In a spin-off from our extremely popular Young Blood Sommeliers series, we are proud to present The Old Bastard Sommeliers, who will be running extremely sporadically alongside our (already sporadic) YBS interviews, well, that is if these Young Bloods can get their acts together to complete the interviews.

This always-entertaining series will focus upon in-depth extended interviews with some of the more infamous veteran characters in the scene, examining where they got their first start, who inspired them, how (through their skills, eccentricities, and perversions) they developed into the legendary figures they are today, and what tips and tricks they would pass on to the young bucks who are occasionally making them feel like relics of a bygone age.

This month we speak with former Crush sommelier, erstwhile Good Food Revolution scribe, and all-round lovely human being, Marlise Ponzo, who is now stationed up in Prince Edward County at The Grange of Prince Edward.



Good Food Revolution: So, Marlise, what is it that you are doing these days?

Marlise Ponzo: Right now, I am celebrating my 5th year as the Sales and Events Manager and resident Somm at the Grange of Prince Edward Winery here in the County. We just finished up a brilliant harvest with a next-to-perfect Fall so my time at the winery involves tasting through the ferments with our winemaker, Jonas Newman, paying close attention to how things are developing and picking his brain whenever the opportunity arises. I’ve known Jonas for a while now, and it is an absolute pleasure to officially have him as part of our Grange team!

We are amidst label design for our 2023 Estate Series with Insite Design, our design team. The label design is focused on the specific vineyard blocks that the grapes were harvested from for each wine. Each site has such a unique terroir, elevation, drainage, planting date, exposure, flora and fauna, etc., so we are delving deep into that, walking and photographing the vineyards with our viticulturist Mike Peddlesden and discovering. The new labels are modern, abstract representations of soil maps in the most alluring colourways. I can’t say enough about the quality of the design coming out of Insite. Brilliant minds.

I get to write the tasting notes for the labels, which I love, and create the technical sheets and educational materials for our tasting room team. The wines we are producing these days are an absolute pleasure to taste and sell. People are falling in love with Grange again, tasting through Jonas’ inaugural vintage with us, the 2022s. [Yes, I’m pretty excited myself – GFR.]

I head licensee outreach and relationships, and I’m the point person for VNDR, our new sales representatives in Toronto and Ottawa, so that has taken some attention. I manage our LCBO products and am super excited to report that our 2022 County Chardonnay and 2022 County Pinot Noir will be hitting the shelves in March! I am the point person for our PR team, which we have been collaborating with for 4 years now, Lucid Communications, and also for our social media manager.

We host about 35 weddings and events at the winery each season @grangewineryevents, so with my hospitality background, I was quickly appointed the Event Coordinator and manage the events team. Our weddings are gorgeous. It is very wine and food-centric, with a breathtaking backdrop of rolling vineyards and the most stunning 200-year-old barn venue. So I’m just winding down from a whirlwind of an events season and revamping packages and online platforms for next year. It’s a very full plate indeed, but very fulfilling work, as the variety in my day-to-day duties totally ticks all the boxes for me.

GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine? … and was it with a view to becoming a Sommelier?

MP: I had always worked in restaurants and bars to help support my other interests like fashion design and photography, which is what I studied in higher education. I had danced in a professional dance company, the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre (now the Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre) until I was in my late teens and was then offered a scholarship for the dance program at York University.

I think I was dealing with a little bit of burnout and had a fairly complicated relationship with my changing body as I grew into womanhood. I turned it down. A lot of the dancers I knew were booking appointments for breast reductions and pinning their ears back. Body issues were rampant, and I was just at a point where I didn’t want to put on a tight leotard and stare in a mirror all day anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love dance and have been teaching contemporary to kiddos these past few years at the Baxter Arts Centre here in Prince Edward County where I live.

My experience in dance was extraordinary, and I feel immense gratitude for all the beautiful pieces I was able to dance in and the choreographers I was able to work with. Working with legends such as Peggy Baker, Serge Bennathon, Rachel Brown, David Earle, and Carol Anderson within the dance company and even getting to train with Mikhail Baryshnikov at Jacobs Pillow and at the Martha Graham School in New York.

