Keynote speaker at The Vancouver International Wine Festival 2024

“The Wine World is Here” is the payoff of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, which marked its 45th annual edition this year. It stands out as the largest wine festival in the Americas, featuring 8 days of wine tastings from 12 countries, boasting approximately 18,000 admissions, and hosting 42 events across 23 venues.

Each year, the festival highlights a specific continent, country, or wine region. Consequently, the Keynote Speaker is carefully chosen to set the tone, being tasked with dictating the energy and encapsulating the theme of the event.

As some of you may already be aware, I had the honor of being nominated as the Keynote Speaker for The Vancouver International Wine Festival 2024 – Discover Italy. The responsibility of discussing Italian Wines was significant, and the emotional resonance paralleled my feelings during The Amazing Italian Wine Journey I organized for the Obamas in 2017.

So it is with immense joy and profound honor that I share the experience of my role as the Keynote Speaker for such a prestigious Festival. This opportunity filled me with both excitement and a profound sense of responsibility. Andi have to thank Michaela Morris once again for opening this wonderful door for me!

To represent Italy’s rich wine culture on such a global platform is not merely a privilege, but a weighty responsibility. It’s a chance to showcase the diversity, history, natural and regional diversity and unparalleled quality of Italian wines to the world. This honor comes with the power to influence perceptions and spark enthusiasm among wine enthusiasts worldwide.

However, along with this privilege comes the inevitable flutter of nerves and the sheer hard work that goes into crafting a memorable keynote speech. The pressure to deliver insights that resonate, educate, and inspire is immense. Yet, it’s a challenge I embrace wholeheartedly, driven by my passion for wines, and of course Italian wines, and the desire to share their story with authenticity and depth.

But how does one curate a theme for such a monumental festival?

Until now, my experience involved preparing and hosting various seminars and master classes, but always one at a time. However, this time around, the scene was entirely different. I had to think on a more global and inspirational scale. I had to devise ideas that would capture the essence of the state-of-the-art Italian wine industry, while also serving as catalysts for inspiration and sparking conversations about the world of wine.

So, I developed concepts centered around the following ideas.

Principal’s Welcome Lunch

This is a 3-5 minute speech that officially inaugurates the festival. It is directed towards nearly 400 winery principals, agents, trade professionals and press members from all corners of the world. You might think that 3 minutes is a breeze, it passes in the blink of an eye. It does, but delivering a meaningful and inspirational message within this brief time frame is no easy feat, especially when faced with such a vast and diverse audience.

In fact, it has been my most significant challenge. I eventually navigated it by encapsulating the exciting transformation Italy is undergoing as a wine-producing country, proud to express itself with diverse dialects and a distinct sense of place. I then delved into the themes of cooperation and the potent role of wine as a human connector, emphasizing how these elements can help us counteract the decline in wine consumption. The key, I argued, lies in focusing on our communication recipients, rather than assuming that everyone is predisposed to appreciate wines solely based on their origin or grape variety.

To truly savor wine, one doesn’t necessarily need an extensive education. Most people prefer to enjoy wine without an elaborate lesson; they simply want to relish the experience. Therefore, let’s tailor our approach with a more thoughtful consideration of our target audience.

Celebrating Excellence, Sommelier Award Lunch

Another approximately 3-minute speech, akin to the Principal Lunch, but this time in front of the crème de la crème of the British Columbia Wine Community.

Despite the similar content, this occasion exuded a higher degree of emotional resonance, given the deeply cooperative nature and shared values of this community. With so much camaraderie, emotions ran high and there were even a few handkerchiefs in motion. Maintaining composure in such an emotionally charged atmosphere was no easy feat.

While I’ve known some of the journalists, sommeliers and PR professionals for a couple of decades, the majority were introduced to me just two years ago. My friend and colleague, Jason Yamasaki, the master of ceremonies, unexpectedly introduced me a little earlier than anticipated, catching me mid-bite of cod! Thankfully, Paul Wagner, sitting next to me, helped prepare me to take the stage by offering a glass of Brunello to cleanse my palate.

Surprisingly, this unforeseen turn of events actually alleviated some of my stress. It was at the end of the lunch that I truly felt the warm embrace of this fantastic community. Thank you, guys!

VIWF announces 2024 trade competition winners


The annual Spirited Industry Professional Award is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the sales, service or promotion of wine in British Columbia. The 17th annual award goes to wine writer Tim Pawsey.


The Sommelier of the Year Award recognizes working sommeliers who consistently demonstrate an outstanding passion for marrying wine with food and a dedication to exceptional service. This year’s winner, Ian Casterton, Key Account Manager, Andrew Peller Limited, was selected through a hands-on competition organized by the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, held on January 30.


The Vancouver International Wine Festival is pleased to partner with the BC Hospitality Foundation, the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and the Threlfall family on a scholarship in the name of our beloved friend and colleague, Terry Threlfall, who passed away suddenly in October 2020. The scholarship is awarded to a candidate seeking to make a difference in mentorship and leadership in the British Columbia wine trade. This year’s winner is Dawn Schultz, front of house manager, educator, and consultant at Designer Grapes Consulting.


