Cornucopia: Reflections of a Seasoned Alcoholist

by Lauren Mote (original story can be seen at

We ended one festival to start another. After Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail was successfully put to bed the previous weekend in Victoria, Cornucopia, Whistler’s celebration of wine and food, was just stepping on the stage in the snowy coastal mountains 100 km in the other direction.

For us industry folk who are regularly flooded with invitations to attend quarterly IVSA wine exhibitions and private portfolio tastings, finding the time for another booze festival was a tough call, but with snow billowing down, I high tailed it on the much improved Sea to Sky highway to arrive at the pre-Olympic buzzing resort community ready to imbibe. Standing in the centre of town with tickets to some of the best events in my hot hands, I jumped in head first.

Let’s talk trade tasting: The Crush Gala, spread over two days, is Cornucopia’s flagship wine tasting event with over 75 wineries participating. Crush is always a successful crowding of the best and worse dressed of the festival, a phenomenal place to watch and partake in drunken humour and a wicked party to boot. But more importantly, it is a rather gigantic showcase of fantastic wineries from here and abroad with a few local spirit favourites like the Pemberton Distillery, makers of Schramm, a high-quality artisan vodka, found nestled in between. For those looking to expand and explore the range of their palates or just annihilate them, this was the place to do it.

Friday: Casino Royale
Ever since the Bearfoot Bistro’s owner Andre Saint Jacques threw the last of the legendary Masquerave parties in 2006, after nearly a decade of over the top decadence that mashed together endless Champagne, haute cuisine, costumes, nude body painted models, naughty dancers, and an “anything goes” attitude, Casino Royale at Ric’s Grill has been deemed the new “after party”.masquerave-cancelledFor the third year in a row, Ric’s Grill hosted their high energy “Las Vegas” type evening to satisfy the many devilish alter egos craving the sexy carnival atmosphere that disappeared with the loss of Masquerave. Casino Royale really does look like it came right out of a Bond flick – gentlemen in their finest attire, whether done-up in a tux or dapper three piece suit, and the ladies dressed-to-impress – tall heels, showgirl makeup, sultry dresses. The card tables were filled with glowing pink faces, as wine bottles were poured out by the dozen until the wee hours of the morning, the party continued.

Saturday: Bubbles and Oceans
At the conclusion of Saturday evening’s Crush Gala trade tasting, the doors swung open to my favourite venue, Araxi, for their long-standing and always sold-out Bubbles and Oceans soiree. Red carpets lined the cobblestone leading up to the entrance as the winter snow was swept away by a light gusting wind.

Just then I thought I could not consume another drop of wine, but I managed to convince my tired over-worked liver that Champagne and other bubbly bevies were actually held and processed in a different part of my body… seasoned professionals like me don’t stop until we’re lured out by security, don’t you know?

The spread was immaculate – wine reps Risha Gorkoff (Select Wines) and Paul Jordan (Stile Wines) seduced me with a more than generous 4 oz pour – I guzzled; I repeated. The bubbling beauties from Catalunya cleansed my tortured palate for the first hour.

After being escorted away from the dessert towers I eyeballed for most of the night, Brook Cairns (Whistler Brewing) and I enjoyed some much needed R&R with hand rolled sushi and Lanson Black Label, followed by Michaela Morris and Michelle Bouffard (House Wine) entertaining me with stories of their most recent travels to New Zealand.

The bubbles were free-flowing like a beautiful golden river I’d happily float down any day of the year. And just as I returned to indulge in the seductive dessert tower, with those delicious little macaroons within reach, I’m grabbed by someone else and dragged back to my sixth, or was it seventh, flute of bubbly. A wonderful party at one Canada’s best restaurants and kudos to Top Table publicist Shelley McArthur for pulling it all off while simultaneously launching three cookbooks!

All in all, Cornucopia, is still a great party, educational and interesting, even for us jaded booze professionals and well worth the journey to Whistler for the weekend.

And that was just another weekend in the life of a beverage and lifestyle aficionado. Upon my quick return to Vancouver, a new series of alcohol-related events were just gearing up – the frantic start of another long Christmas season for the seasoned alcoholist. Cheers!


About Lauren Mote

Lauren has been an intricate part of the food industry for many years. Whether it’s behind the bar, in the kitchen, tasting and learning about wine, or sitting with her laptop writing food stories and reviews at the local coffee house, it was clear at an early age that Lauren’s professional and personal life would be completely consumed by the joy and passion of edibles.
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