These were amazing experiences. Life-changing experiences, and amongst my very best memories are the memories of performing their works. I’ve chatted with other dancers that danced in the company with me that share the same sentiments. We just wish we enjoyed it more. I wish I didn’t feel so exhausted all the time, training constantly. I wish I had seen myself then as I see myself in videos back then now. I was a beautiful dancer, but I held myself up to some unattainable ideal. I’m sure things have changed a lot in the last 30 years, and hopefully the dance world has become more body-positive as society evolves, but I was very insecure and deeply sad often.

A few years into working in the hospitality industry, Crush Wine Bar opened up on King Street in Toronto’s Fashion District. I went in with a friend, sat in one of the super cute window seats overlooking King Street West below, and ordered a bottle of Brunello. My interest in wine was just beginning to blossom, and my friend was also quite knowledgeable.

Eric Gennaro, the GM and head Somm came over and immediately reminded me that we knew each other from Arts summer camp when we were kids. He had the most hilarious stories to tell about our time there, and we became fast friends again.

I think it might have been the next day that I dropped a resume there, and the rest is history.

Working at Crush is where I fell head over heels with wine and the service industry. Everything about the refinement of service—the grand marble decanting stations throughout the huge warehouse space, Chef Masayuki Tamaru and his dedicated team, our staff briefings and pre-shift wine tastings, the quiet orchestration of service was like a well rehearsed performance. It was art and it made me fall head over heals in love- made me hunger to learn more and begin to understand how happy this work made me, that it could be my career.

Our team at Crush was made up of some of the very best in the industry both front and back of house, and so many others who got their start there, like my husband, Chef Albert Ponzo, or Chef Daniel Hadida, amongst so many others, ended up having brilliant careers.

Eric and the owners, Derek Valleau and Jamieson Kerr, were huge supporters of my development. They saw that I was the first to pick up extra shifts, the first to stay late, and to take on more responsibility. I was great with people and a fast learner, so when I asked to be promoted to management when I saw an opportunity, they gave me a shot. They paid for half of my sommelier training, and Eric would take me to all the top tastings around the city with him.

He would affectionately refer to me as ‘The Nose’. When a few wine trips presented themselves simultaneously to Germany and Austria, I was given the opportunity to go to VieVinum at Hofburg Palace, a three-day wine trade fair in Vienna, which is where I met you, Jamie. I was absolutely hooked. The world of wine was the only world I wanted to submerge myself in.



GFR: Tell us about your history in the industry. Where did you get your first start?

MP: Crush was definitely my launching point. When I left Crush after my first maternity leave in 2010, it was because the company had changed hands. Jamieson had opened the Queen and Beaver, Eric had left to open Bricco in the Junction, and Derek had opened Pukka. We were like a family at Crush, and I couldn’t imagine working there without them. There was also the fact that I had a small child at home and I was married to a chef who also worked evenings and weekends, so I was trying to see how I could perhaps fit into the industry again without working a zillion hours a week, late into the night. Throughout my maternity leave, I wrote for Good Food Revolution and really loved some of the opportunities that came from that, like interviewing, Winemaker Pascal Madevon, at the time of Osoyoos Larose and Monty Waldin, wine writer, winemaker and critic turned television personality with his own UK series Chateau Monty. It was gratifying to try my hand at writing and journalism.

I was also asked during this time to compete in the CAPS Best Ontario Sommelier Competition but being home with an infant and nursing after being pregnant for 9 months, I politely declined as I knew that my tasting skills were not sharp enough to compete with so much time having passed without indulging in wine as I had previously.

George Brown Continuing Education Department of Hospitality and Culinary Arts called me and asked if I would start teaching there, specifically their Wines 1 and Sensory Evaluation of Wine courses. I accepted and put my whole heart into teaching those courses to the best of my ability. I met some lovely students and it was definitely fulfilling work and I continued teaching until my second child was born.

