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Calgary Stampede launches wine competition to promote Canadian agri-business

Although Alberta doesn’t necessarily come first to mind when Calgarians think wine country, the Calgary Stampede would be the first to remind wine drinkers that the Stampede began life as an agricultural fair.

It is fair to say that wine growing in Canada is big agri-business.

With that in mind, the Stampede is launching the Stampede Cellar Showdown wine competition in order to better promote the Canadian wine industry, and connect Alberta consumers and restaurants with the best the nation has to offer.

“We are Canada’s exhibition. I know Calgary is in our name, but we support agriculture in Canada,” said Joel Cowley, CEO of the Calgary Stampede.

“Agriculture is really part of our DNA, and viticulture is a huge part of agriculture. Winegrape is the largest value-added agricultural product in Canada, contributing 11-and-a-half billion dollars to the Canadian economy.”

The competition will be a double-blind taste-tested competition, with a strict auditing process, that is designed to provide confidence in the results of the competition.

Wines will be limited to those sold in the province of Alberta, but will not be limited to just Canadian wines. Wines will be competing for double gold, gold, silver, and bronze awards, and within each category of wine, Canadian wines will also be given distinctions separate from international entries.

The competition will be taking entrants in the fall of 2023, with competition judging to be done in February 2024.

Calgary Stampede Board of Directors members Sandy O’Conner and David Farran will be heading up the new Stampede committee for the competition.

Competition to provide consumers legitimacy in awards when purchasing wine

Petter Smolarz, Director of Fine Wine and Purchasing at Willow Park Wines and Spirits, said that the high quality of competition and auditing process was an important one to give the Stampede Cellar Showdown legitimacy for consumers.

“You don’t want it to be just you know, best wine that starts with a C, or something that’s a pat on the back. It has to come from a source that makes sense otherwise it can’t be trusted,” he said.

“The fact that they’re out there, you know, they’re talking to Masters of Wine, they’re looking to get the right people in place, and more importantly also including local people. You’re going to get the clearest vision that is an actual review of the wine, not just the marketing dollars that went to a magazine or wherever that may have been.”

Cowley said that the Stampede using local judges meant that the competition would be truly reflective of the Calgary palette for wine.

That standard of judging, he said, was something that he hoped would translate into the purchasing decisions for consumers and restaurants when they see an award from the competition.

“If we do a good job with our competition, and we do a good job engaging retailers and restaurants in the Calgary area, people will know that the Stampede Cellar brand means quality,” Cowley said.

Smolarz said that Stampede Cellar branding could be useful for consumers who are confused by the number of awards and rating numbers that are attached to wines at retailers.

“I get that a lot from the consumers when I’m selling wine. You’ll buy a bottle and it’s got seven silver medals, it’s got three gold medals, and you don’t know what that means,” Smolarz said.

“But for us, we’ll know exactly what that means for us locally, because it came from something that’s around us. So, it’s something we can trust. It’s something that came from not only Albertans, but experts, and we’ll get a chance to see it featured whether it’s at an event or at the Calgary Stampede.”

The Stampede will be working with local restaurants and retailers to have the opportunity to highlight winners from the competition on their menus and on their shelves.

As for whether wine will have a long-term place at the Stampede, “quite frankly next to a dry age prime New York Strip steak, a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon is my favourite agriculture,” joked Cowley.