In the third of a sixth (and wildly popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario and occasionally elsewhere.
A few years back I was flicking through the pages of a locally published periodical and noticed that when it came to Sommeliers it was the same names that seemed to pop up over and over again. I was also becoming gradually cognisant of the fact that we more established wine folks were well and truly “losing our edge” to these young blood Sommeliers.
Being well aware of the depth of new talent that was out there I finally decided to get together with a couple of fellow Toronto Sommelier “Old Guard” (Anton Potvin and Peter Boyd) to assemble a line of questioning that would give us an entertaining insight into the minds of these rising stars.
This time around we interrogate Allison Vidug, the wonderful lady who takes care of all things wine related at The Shore Club, Toronto.
Good Food Revolution: So Allison, what is it that you do at The Shore Club?
Allison Vidug: I manage the wine program.
GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before this position?
AV: This is actually my first wine list for a restaurant. I had worked many other front of house roles before. And I have a few years of wine production experience.
GFR: And how would you explain the wine program at The Shore Club?
AV: The wine program reflects the menu. There are many classic steak and seafood staples on the menu. To compliment the cuisine, the wines are a collection of Bordeauxs, Burgundies, Brunellos and Napa Valley Cabernets. I like to spice up the list with some interesting finds, such as a New Zealand Pinot Gris and a handful of Canadian wines.
GFR: What kind of autonomy do you have with regards to the purchase of wine?
AV: I have 100% autonomy. I’m very fortunate for that.
GFR: How many wine agents/merchants do you deal with?
AV: I deal with approximately thirteen agents. Working with many agents provides variety of wines for the list, but does require more time to maintain many relationships.
GFR: What makes a good agent in your mind?
AV: A good agent is reliable and timely. Clear communication is a must.
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
AV: Red wine was always around for holiday meals and on the weekends since I can remember.
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
AV: Not really. I do remember being fourteen on a wine tour in the Bourassa Valley with my family. The tasting room attendant told us she would have to stop pouring for my parents if they didn’t stop sharing their wine with me!
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
AV: Children should be introduced to wine at a young age. I remember wine was always part of the dinner table. As to when children should start drinking wine? That’s up to the parents to decide.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?
AV: Sometime between 2005 and 2006. It’s hard to say, but some life changing events happened around then. I was taking my International Sommelier Guild Level 2 in the summer of 2005. Peter Bodnar Rod was a great teacher. It was in his class that I realized wine is amazing. The summer of 2006 I lived on Salt Spring Island serving wine with local cheese and oysters to guests. It was magical.
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
AV: I don’t remember. But going back to that summer of 2005, I remember the moment in class when I realized wine can communicate a place and time. The class was Germany. It was a milestone in my education.
GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously full of pretentious arseholes, and after seeing that film Somm I worry about the emergence of a new Bro culture… I’d love to hear your thoughts?
AV: I did see the Somm Movie last summer. I enjoyed the film, but I did find it to be a bit “American” if you will. At one point in the film, an older MS was describing the sacrifices that need to be made for a few years, such as missing birthdays, dates with your girlfriend, etc. But after all of it, it’s worth it. I thought to myself that that was a bit backwards. I don’t think that’s what wine’s about at all. Wine is for sharing moments with friends and family. I don’t think that type of Bro culture or special MS club will develop in Toronto. We have a very open friendly sommelier community here.
GFR: Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?
AV: Not enough! I’ve been to the following; Champagne, Burgundy in France. In the US I’ve did a biodynamic workshop in Washington and visited friends in Virginia. And I’ve been to most of Canada’s grape growing regions; the Gulf Islands, Fraser Valley, Similkameen Valley, Okanagan Valley, Prince Edward County, Lake Eerie North Shore and the Niagara Peninsula.
GFR: Have you ever thought about making your own wine?
AV: Not really. After studying winemaking and viticulture at Niagara College, I understand the startup required. It’s a big investment and farming is risky. If I win the lotto I would consider it for sure.