When my second child was about 11 months old, Sommelier Anne Martin called me as she had just taken on the role of Head Somm for all of MLSE. She wanted me to come onboard as a member of the Somm team at the Air Canada Centre (now Scotia Bank Arena.) I was a little wary to the late nights and going back to working the floor but she insisted that I come in and have a look at the operation and have a chat. I am so very glad I did.

Working at the ACC was brilliant. My main club was the Air Canada Club, so we were completely open to the stadium, but I also occasionally work the Platinum or Hot Stove Clubs.

The wine selection was superb, and the members of the private clubs were lovely and fun and usually wanted to order big, especially during playoffs. I loved it. I got to put a suit on again, maintain a gorgeous glass cellar, serve top notch wine with a great team while watching, the Raptors, Leafs, Elton John, Cher, Pink, Drake, you name it. I saw the Tragically Hip’s final tour- there were so many great nights and Anne was a supportive leader and inspiring mentor.

I took a third maternity leave when my daughter was born but returned to work as soon as possible. Even with three children at home and with support from my mother and mother-in-law, the schedule at the ACC, generally 2-3 days a week was maintainable, with summers off except the odd concert. Five years after starting at the ACC we moved to Prince Edward County for my husband to open The Royal Hotel.

GFR: What’s the story behind your formal wine education? And with considerable hindsight, do you feel that this was the best route to where you are today?

MP: My wine training began at Crush. I worked there for almost a decade and learned so much on the job. We had approximately 35 wines by the glass at any given time and offered themed flights that changed frequently. We were always tasting, always discussing wine.

My formal wine training was with CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers) and yes I was satisfied with it. I was building on a good foundation and I had brilliant teachers to answer all of my many many questions delving deep into my studies. John Szabo taught us Old World Wines and David Lawrason taught us New World Wines. We had a roster of great industry leaders teaching us. We were in the best of hands. I took the classes very seriously and studied all the time… tasted all the time.

A group of us formed a tasting group that would meet early Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings at Crush. We would taste, test each other, roll play customer/Somm and push each others capacity to polish out craft. Trisha Molokach, now the Event Director for the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association (i4C) Julian Hitner, Wine Writer, Wine Historian and Consultant and Erin Henderson of The Wine Sisters were amongst us as well as many other remarkable personalities. We had SO.MUCH.FUN. It was the perfect environment for me to learn in, surrounded by supportive friends and colleagues, super non judgemental and we lifted each other up.

GFR: Have you ever been in a wine biz situation and begun to really feel your (relative) age? And if so, why?

MP: Age has never really been an issue. I still feel like a nerdy, over eager excited kid inside, full of questions and curiosity. I’m 47 Jamie… so just entering Old Bastard-dom. Also, the fact that I work mostly days at the winery helps. Late nights are hard the older I get. Generally, I like ageing. I like the experience and knowledge I bring to the table. I like the confidence I have gained along the way. I’ve had to come back to my career and reimagine it three times after a year off with each maternity leave. Hit that floor, cellar, classroom, or winery, taste and study after extended periods of abstaining from wine consumption due to pregnancy and nursing and polish my skillset all over again while balancing an ever growing, busy family life at home. Age has given me perspective.

GFR: Along the way, who inspired you the most? Did you have any mentors? And what did they do that set them apart from everyone else?

MP: Well, as I’ve mentioned Eric Gennaro was a huge mentor and taught me to appreciate the art of winemaking, the art of label design, the transportative nature of drinking a wine and its sense of somewhereness. He also taught me never to take myself too seriously. This is important. Eric was also never a big drinker, he liked balance and the two of us used to hit the gym at Totum Life Science, next door to Crush between shifts. We would down a protein shake and an espresso and get back on that floor. He was good at life.

Jamieson Kerr was also an influence, as Crush was his brainchild and working in that artful environment, my second home for almost a decade, really shaped me. I have such an appreciation for the Crus of the Rhône Valley from him. We had the best selections of Hermitage, Condrieu, Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape on our list, which was as thick as a bible.

