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Story and Photos by Karoline Cullen
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

Ignoring the crowd around me, I study the pink blush of the rosť in my glass. I swirl. I sniff. I sip. Elegant, with hints of fresh, small fruits. According to wine tasting protocol, I should spit this mouthful into the bucket provided. But not this time; it is too tasty. I swallow my sip and put a check mark by the wine's name in my tasting booklet.

So begins my adventure at the Galiano Wine and Beer Tasting Festival. Islanders and visitors alike have come to sip, savour, and sample wines, craft beers and ciders. Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of the Lower Mainland, is a forty-five minute ferry ride from Tsawwassen. For over twenty years, this outdoor festival has been the main fund raiser for the Galiano Health Care Society.

Photo 1

Upon entry, I am given two glasses. A wine glass, etched with the Festival's splashing otter mascot, and a beer tasting glass. I am not a beer aficionado so the small glass will not get used. Kim, my wine tasting pal and I take a stroll past the booths. We debate our strategy with friends. Some are searching for the best wines below a certain price point. Others are tasting ones high above what they normally pay for a bottle. Others are tasting only reds, some only bubbly. We aim to discover a new favourite for a summer sipper.

One of the wine representatives expounds on how much he enjoys this unpretentious event as he pours Kim an extra-large tasting portion. Many of the wines he and the other merchants showcase today are available at stores on the island. So if we do find a favourite, we will likely be able to buy some before sailing off the island.

Photo 2

An army of volunteers is busy preparing and serving trays of finger foods. Over the years, the reputation for the Festival's food has grown. Platters of homemade sushi are emptied in short order; the server does not get far from the kitchen. Homemade hummus with organic vegetables are a healthful snack as is the house made antipasto. Stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, chicken wings, and meatballs were all worth trying. When more ballast is needed, platters of assorted cheeses, cold cuts, and sandwiches appear. Pastries and fresh watermelon slices round out the offerings. Who need supper after this?

Photo 4

In between the tasting and munching, we browse the silent auction items. What to bid on? A brilliant glass art piece or a wooden chair complete with wine glass holder? Various island artisans have pottery, jewellery and art works for sale. The local bookstore has brought a broad selection covering wine and spirits, cooking, travel, gardening and more. A band keeps the vibe up and people in the shade tents are tapping their toes. A very tall fellow offers his long arm as a measure for my purchase of a length of 50/50 draw tickets.

Photo 3

Wine recommendations are exchanged with others waiting in line for samples. One couple makes this Festival the highlight of their annual weekend visit. "We love the casual atmosphere and tasting wines outdoors." they comment as they point out their favourites marked in their notes. Then they ask, between swirls, sniffs, and sips, "We've hiked Bodega Ridge and Montague Provincial Park. Where else should we visit?"

I pause to swallow a mouthful of a particularly tasty Italian frizzante and start on my list of Galiano favourites. Looking from The Bluffs Park at ferries in Active Pass and over lushly treed islands receding into a distant mist like a Toni Onley painting is always a pleasure. More gratifying still are the expansive vistas at the end of the more rigorous uphill trail on Mount Galiano. Bellhouse Park offers a gentle slope to the shoreline and is a fine spot, should it be a lucky summer's day, to watch orcas swim by. The sculpted sandstone rocks along one side of Bellhouse and at Retreat Cove are a gallery of undulating shapes, openings, and patterns. Morning Beach is more sheltered and suitable for swimming and a steep hike down through the forest to Mathews Point brings you to a pebble and sand beach on Active Pass.

Photo 5

I could go on but the line has moved. The smiling wine rep pours a taste and explains the mix of grapes in the vintage. As I hold the glass up to the light and swirl, I ponder whether this will be a "sip and spit" or a "sip and swallow?"


More Information: PHOTOS by Karoline Cullen:
1 Galiano Wine Festival Glass
2 Wine rep pours a taste
3 Happy wine Festival patrons
4 Wine and food go together
5 View from The Bluffs Park

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