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
AV: The south of France. Or Prince Edward County. Or maybe Salt Spring Island.
GFR: Is your role purely that of Sommelier or do you have managerial duties also?
AV: I do not have other managerial duties. It’s just me and the wine list.
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
AV: I prefer to manage bottles. They are generally less volatile.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
AV: I would say I’m at my highest point right now. My lowest was when I moved back to Ontario after living in the Okanagan Valley for two years. I had a hard time deciding where to live and eventually finding a job. But it has all worked out for the best now!
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
AV: Peter Boyd has been around the restaurant scene in Toronto a long time. I think he has an excellent palate and is good at story telling.
GFR: Do you ever have nightmares about working as a Sommelier? I do… regularly… and it usually involves being unable to find bottles in a cellar…
AV: I do have nightmares about service. Usually it’s about not being able to get to every table that needs me. It’s an awful feeling. I sometimes have panics about whether I’ve order enough wine for large parties.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?… or perhaps you have Mondays off?
AV: I love hosting dinner parties. I may spend the morning flipping through cook books (Stéphane Reynaud’s French Feasts is one of my favourites) and magazines to get inspiration for a theme. Then I’ll head off to The Cheese Boutique for gourmet ingredients and the Sorauren Farmer’s Market for local seasonal ingredients to incorporate into the evening.
Now that it’s finally summer, I’m usually heading north to the family cottage in Muskoka.
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink in Toronto.. perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of our lovely city?
AV: I’ve enjoyed some great meals at Small Town Food Co., a newer addition to Parkdale. Woodlot is great and Ruby Watch Co. too. I’ve had a good time at Hopgood’s Foodliner. For a diner breakfast, I love Harry’s at King and Jameson, not too many people may be familiar with that fine establishment.
GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
AV: I do love to cook! I made a rabbit rillette this winter that I was very proud of. Now that the warmer weather is here I like to prepare simple meals with fresh local produce. I’m planning on making an asparagus tart soon.
GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?
AV: No major disasters. I did try Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for rôti de porc au lait a few months back. The flavours were great, but I had over cooked the roast. I was unhappy with the texture.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? Any current favourites?
AV: I love Canadian wine! I have spent five years living and working in some of Canada’s wine regions. Some of my favourites would be: Lighthall Chardonnay from PEC, 2012 Blue Moutain Pinot Gris from the Okanagan, Tawse’s and Malivoire’s Gamay, and Lailey’s 2010 and 2012 Syrah.
GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Toronto?
AV: Absolutely. Everyone is friendly at tasting events. There are plenty of industry get together too.
GFR: How do you feel about Toronto as a wine and cocktail city? Where do you go if you need to get your wine or cocktail on?
AV: The city has a great wine/cocktail scene. I like visiting Chantecler in Parkdale for a good glass of wine. Sometimes I stop in at the Ritz for a cocktail after work.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not a Sommelier?
AV: Originally I was going to go to school for art history. So I might have ended up in a gallery or museum. I do like the idea of running a B&B in PEC. Maybe when I retire…
GFR: What are your thoughts on music in restaurants?
AV: I think music is essential. It’s awfully awkward with dead air. Music is part of the ambiance. The style of music and volume will set the energy for service.
GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
AV: Hands down the dinner party scene at the end of Babette’s Feast. It’s an amazing dinner, and the scene illustrates how food and drink can bring so much pleasure to people no matter how hard they try to fight it.
GFR: I’m guessing that you have non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
AV: I have loads of non industry friends. I think they think what I do is great…
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
AV: Blind tasting is great. It’s an excellent exercise for the mind and palate. But there’s a time and place for blind tasting. It’s not appropriate for every tasting.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
AV: Ha. If I happen to be a bit hung over tasting can be a little foggy at first, but it doesn’t take too long for to calibrate my palate.
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
AV: Anywhere in France. Beaujolais has been on the radar lately. I usually gravitate to wines from the south of France and the Loire Valley, because of the great value found there.
GFR: What is “hot” in the world of wine right now?