John Szabo was also an inspiration being my teacher. He was generous with his time, passionate, funny and engaging. I could listen to him talk for hours to be quite honest. I think most people in our industry feel that way about him. It’s why he makes such a damn good MC. I’ve hosted a few Visa Infinite events at the winery over the past few years that he has hosted and his ability to capture the room and take people on a journey with his stories, jokes and charm, is remarkable.

Anne Martin has also been a huge force in my life. She had come to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment after having her son, and her words of encouragement and support allowed me to overcome my fear of coming back to an industry that is sometimes intense and crazy, with late nights and chaos with a little one at home. This can be a super daunting task to new moms. Watching her come back from an extended time away (and married to a chef) and lead our team with such joy, force and vigour- was just what I needed to see.



GFR: I’ve observed that you never really got into the agency side… Why was that?

MP: I’m really not sure Jamie. That might have happened eventually if I had stayed in the city. The opportunity never really presented itself and then our move to wine country meant that wineries had become a possibility for me. Truly my dream. Working close to the vines and having opportunity to help with production and work side by side the maker and learn in a very deep way, what wine is and what it has the potential to be is the best.

Jonas is very generous with his time, his energy and his knowledge. I feel very fortunate. Our CEO and president Michael Leskovec is also a dream to work for. He’s quite brilliant and lovely and you can feel that influence in our team culture daily. Huge growth mindset.

GFR: Yes, Jonas is a real gem. I’ll certainly give you that!

So what makes for a good agent/supplier/merchant in your mind?

MP: I think most importantly, one must possess a deep love of wine, knowledge and a true capacity to connect to people. An outgoing personality that is also intuitive and the ability to understand your clients needs and make good suggestions for them.

GFR: I can imagine you ticking all those boxes. I think you would have made a fantastic importer.

MP: I wholeheartedly agree! Importing looks like a wonderful career. The Living Vine, Le Sommelier, and Nicholas Pearce Wines are absolutely killing it. I think their portfolios are so exciting, and I have been a huge fan of all three since their [relative] inceptions.

I absolutely love when licensees come by the winery or schedule time with me at their restaurants or wineshops. I get such pleasure out of tasting with them and seeing their excitement when they find a great fit for their list! This aspect of my job also helps me stay closely attuned to the wants and needs of our customers. I think I would have done well with an agency too, but in a small way, this is part of my responsibilities in sales.

GFR: Like me, you moved out to the country from Toronto. What do you miss about the “big city” and how have you adapted to country life?

MP: I grew up in Toronto so it was the only home I ever really knew.

At first, when I moved to the County, I missed the familiarity of the city and it’s enormous energy. I used to love walking downtown at night and hearing the street musicians with everything lit up and full of life. I miss the diversity of restaurant options all at your fingertips within a few city blocks at times… regional specialties from every corner of the world, the ROM, the AGO… the Toronto Zoo. The walk from the ACC to the underground parking past Union Station was always bustling with life. I missed that a lot at first.

The country roads were just the darkest dark.. and November-March (typically our off-season), there was not a soul in sight after 9 pm. After a while you start noticing the peace that quiet brings with it, the tranquility, and the awe-inspiring starry sky that is crazy illuminated when there is no light pollution.

Six years ago when we moved to PEC, we built on a 63-acre lot that only consisted of a strong well, fields left fallow, a forest, and a marshy wetland. Over the past 6 years we have established a beautiful farm (@ponzofamilyfarm), home and guest suite (Airbnb Burr Rd Country Suite at the Ponzo Family Farm) with three horses on property, 60 pastured laying hens, occasionally/seasonally pastured poultry production, a large family garden, and two bee yards hosting approximately 23 hives. The farm is tranquil, beautiful, and bustling with life in its own way.

I no longer miss the city much when I look out onto that idyllic landscape and hear the sounds of nature all around me… and when I do miss it, the city is truly only a short drive away.

GFR: What are the most positive aspects of living out in PEC for you professionally?

