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Recently, I had the good fortune to try a wine I could not afford to buy. It was a blind tasting, and my senses transported me to a long-ago afternoon: a farmer’s field near St-Julien in France, sunshine after summer rain, wild strawberries, crème fraîche, and a shared bottle of Haut-Médoc. The recollection, triggered by a mere sip, had such Proustian vividness that I felt oddly sure the wine was a St-Julien. Though it was a lucky strike, I wasn’t far off: it turned out to be a 1980 Château Montrose from St-Estèphe, also in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, very near St-Julien. When I recounted the story to David Scholefield, who runs our wine competition, he reacted with typical gusto: “Exactly! That’s what wine can do. It’s not just climate and soil and fruit. It’s everything. Time, place, the people, the food, music—they’re all captured in your experience of a wine.”
Scholefield, 55, grew up in Point Grey and got exposed to wine in his teens after his father died and the family moved to England. Later, as a student at UBC, he developed a real taste for it. In 1979, back from bumming around in Europe and in desperate need of work, he was urged by a friend to apply to the liquor board: “They’ll hire anyone.” He did, and—the Christmas rush being at hand—they did.
It was Scholefield’s good fortune to be assigned to the store at Thurlow and Alberni, where he met many restaurateurs and wine lovers and began seriously cultivating his phenomenal palate and wine memory. At a blind tasting he correctly (“stupidly—I’d never be that confident now”) identified a Sassicaia from Tuscany. This “fluke, in front of all the right people,” led to two decades as an LDB buyer. “It was a great job,” he says. “I travelled all the time, got exposed to everything from everywhere. You learn that you don’t know much about a wine until you see where it came from.”
These days, Scholefield still roams widely; he’s always “just back” from Brazil or Australia or the south of France. He gives seminars at wine festivals and on cruise ships, judges competitions, and consults for the B.C. Wine Institute and a growing number of wineries and restaurants. His dream, he says, is to help put B.C. wines firmly on the international map. As you’ll see, the results of the fifth annual Vancouver Magazine International Wine Competition suggest that the dream is becoming a reality.