AV: I suppose natural wine is a pretty hot topic. Since there’s no governing definition of natural wine, there’s lots of variation – good and bad.
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour?
AV: Over manipulated wines that can come from anywhere.
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?
AV: Some new world wines are over rated for sure. Bordeaux too.
GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now? A dish on the current Shore Club menu?
AV: Right now I have the 2012 Chateau Haut Grelot on by the glass. It’s 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux that has been barrel aged. It’s a richer, rounder style of Sauvignon that is a great match with The Shore Club’s Herb Dusted Seabass.
GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… but to accompany a few films… a few of your favourites.
1: Little Miss Sunshine
AV: I think a big glass of golden Chardonnay from California would put a smile on anyone’s face, just like the movie does.
2. The Big Lebowski
AV: I’d have to suggest joining The Dude in a White Russian.
AV: Maybe something as unassuming as Amelie, a Beaujolais Village perhaps.
GFR: Do you often drink beers or spirits?
AV: I do. I love a cold refreshing beer in the summer. Mill Streets Organic Lager usually does the trick. I enjoy a glass of Guiness in the winter. I love gin anytime of the year. I have a pretty good collection of gins at home. I appreciate an Armagnac or Scotch after dinner.
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as Sommelier? For me it was doing inventory…
AV: Any of the tedious office work… but it’s all worth it.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
AV: The double hinged pull screw works best.
GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screwcap vs. cork debate? And how do your customers feel about that?
AV: I believe most people are ok with the screwcap now. It’s a rare occasion these days to have a guest who insist on a wine that is sealed with a cork. I think the screwcap is great. It means less faulty bottles that I have to return and track down credits for.
GFR: Due to us always being around alcohol, many people in our industry often have quite the increased tolerance for wine/booze, or they develop issues. What is your limit and how do you keep yourself in check?
AV: I have a pretty good tolerance. One or two bottles wine. Always drink water while drinking, and know when it’s time to go home.
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time?
AV: Oh… maybe once or twice in college years ago.
GFR: Do you have a good hangover cure?
AV: A caesar or beer at brunch always helps. I do enjoy a good Saag Paneer Roti from Mother India. It’s the perfect take out for a quiet night in watching movies.
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?
AV: Any where from 20 to 60. It depends on the time of year, and if I’m looking for something in particular.
GFR: When do you choose to spit or swallow?
AV: I always spit at work, formal tastings, exams and when wine touring. The rest of the time is for swallowing.
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
AV: I’ve nearly finished a case of 2012 13th Street Merlot from Niagara, and a case of 2012 Ciù Ciù, a Sangivoese Montepulciano blend from Italy. I’ll need to find a white and new red soon. Something cheap and cheerful for the summer months. Maybe some Vinho Verde.
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
AV: It’s hard to say…
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy night at the restaurant?
AV: Something cold. A crisp dry rose or an unoaked white wine.
GFR: And now the cheesy question Allison… If you were a grape varietal what would you be?
AV: Maybe Syrah? Syrah prefers a warmer climate and can be feminine and spicy!
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Allison!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution.
Peter Boyd has been a part of Toronto’s wine scene for over two decades. He has taught the Diploma level for the International Sommeliers Guild, and has been the sommelier at Scaramouche Restaurant since 1993. He also writes about wine, food and pop culture and raises show molerats for fun and profit. He’s also one of the most solid guys in the business.Trust this man. Seriously… he knows his shit and is slowly taking over this city. And today he is celebrating his 66th birthday!
A well-known and much respected figure on the Toronto food and wine scene for almost twenty years, Potvin has worked in many of the city’s very best establishments including Biffs, Canoe, and Eau. In 2004 Potvin opened his incarnation of the Niagara Street Café, a restaurant that has gone from strength to strength year after year, with universal critical acclaim. Anton spends much of his time traveling and tasting wine and has been ranked highly in consecutive years of the International Wine Challenge. Anton is currently working on his exciting new project Gwailo with Chef Nick Liu.