When you think of culinary destinations in North America, you conjure up images of New York, Vancouver or Boston. Vancouver Island as a culinary destination might not automatically come to your mind, but it may surprise you.
With great local products such as Little Qualicum Cheeseworks in Qualicum Beach and Blue Moon Winery in Courtenay, Vancouver Island is definitely on its way to making an impact on the culinary map. After living on the island for nearly four years, I can definitely attest to the fact that there are some amazing products and culinary experiences, from the amazing dessert wine at Dragonfly Hill Vineyard to the cheese from Salt Spring Island Cheese and everything in between.
It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to personally receive the invite from Jenn Houtby-Ferguson, Director of Sales & Marketing for Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre to attend and cover Parksville Uncorked 2012. I’d stayed at Tigh-Na-Mara previously but never attended an event at the resort so I was eager to see what Parksville Uncorked would have in store.
I attended Parksville Untapped and the festival’s signature event, Swirl and they were two of the best culinary events I’d ever attended both for the value and for the vendors. Parksville Untapped is in its 2nd year, but you would never know that it was a 2nd year event. Held at the Beach Club Resort, Untapped had over 18 microbreweries and 10 food vendors in attendance.
The venue was packed, filled to the brim with people in cowboy gear, fitting in with the Western theme. I sampled decadent chocolate truffles supplied by the Beach Club Resort as well as shrimp “spoons” chilled on an elaborately hand carved ice shelf. The food highlights for me included the porcini mushroom risotto ball made by Sysco Foods and the chocolate fountain supplied by Tigh-Na-Mara. Dipping strawberries into the fountain was just divine but I also loved the chocolate covered pretzels supplied by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. I never knew that salty and sweet could work together so well in one item.
The big four Island breweries of Driftwood, Lighthouse, Vancouver Island & Phillips were definitely well represented and in attendance and there was also a Lower Mainland presence for breweries with Stanley Park Brewing, Granville Island & Whistler Beer in attendance. Though I’m not a beer drinker, I did manage to find a beer that I ended up enjoying. The Beach Club Resort had an ice luge that allowed beer to flow through it and directly into the glass. I just had to try it, as I’d never had what I call a “drink performance” before. I tried the Ephemere Pomme Beer after it flowed through the luge and the delivery method did impact on the taste of the beer, it was definitely more refreshing.
I also discovered a cider that has become my favorite. Although I’m usually not much of cider drinker, I was attracted to the board at Merridale Cider’s table that described their Meri-Beri cider with apples and variety of BC berries. It sounded intriguing and I couldn’t wait to try it. With each sip that I had, I could taste the distinct flavours of raspberry, strawberry and blueberry.
To cap off the night at Parksville Untapped, a country cover band performed a variety of songs, my favourite of which was “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, which was also their best cover, in my opinion.
As someone who is learning day by day to love wine, Swirl definitely fit my tastes even more than Untapped did. With over 150 BC wines being poured at the event and over 50 wineries showcasing their wines, I couldn’t wait to find some new favourites.
I was happy to see some standby favourites on the vendor list, including Jackson Triggs, Inniskillin, Mission Hill and Sumac Ridge, but I also noticed the presence of a few smaller wineries that I’d tried before like Elephant Island and St. Hubertus and I wanted to try more varieties from them as well.
With a jazz band playing and over 500 people sampling the wine as well as the chocolate fountain with desserts and strawberries to dip, I wanted to sample as much as I could and avoid the crowds. I loved the grilled cheese sandwich that Tigh-Na-Mara supplied and it paired beautifully with the Cranberry wine from Mooberry Winery.
On the list of wineries that I tried, I would have to say that my ultimate favourite was Elephant Island’s 2010 Framboise which was sweet without being overpowering and had just the right amount of tartness. It paired wonderfully with dessert and was followed by a close second, MooBerry’s Cranberry Wine and then St. Hubertus’s Gewürztraminer. Rounding out the tip five I had Muse’s Pinot Gris, Summerhill’s Rose and Calliope Wines’ Rose.
For a festival that’s four years old, it’s definitely impressive that Parksville Uncorked has attracted so many different food vendors and wineries but how does a four-year old festival continue to grow and become more successful?
According to Wendy Sears, Director of Sales & Marketing at the Beach Club Resort, it’s all about partnership. “The cornerstone to the success of Parksville Uncorked is partnership and not just the partnership between Tigh-Na-Mara and the Beach Club Resort,” she tells me over drinks at Parksville Untapped. “It’s the collaboration between so many partners such as wineries, restaurants, breweries and food suppliers. We are all working together to support not only tourism in the Oceanside Region but to showcase the diversity of our food & beverage.”
So what’s next for a culinary festival that wants to make Parksville & the Oceanside region the go-to destination for the tourism off-season? Jenn had this to say when I asked her. ““Parksville Uncorked is truly a celebration of all things BC. The spectacular wines and amazing cuisine come together in this festival of tastes. Our goal is to continue to provide festival goers with the opportunity to experience the incredible products right in their own backyard.” And that’s definitely something I want to be a part of.