Connoisseurs flock to Cornucopia
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Early in a five-course dinner by Araxi paired with wines from his vineyard, Joe Luckhurst provides me with insight into why Whistler’s signature fall event, Cornucopia, is so attractive for food and drink connoisseurs.
Luckhurst, the general manager at Road 13 Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, is serving some of his brand’s finest wines as well as introducing his dining companions to bottles from the Similkameen Collective, a boutique label produced with grapes from 100-acre Blind Creek Vineyard. Road 13 and Blind Creek have partnered on high-end wines for the past several years, and Luckhurst expects the Similkameen Collective bottles will soon usurp Road 13’s Jackpot brand as the company’s premium label.
“With the Similkameen Collective wines, we’re taking possibly the best fruit in Canada and giving it the best treatment we can,” says Luckhurst, whose parents launched Road 13, one of the most successful family-owned wineries in the Okanagan.
The opportunity to taste the hard-to-find Similkameen Collective wines — of which a 2013 Roussanne was the highlight for me — at an intimate dinner prepared by Araxi’s James Walt, one of the nation’s leading culinary talents, is an example of why Cornucopia is such an attraction. The shoulder-season event was created to fill the gap in tourism between the end of summer season and the launch of the resort village’s bustling ski and snowboard activities. It’s hardly a unique concept. Resort villages across North America hold similar events each year. But Cornucopia, which just wrapped its 20th year, has succeeded more than most.
This year, greater than 125 events were held over two weeks and approximately 15,000 people attended, filling hotel rooms and restaurants that would otherwise be low on occupancy. The event is one reason why Sea-to-Sky Country — which stretches north of Vancouver to Pemberton, a farm-rich community above Whistler — ranked No. 1 on the 2016 Vacay.ca Best Places to Visit in Canada list.
Food and Drink Rule in Whistler
The focus of Cornucopia is to showcase British Columbia’s food-and-drink culture, including a Taste of Cornucopia Night Market, a craft-beer market with about two dozen of the province’s brewmasters, luncheons held in private homes in Whistler, seminars from chefs and mixologists, educational discussions on health and wellness, and exclusive dinners such as the Road 13 soiree, which was held at the Cellar by Araxi, a secluded underground space in the heart of Whistler Village.
For aficionados, the chance to taste wines that few consumers, if any, have sipped is enticing enough — especially when they are as delicious as the Similkameen Collective bottles.
“You can call some of these ‘geek wines.’ You can afford to do it with this wine because you’re not making a lot of them,” Luckhurst says of the small-batch wines.
Not all of the focus is on British Columbia, either. A dinner at Sidecut, a steak house at the Four Seasons Whistler, featured a collaboration with chefs from other properties belonging to the luxury hotel brand. Chefs from Four Seasons’ locations in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Vail, Colorado, joined Whistler chefs David Baarschers and Isabelle Dionne in creating a diverse four-course dinner featuring dishes such as Alaskan King Crab Salad and lamb from Colorado.
At private luncheons, held in stately homes in Whistler, chefs such as Vancouver’s David Hawksworth served exquisite meals paired with wines from regions around the world. At the Hawksworth Luncheon, held on the final Saturday of Cornucopia, Italian wines were matched with plates such as Dungeness crab salad and duck served two ways, with a seared breast plated along with a confit of duck leg wrapped in a crepe.
On top of all the decadent food and wine is the opportunity to also partake in Whistler’s famous nightlife, best known for its apres-ski parties but also rambunctious at any time of year.
With ski season set to begin on November 23, Whistler is about to turn frenzied. Thanks to Cornucopia, it has a fine warm-up act for its headline activities.
MORE ABOUT VISITING WHISTLER
Snow Report and Ski/Snowboard Information: Visit the Whistler Blackcomb website for weather reports and news on events, activities, lift tickets, lessons and rentals.
Where to Stay: On my most recent visit, I stayed in a one-bedroom suite, with kitchen and fireplace, at the Westin Resort and Spa, a spacious and beautiful property located steps to the Whistler Mountain lifts and popular resort spots such as the Longhorn Saloon. Based on a search of the property’s website, a weekend room night in December costs $449.
Where to Dine: Araxi Restaurant + Oyster Bar has ranked among the Top Restaurants in Canada for four consecutive years and remains one of the nation’s finest dining rooms. Bar Oso, also owned by the TopTable Group, serves small plates inspired by Spain and is headed by former Araxi sous chef Jorge Munoz Santos from Madrid, Spain.