MP: Definitely being able to be so involved and connected to the winemaking process has been an absolute dream come true for me. I love watching the development in the vineyard, hearing day-to-day planning and troubleshooting from our viticulturist and winemaker, the readying of the cellar in preparation for a new vintage, the harvest and laying our vines down and hilling up for the long, cold winter months, the fermentation, barrel ageing and seeing the evolution of what each wine becoming what it will be, the artful label design and bottling and eventual release of each new wine.

To be a part of that process is everything. I’ve learned so much on a very deep level.

I think every Somm should spend a vintage working at a winery. To do manual punchdowns, to smell those smells, to rake grapes into a destemmer, to work a press, so sort at a sorting table, topping wine barrels and gassing tanks… these experiences give you a profound appreciation for the work that goes into each bottle of wine produced.



GFR: How do you feel that the industry has changed since you first started all those years ago?

MP: The wine industry changes slowly. We are talking about a process that has been around for thousands of years. A growing scientific understanding of the vineyard and best practices and technological advancement has led to, I believe better overall quality in wine production.

On the other hand, and this is something never discussed 25 years ago, global warming has become a very real concern for many reasons, but where viticulture is concerned, increased global temperatures (8 out of the 10 record warmest years have been in this past decade) have led to increased extreme weather events like wildfires and flooding. Aside from the obvious damage to communities, property, wildlife and vineyard plantings, the smoke from these fires travels far and wide, destroying crops for unimaginable distances from the actual blaze. The smoke pollution this past summer was, at times, unbearable Ontario-wide.

Increased winter temperatures also mean that vines can come out of their dormant stage earlier and be vulnerable to early spring frost.

From a Sommelier standpoint, one needs to be aware of how the idea of typicity is affected by this: average alcohol has changed (increased) in areas, acidity levels are lower, and if harvested earlier due to high brix, tannins that ripen late in the season may be less ripe and less refined in texture. Again, scientific advancement in winemaking has meant that wine quality has remained very high, but this doesn’t mean that the challenges of climate change and extreme weather aren’t very real and something to be aware of.

GFR: And how has Toronto changed as a wine city?

MP: I can’t speak to this point, Jamie, with any sense of authority. I’ve been away for a long time, but from what I can see from here is that there are so many truly exciting restaurants and bottle shops popping up in Toronto with outstanding wine lists.

We did a collaborative dinner with Prime Seafood Palace last August, and Chef Coulson Armstrong’s menu and wine list were superbly crafted. Dinner there was a decadent and refreshing experience. There are so many choices in almost every corner of the city. That was never the case back in the day. I lived in the St. Lawrence Market area, and many evenings I would find myself at Romagna Mia, one of the only neighbourhood spots to get a great bottle of wine late, and it usually came accompanied by a generous hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that restaurant and even held our wedding rehearsal dinner there. It’s so classic, but if I lived in the city today, I would have an absolute blast exploring all of the wine bars and restos with fabulous list. There are so many options now. Toronto really seems to have exploded as a wine city.

GFR: What were the top spots for wine back in the day?

MP: Crush was one, of course.

Working there felt like we were at the hub of all things wine in the city. So many wine professionals were always frequenting, wine tastings and awards held, WSET classes being taught, John Szabo had his CVA (Centre for Vine Affairs) in the private dining area, where he held spectacular tastings that were regionally focused. As staff members, we got a hefty discount as part of our training and education. We also had John teach our staff training sessions privately. Jamieson really wanted our team to aim to be the best in the city. He gifted us wine books at Christmas; I think that first year it was ‘Sniff Swirl and Slurp’ by Max Allen. Jamie wanted us all to love wine as much as he did. Agencies would host beautiful winemakers’ dinners with us, and we marketed fun series like our brown bag, blind tasting events and a wine school series I taught with Eric in the later years at Crush. We had the Metivier Gallery right next door and catered his events and hosted many artists dinners. Jamie decided to come out with an annual Crush poster series. We always had a signing launch and sale. They were gorgeous. I still have my framed and signed Edward Burtynsky poster print of a cork tree in Portugal stripped of its bark, on my wall. We had a special team culture at the Wine Bar.

