It was just a few years back when I first met Nicole Campbell, the portfolio ambassador for Lifford Wine & Spirits. She moved from the national wine-importing company’s Toronto headquarters to Vancouver in order to boost their engagement with wine retail and restaurant trade.
At the time, she was in her late 20s but had a wealth of experience in the industry; Lifford is owned by her father, Steven Campbell. She grew up and came of age with many aspects of the industry close by. After spending time studying psychology and history at Queen’s, she joined the family business and began learning all aspects of wine, from office administration to logistics and sales—even working the harvest at Mitchell Wines in Australia’s Clare Valley.
Now, there are often assumptions made when the second generation comes up in the family business. Of course, I couldn’t help but wonder if she would maybe be carrying a sense of entitlement or any sort of attitude or dubious professionalism within the realm. Those thoughts quickly vanished once we had our initial meeting so I could taste through her portfolio.
First off, Campbell’s enthusiasm for authentic wines made with integrity and a strong sense of place is remarkably infectious. Having travelled to numerous countries, regions, and wineries inhabiting the Lifford portfolio, she can speak to them in great detail, from an overall scope to the smallest winemaking or vineyard quirks.
In the two years she spent in Vancouver before returning to Toronto, her passion and hustle found her fast friends with many key personalities in the industry, from restaurant owners and sommeliers to retailers and other importers. She’s the epitome of a wine geek, and some of her biggest passions have been organic, biodynamic, and natural wines from underrepresented regions around the world.
In fact, she is in the process of building her own subagency that will specialize in these kinds of wines, and she intends to share the stories behind them in dynamic, casual ways—all of them a far cry from being pedantic or reeking of dogma.
Case in point: along with an industry colleague, Campbell has started hosting monthly parties in Toronto under the moniker of Grape Witches, to share these kinds of wines with not only local sommeliers but anyone around town who would like to learn more about them. These events have been dubbed “wine séance raves”, and from a distance they look like no other wine events I’ve seen.
That will be remedied soon, though, as Campbell is returning to Vancouver to present our city’s Grape Witches’ Wine Séance Rave. (I can’t believe I just typed those words; did I mention she’s kinda wacky, too?) It all goes down this coming Monday (February 27) at Main Street’s Burdock & Co.
I reached Campbell by phone this past week to try to wrap my head around what the event will entail.
“Every day, I meet passionate people making conscientious choices about the food they eat, the brands they support, and the clothes they wear, and yet they’re still drinking very corporate wine with lots of additives,” she says. “We want to empower the everyday consumer to connect with like-minded wine growers in amazing parts of the world. We want to share our fiery passion in a fun, nonjudgmental or stuffy room. We throw in a lot of velvet, flowers, candles, and dry ice because wine shouldn’t be so serious. We want people to come dance with us!”
It’s 10 bucks for entry, which includes a glass of sparkling wine (“that’s definitely not cheap Prosecco”) upon entrance. Simple finger food will be available for between $5 and $10, while wines that include a natural Sicilian pink and what she promises is “the best ever, ever old-vines Cinsault from South Africa” start at $10 per glass.
Also on tap will be Château Lestignac “Les Brumes” 2014 ($31.99 at North Vancouver’s Everything Wine), a blend of Sémillon and Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano) that was grown on a sunny, limestone-rich hillside in southwestern France and is biodynamic, naturally fermented, unfiltered, and zippy with honeyed stone fruit.
My curiosity is, indeed, piqued; I can’t say I’ve ever attended a wine event where dry ice permeates the room, which will also be drenched in velvet and flowers. These kinds of wines are the kinds I love as well, as do many locals in the wine trade. I’ve just gone to Grapewitches.com and purchased my ticket, which you can go ahead and do as well. Any unsold spots will be available at the door.
If anything, just imagine the Instagram opportunities the evening will offer! I hope to see some readers there.
Grape Witches and Burdock & Co. present Wine Séance Rave on Monday (February 27) at Burdock & Co. For information, visit the Grape Witches website.