When readers of The Georgia Straight voted Cornucopia as their favourite B.C. wine festival last year, event director Sue Eckersley couldn't help but be surprised.
"It came as a great surprise to us as all," she said.
Cornucopia, which returns from Nov. 8 to 18, has gradually and organically grown from its humble roots as a mostly Whistler-centric event, to one of the province's premier celebrations of all things epicurean. It's that diversity in offerings, including everything from intimate, one-of-a-kind chef-table dinners to large-scale signature tastings packing the conference centre, that Eckersley believes has helped put the festival on the map province-wide.
"It seems that the unique selling proposition that Cornucopia has over many wine festivals is that we really are a food festival in addition to being a beverage festival," said Eckersley, president of Watermark Inc., which has produced the festival for the past decade. "We've learned to just give people what they want. We have really strong wine events, but we also have events where you can go with your friends who prefer scotch or beer. We've made it so people can go to our events and choose their own adventure and still have really good value."
Eckersley said advance ticket sales are up roughly 15 per cent over last year, with wine seminars and chef luncheons in particular selling well, which she credited in part to the buzz Cornucopia has been building in the Lower Mainland.
"Obviously you and I both know what an amazing place Whistler is for culinary (offerings), and I think its reputation continues to grow as well," she said. "We're just so excited to be part of the whole scene, and we're continuing to learn what works."
Added to the schedule this year is a new signature event being held at the Audain Art Museum. Titled Abstract Future, the inaugural edition will feature art, entertainment, and food and drink provided by the Westin Resort. The museum will be transformed "into an ephemeral space exploring the possibilities of the near and distant future" for the Nov. 17 event, according to the program.
Eckersley is also excited for another landmark Cornucopia event, the Crush Grand Tasting on Nov. 10. A favourite for wine lovers, Crush gives attendees the chance to savour and sip a smorgasbord of vintages from wineries across B.C. and beyond. It will also include small bites to pair with.
Offering good value for money has always been a key goal for Watermark, Eckersley said, which has helped keep the festival affordable for locals.
"What surveys are showing is that people are really seeing the value of our events," she said. "Everything we do, we work really hard to say, 'Hey, if this is my $100, do I feel good about this?' There are some events that are, in actual fact, ridiculous. The value is so good that sometimes I'm like, 'Aghhh, I think we have to increase the pricing here.' But we resist that and just try to give people what they want."
With Watermark announcing last year it would no longer be producing the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF), Eckersley said the company has been able to place more emphasis on Cornucopia.
"Right now, all of us would also be engaged in WSSF in one way or another and now we're just all singularly focused on Cornucopia and have been for months. I think there will be more benefits and I think the benefits will just continue each year," she noted, adding that she is hopeful to continue securing more sponsorship dollars in the future without compromising the festival's homegrown feel.
"I thought that we would potentially chase down more sponsors, but we haven't gotten to that point yet because we still have a few changes going on. We do actually have more sponsorship this year, but I think that will be an avenue where we are able to increase the programming," Eckersley explained. "It's such a healthy property now with ticket sales, but we don't want to over-commercialize it. It needs to be a good fit if we're going to go in that direction."
For the full festival lineup and to buy tickets, visit whistlercornucopia.com.