JK Wine Bar, your old stomping ground was also absolutely the place to be and explore wine and pairings. I had some exceptionally delicious times there. Jamie Kennedy is a gem. He is here in the County too and we get the opportunity to catch up from time to time.

I loved Avalon and, later, Cava. Chef Chris McDonald had an infectious love of Spanish wine, and for great reason. I had some lovely dinners and wine tastings at Cava.

Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and Crush were the spots to go for a wine-centric experience in the downtown core.

GFR: And where do you feel does a good job wine-wise these days? And what makes them stand out from the crowd? Both out in PEC and back in Toronto?

MP: I will speak to PEC as I’m more in touch with the offerings. Obviously, while exploring PEC, one has the chance to experience wine vineyard-side at many wineries open to the public, but there are some fabulous bottle shops, restaurants and wine bars here doing a spectacular job of curating exceptional lists.

Decanter PEC

The Royal Hotel

Adega Wine Bar


Wander The Resort

I would say that what stands out for all of these (and there are others) is their extensive offerings. Their offerings are well curated in terms of offering variety and diversity to their clients. Their lists are not static but ever-changing. This shows me that they are active participants in curating a very special collection. They have put the work in, they taste, they seek out, they explore, they take appointments with people, they work with many different wineries and agencies to bring something very special to the table; and they have invested considerable time and money in their collection. They are offering great value. It takes time and effort to put together lists with so many gems.



GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? And how have you viewed their evolution since your early days in the industry? Tell us about all the exciting new changes at The Grange!

MP: I have always enjoyed Canadian wine but have been lucky, I think, to have always been introduced to the absolute best Canada has had to offer. I have, though, truly enjoyed watching Prince Edward County blossom as a wine region. Having travelled here regularly since the early days of its vineyard development in the early 2000s, it has been amazing to see the area and the wine itself, as the vines matured and the winemakers figured things out, get better and better. There is something magical about PEC terroir. The wines from here are characterful and reflect their home so perfectly.

As far as the change at the Grange is concerned, yes, there has been considerable investment and improvement since the 2021 change in leadership. Viticulturist Mike Peddlesden, who has been an instrumental figure in the Prince Edward County’s wine history for decades, has come back on board to oversee our vineyard rejuvenation project. Along with removing damaged vines and improving drainage, the vineyard rejuvenation project has focused largely on the rehabilitation of the soil, retooling hedgerows to aid airflow, and planting select cover crops to break up compacted soil and help nitrogen fixing.

Leadership is also making major investments in more efficient tractors and field equipment which made harvest an absolute dream. We were able to get work done quickly and the grapes off safely after an almost perfect Fall, before the rain began. Mike Peddlesden was also involved with some of the original plantings

here at the winery, so it is a huge asset to have him back. No one understands these vines better than Mike and over the last few seasons, he has brought them back to fine form. The 2023 Estate releases are going to be mind blowing. Stay tuned.

Another huge change at the winery has been winemaker Jonas Newman, proprietor and winemaker also of Hinterland Wine Co, joining our team and sitting at the helm of winemaking from the 2022 vintage. Jonas has made a huge contribution to the direction of the Grange’s portfolio. He recognizes the importance of these old plantings here at the estate and has the utmost respect for how expressive they can be. He makes wines that are texturally gorgeous, nuanced and terroir-driven. Two wines from his inaugural vintage with us, the 2022 Farmers Series County Chardonnay and the 2022 Farmers Series County Pinot Noir will be hitting LCBO shelves through their Direct Delivery Program (so if you don’t see them, please ask your product consultant for them) in March 2024. I can’t express to you how proud we are of these releases and what is yet to come.

GFR: What do you think we do well here in Ontario today?

MP: I always have and still believe that our Chardonnay, our Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, our Gamay, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc are next level when made well.

GFR: And what do you feel we should really give up on?

MP: I would never encourage anyone to give up on anything, Jamie. The first Pinot Noirs I tasted coming out of PEC looked more like rosé they were so very pale and barely recognizable, and look what we are producing today.

