Drinking wine is easy, but talking about wine can make even experienced imbibers uncomfortable. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that even in its second year, Sunday School at the Vancouver Urban Winery continues to sell out quickly. One-day seminars held once a month on Sundays are hosted by sommeliers David Stansfield and Lisa Cook. Their approach to wine is informal and irreverent, and the focus of the event is to enjoy 10 bottles while learning a few tips.
Recently, I had the chance to attend a Sunday School session as a media guest. Each seminar has a theme, and on October 26, it was “B.C. vs. the World”. This was the first time that Sunday School took place in the winery itself (events previously took place in the space now occupied by Belgard Kitchen). About four long tables with seats for 40 people were set up next to stainless steel tanks fermenting white wine. In front of each seat was a row of four wine glasses and a few sheets of paper.
For this session, four whites, four reds, and two “wild cards” were poured. The first round consisted of Pinot Gris/Grigio (one from the Cowichan Valley, the other from Italy’s Veneto region), while the second round was Riesling (with wineries from Kamloops and Germany represented). In the flight of four reds, one round was Pinot Noir (Oliver and Chile), and the other was Syrah (Oliver and Greece). Attendees were asked to blind taste the wines, identify each wine’s region, and vote on which one they liked more.
I’ve attended a few wine tastings and I’m currently studying for my Wine and Spirit Education Trust intermediate level certification, so I’ve come to enjoy blind tastings and feel comfortable using “wine-speak”. The nice thing about Sunday School is that Stansfield and Cook start at the beginning, giving everyone a crash-course on how to identify “notes” through smelling and tasting wine, and what the heck words like “dry”, “tannin”, “oaked”, and “body” actually mean.
“Does it smell like fruit? That’s a tasting note,” Stansfield said enthusiastically to the group. He then gave a quick explanation of how white wines are often grouped into citrus, green fruits, stone fruits, and tropical fruits; and red wines are broken down into red fruits, black fruits, and “other stuff”, like earthy smells and spices.
Together, event attendees went through the various pairs of wine. It was interesting to see that because most of us were more familiar with B.C. wines, we were pretty good at identifying which bottles we believed were local. What was also apparent was that in general, Old World wines (ones from Europe, mainly France and Italy) were typically more complex in flavours, while B.C. wines tasted younger and more refreshing.
For the final round, which Stansfield and Cook called the “wild card”, we switched to beer. The Settlement Building, where the Vancouver Urban Winery is located, also houses Postmark Brewing. We were asked to blind taste the nut brown ale from Postmark and one made in England. Similar to Old World vs. B.C. wines, the beer from England had more aged and complex flavours and smells, while the one made in Railtown was lighter and a bit friendlier on the nose. Many of us preferred our local brew.
Once all of the bottles were revealed, Stansfield and Cook invited attendees to stay and enjoy top-ups of their favourite wines. The seminar started at 3 p.m. and lasted around two hours. After the event, attendees are free to wander across the room and grab a bit at Belgard Kitchen, which stays open late into the evening.
As I mentioned, Sunday School classes sell out fast. Both the November and December sessions were sold-out before my class even started. However, the Vancouver Urban Winery has just released the dates and tickets for its spring session. The first Sunday School event in the new year is on January 25, 2015, with sessions running once a month until the end of June.
Tickets to Sunday School are $40 per person, which includes all of the wines and glassware, and can be purchased online.