even 15 cases worth of wine in samples alone at the show. Much of this depends on the booth staff, the product, and its consumer appeal in most cases. I have seen exhibitors go through as much as 17 cases worth of wine samples for the show.
• Wow. I don’t think the general public is aware of just how much wine is sold at the Expo each year. I know I didn’t think it was that high.
It is a lot but sample sales are not their main goal. The goal for the wineries and agents is to find the audience and hopefully those people will come back and buy their favorite wines at the show or the LCBO and go visit their vineyards out in Niagara or internationally.
• Does the Expo itself have any say in what wines the exhibitors bring or is it up to them?
They decide what they will bring themselves. We do encourage vendors to bring premium, reserve, limited case lot, and single vineyard wines to make available on VIP night. Many of the vendors will often have even more high end special vintages tucked away at their booths. If you get talking to them, they might even just happen to have a back vintage they keep on hand for genuine connoisseurs...
• Thanks for the tip! Hmmm… I’m not sure I want to give that one away. What if I want to buy a sweet wine that I’ve tasted at the show?
The LCBO has a large onsite Vintages store booth. They stock almost everything available at the show but only in limited quantities. You’ll also find a lot of wines available at the Expo’s LCBO store that are not readily available at their stores, save perhaps the larger ones like Queen’s Quay and Summerhill. [Blogger’s note: Jennifer is referring to the LCBO’s two largest flagship stores in the city of Toronto.]
Customers can also ask exhibitors if their wines are available for sale at the show at the LCBO booth. Of course, they can always order directly from the wineries as well.
Speaking of Vintages, they always have a great booth display and are always bringing in super high fine wine to the show. Some samples are $20, an entire sheet’s worth of sample tickets, but of course it might be for a sample for an $800 dollar bottle of wine! [/i]
• I noticed that Mission Hill [Family Estate Winery] from BC is coming this year!
Yes, their agent is attending the show and will be pouring Mission Hill wines. They were the top Intervin [Wine Awards] Winery of the Year this year. I had a bottle of their Reserve Merlot last night. It was to die for.
• I’m dying to try some icewine from the Okanagan Valley at the Expo. Are there many BC wineries attending?
There are many BC wines at the Expo this year, but they’re all being brought in by agencies such as Terroir [Wine Agency]. As for the wineries themselves, there’s lot of challenges to their attendance due to logistical but mostly legal issues.
It’s very hard for people to bring BC wines to the show as legally you cannot ship from BC to Ontario so usually the agents will represent them. [Blogger’s note: Jennifer is making reference to a Prohibition-era law banning the transportation or sale of wine and other liquors across provincial borders that is still in force today in Canada.]
• How long has the Food and Wine Expo been going on?
The show has been going on 17 years in Toronto. This is my 9th year with it.
• Wow. How did you get involved with it?
I started with a background in sales and events for Ford and did lots of galas. I had actually been to the Food and Wine Expo as an attendee myself. I came on board 9 years ago and started running the Expo right away.
• How much work is involved in getting the show running?
I work all year round full time for the show. I’m already taking meetings for 2012, putting together the packages for exhibitors, and I just met with Tourism Ireland to bring them on board. I have to work on tourism commissions for years to get them involved. It took 5 years to get Tourism Portugal into the show. It takes a while to build faith. The biggest difficulty is that their promotional budgets are set in other countries.
I’m constantly having conversations and dealings with clients all over the world. People can be out in the vineyards when you need answers from them. It’s a lot of logistics to deal with.
• Do you get to enjoy yourself at the show or are you running around like a chicken with your head cut off?
I’m always there morning to night leading my team and about 150 volunteers dealing with exhibitors and suppliers and guests. I’m on site as of Monday through Saturday running around making people happy, putting out fires, and fixing things to make sure it all runs smoothly.
By Sunday, it’s all good and I can enjoy the show. There’s a good crowd on Sunday. I’ll walk around and talk to all the vendors, shop a little, and try things.
• So you’re a foodie as well as a wine lover?
I’m an absolute foodie! I’m partial to great food, and I pretty much only like fine dining! I’m not a good cook, but I’m an amazing orderer. I should point out, however, that I’m married to a chef.
• That’s a great move for a foodie!
It’s very convenient when I have large dinner parties and I tell my husband, “We’re having 16 people over. Make this!”
• And since I'm a devotee of sweet wines, of course I have to ask: What is your own personal favorite sweet wine?
Cabernet Franc icewine. I’m generally a red wine drinker anyway so maybe it’s psychological! (laughs) I also love Ice Cuveé Rosé [a dry sparkling wine that’s been sweetened to a medium-dry level with a dosage of icewine]. I could have that anytime.
• Thanks very much for your time, Jennifer. Good luck with the show and get some sleep!
Thank you. I’ll try.
Hope this was informative and as fun for you all to read as it was for me to get the interview. If any Berserkers are attending the Expo, I'll be there myself on the VIP Opening Night on Thurs. Nov. 17th. Please drop me a line if you're going and we can hook up. Cheers, everyone.