Celebrating the best food and wine pairings in the business, restaurants throughout British Columbia and Alberta have been recognized for creating wine lists that complement their establishment’s unique menu and concept. The key judges were Tom Doughty, DJ Kearney, William Mulholland, Chris Turyk, and Emily Walker.

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
Hawksworth Restaurant
Nightingale Restaurant; Gold
Bar Gobo
Burdock & Co
CinCin Ristorante + Bar
Mott 32
Savio Volpe
Yuwa Japanese Cuisine; Silver
Published on Main
Tap Restaurant
Tutto Restaurant & Bar; Bronze
The One Sixty
Wildlight Kitchen & Bar; Honourable Mention
Anh and Chi
Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio, Ambleside
Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio, False Creek

Alta Bistro
Bar Oso
Il Caminetto; Silver
Wild Blue Restaurant & Bar; Bronze
Quattro Restaurant Whistler

The Courtney Room; Gold
Marilena Cafe & Wine Bar (Best New Entry); Silver
The Farmer’s Daughter; Bronze
Boom & Batten

RGE RD (Edmonton)
Vin Room YYC Airport (Calgary)

Rocca delle Macie Vertical Tasting

Rethinking matching food&wine

A lunch with Evan Goldstein MW and 3000 years of Italian winemaking versus 30 years of British Columbia wines.

This was a dual event featuring delightful food and wine pairings curated by the entertaining and insightful Evan Goldstein MW (last year’s Keynote Speaker) and my speech on the history of Italian wine culture in relation to British Columbia wines. I made a personal commitment that if I were to showcase Italian wines in Vancouver, I needed to include wines from B.C. For me, this was a tremendous honor to co-present with Evan and bring Italy and Canada together under one roof!

The wines

Location: The Vancouver Wine Club

  • Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2022 (BC)
  • Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Gris 2022 (BC)
  • Hester Creek Old Vine Trebbiano 2022 (BC)
  • Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (Italy)
  • Moon Curser Dolcetto 2022 (BC)
  • Summerhill Spadefoot Toad Sangiovese 2018 (BC)
  • Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2020 (Italy)

Italy Reimagined – Theme Plenary for press and trade

This seminar served as the main event, where I organized storytelling and wine tasting into a seamless flow, exploring different facets of Italian winemaking history.

Beginning with the ancient Mycenaean era and spanning up to 1861, the first segment delved into the rich history of Italian winemaking. Transitioning into the second block, we explored the revolutionary period of modern winemaking from the early 1800s. This era witnessed the birth of Italy in 1861, coinciding with the emergence of iconic wines such as Barolo, Prosecco, Chianti (Classico), and Brunello. The discussion also encompassed the advent of communication technologies, marked by the telegraph and steam power, leading to significant events like mass emigration and the impact of Phylloxera on vineyards.

During this time, Italy played a pivotal role as the wine engine of the world, focusing on bulk wine production. However, the emphasis on quantity resulted in a diluted style of wines until the late ’70s and early ’80s. Subsequently, the rise of ‘bodybuilder wines’ aimed to counteract this dilution, creating a distinctive but balanced approach.

It was only 30 years ago that Italy found its true voice, embracing its cultural diversity and regional identity. This marked the beginning of a transformative period, prompting a reimagination of the Italian wine scene.”

The wines

  • Villa Sandi Valdobbiabene Prosecco DOCG La Rivetta 120 NV
  • Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco Reggiano Organic 2022
  • Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra Verdicchio Classico Superiore Organic 2022
  • Marchesi Mazzei Zisola Nero d’Avola Noto Rosso DOC 2018
  • Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2018
  • Rocca delle Macie Sergio Zingarelli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016
  • Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Cannubi DOCG 2018
  • MASI Agricola Campolongo di Torbe Amarone 2013

This seminar I was accompanied by my twin sister friend and colleague Michaela Morris.

Italy’s Lightness of Being for press and trade

This third seminar was conceived as my primary idea to bring to Vancouver. Last year, I had worked on a master class on the wines of Abruzzo, utilizing the concept of ‘Lightness’ as expressed by Italo Calvino in his ‘Six Memos for the New Millennium.’

I structured my speech to emphasize the value of lightness in opposition to weight, highlighting the importance of precision, definition and transparency that Italian wines offer. This is attributed to geological orogenesis, diverse latitudes and altitudes, hundreds of varieties, and the genius loci, as opposed to the inertia, overweight and saturation of ‘Body Builder Wines.

I invited the audience to adopt a different approach, a distinct logic and an alternative perspective when considering Italian wines. The delightfully vibrant Lambrusco di Sorbara, chosen as the opening wine, served as the ambassador for this idea, which both press and trade seemed to thoroughly enjoy. I was accompanied in this seminar by my twin sister, friend and colleague, Michaela Morris.

The wines

  • 1. Cleto Chiarli Fondatore Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC 2022 with Tommaso Chiarli
  • 2. Fontanafredda Derthona Timorasso Colli Tortonesi 2022 with Alberto Frea
  • 3. Azienda Agricola Inama Palchi Soave Classico DOC 2021 with Stefano Inama
  • 4. Urciuolo Vini Danimi Vaticale DOCG Greco di Tufo 2020 with Ciro Urciuolo
  • 5. Collefrisio Filare Rosé Montepulciano 2021 with Michaela Morris and Filippo Bartolotta
  • 6. Pietradolce Etna Rosso 2022 with Michaela Morris and Filippo Bartolotta
  • 7. Vietti Langhe DOC Nebbiolo Perbacco 2020 with Urs Vetter
  • 8. Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2018 with Daniel Grace

Challenge of the Red Titans

This event, tailored for a sizable group of Vancouver wine enthusiasts, was designed to illustrate how, even within a framework of ‘lightness,’ the great red wines of Italy can reveal their power and energy like true Titans.

To achieve this, I toyed with the idea of a challenge among winery styles and winemakers, alongside the wonderful co-host Neal McLennan. Neal and I briefed the winemakers to keep their presentations brief, avoiding overly geeky language and instead, focusing on the theme of what it means to be a contemporary Red Titan. We also asked them to defend their corner, explaining why their wine titan should be the winner in each competition.

The result was an immensely entertaining battle among winemakers, conducted with the utmost fair play but still retaining a competitive edge. The audience enthusiastically played along, indicating their preferences. It’s challenging to declare a definitive winner, but in private, I can share the three wines that received the most significant applause:))))

The wines

The 2020 Challenge
  • Barone Ricasoli Colledila Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Gaiole DOCG 2020 with Francesco Ricasoli
  • Michele Chiarlo Nizza Riserva La Court DOCG 2020 with Adam Verona
  • Tomassi Family Estates La Massa Rosso Toscana IGT 2020 with Pierangelo Tommasi

Topic of the challenge: Wondering thoughts on the Gran Selezione initiative? Have consumers embraced the new category and how is it performing in Italy/ Rest of Europe?

The 2019 Challenge
  • Marchesi Mazzei Doppiozeta Noto Rosso DOC 2019 with Francesco Mazzei
  • Famiglia de Cerchio Torre Zambra Villamagna 2019 with Federico De Cerchioi
  • Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2019 with Matteo Allegrini
  • Tua Rita Giusto di Notri 2019

Topic of the challenge: What have I been seeing in Sicily over the past decade? How have the wineries kept pace with the rapid increase in the demand for their wines? Abruzzo wines have yet to have the breakthrough in North America that some of the other regions represented here have? What are 3 things a newcomer to this region should know about the wines and winemakers? What effect does the ongoing increase in Amarone and Rispasso production have on “regular” Valpolicella and what is an Amarone new Wave.

The 2018 Challenge
  • Marchesi Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2018 with Livia Divelec
  • Pio Cesare Barolo 2018 with Federica Boffa

Topic of the challenge: 1. Is Barolo over or underpriced? 2. We often think about Brunello as the most North American of the great Italian wines because of how much we consume – what is the wine’s standing in Italy?

Back home in Florence, many friends and colleagues asked me what I brought back from my travels. My immediate response is: Cooperation. While I traverse the world and its seven seas, in British Columbia, I discovered a unique connection with the place and its people. Not only does the air feel imbued with a special thaumaturgic power and nature is mesmerizing, but it’s mainly about people sharing and prioritizing collaboration as their guiding principle.

A big thank you to the entire B.C. wine community, both those I’ve known for years and the new friends I’ve made. There are so many that I won’t be able to list them all, but those with whom I shared lunches, dinners, and bottles of wine know what I’m talking about: thank you from the bottom of my heart for making me feel at home.

Whether some individuals embrace collaboration out of warm-heartedness or others recognize it as a smarter and more efficient way to survive and thrive, the overarching sentiment is that it works. I want to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to Michaela Morris for suggesting me as a potential candidate to be the Key Note speaker and for supporting me every step of the way. Sonia Fraser and her team have looked after me on this adventure for the past year and a half and President Harry Hertscheg escorted me around during the various speeches throughout the week.

Credits: photos by Zoe Quinn

So now that the festival is over be the jet lag wearing off, how does it feel like?

When I embarked on this journey as a Keynote Speaker, I felt proud to representing Italy’s esteemed winemaking tradition but I didn’t know what a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to connect with fellow enthusiasts and celebrate the magic of wine together on a global stage.

Amidst the stress and long hours of preparation, there’s an undeniable energy that comes from standing before a captivated audience. The warmth of their presence, the anticipation in the air—it’s electrifying. And when the words flow seamlessly, and the audience responds with enthusiasm, the taste of success is sweeter than any vintage.