GFR: How do you feel about restaurants support of our local wine industry? How has that changed since your early days?

MP: I believe there is great support from most restaurants today for our local wine industry, but there is still tremendous work to do.

There are still a lot of people not exploring what we have to offer and not seeing value when they can perhaps buy an international brand for less money. Some might not understand the impact of supporting our local economy, and some are really margin-conscious and have to act out of necessity. Some are still struggling with the effects COVID had and is having on their businesses, and with the recession and current economic instability, they are struggling.

We do, however, need more education and more ambassadors; it’s still a bit of a grind getting some people to want to even take the time to taste and explore.

There are so many restaurants, however, that have made highlighting ONLY local wine a huge priority. I recently hosted Hannah Harradine and Chef Joel Gray at the winery, and what they are doing at their restaurant, Down Home is super inspiring and important. They do 10 course tasting menus paired entirely with local wine meant to take guests over a 3.5 hour period on a journey, telling stories of local farmers and producers. These two get it. Please do yourselves a favour and check them out. They are two of the most grounded and lovely humans I have met.

GFR: Funny, Jen took me there for my birthday last month. I was extremely impressed. And yes, lovely people!

How aware of wine were you while growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?

MP: I really wasn’t exposed to wine in the sense of fine wine but I was around it. My grandfather, Harry Preston made his own wine in the basement of his house in Torontos west end. I used to love that basement. It was full so many cool things. Bubbling carboys with tubing and all kinds of crazy smells. He loved when I became a Somm and liked to laugh and take full credit for it. I think he bought all my text books. I may have (but no confession here) taken a little taste from a few carboys growing up. It was like the coolest, sweetest smelling science lab down there. Captivating.

GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?

MP: Yes… and I’m not sure it was completely wine yet. See above. A very yeasty experience…. But not entirely unpleasant.

GFR: Hahaha!

When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine? How’s wine education progressing with your little ones?

MP: I’m sure for every family this is different. In our house we talk about wine with the kids if they ask what we are having. They are still young. There’s not a lot of interest there yet. They are still more interested in eating tomatoes from the vine, basil, and raspberries from the garden than they are in getting to sip moms Chard lol.

GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously full of pretentious arseholes, and after seeing that film Somm a few years ago, I still worry about the emergence of a new Wine Bro culture… Also, I have picked up on a LOT of that vibe from some of the usual suspects in the mixology crowd—full-on Jordan Peterson fans and all that stuff. Believe it or not, I saw one of the usual suspects defend Andrew Tate the other month. What the hell is going on there? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

MP: This is a tough question Jamie and way to complicated to give a complete answer here that will satisfy.

I have two boys aged 12 and 14 and they are prime targets for this bro culture brainwashing content flooding every stream of media out there. This question really hits home.

We have had too many conversations to count this past year since these men burst onto the scene, and I talk until I’m blue in the face and try but often fail to be diplomatic in my questions to my kiddos regarding them. These influences are everywhere and so powerful. I’m still navigating this, as I’m sure millions of parents are. Give me 6 more months, and perhaps I will have more coherent thoughts on the topic of these men and how their influence might shape or change our industry.

As a feminist, this bro culture stirs me to my soul, inciting so much anger and disappointment. I’m the daughter of a feminist who worked for 35 years at Interval House, Canada’s first shelter for abused women and children, before working the remainder of her career in the court system advocating for women and getting them into programs for reduced sentencing when that was what they needed most.

I went with her to every Take Back the Night March and Every International Women’s Day meet, sported pro-child pro-choice tees to school and had every conversation on feminism under the sun at our breakfast table.

It is mind-blowing to think that today in Canada we are still worried about the re-emergence of a Wine Bro culture. I could always understand how these influences could creep into the minds of easily influenced teenagers and tweens, easy targets as they are still figuring it all out, experimenting with their beliefs and identities, but I am very surprised and horrified to think that leaders in our industry could be fans of men advocating misogyny.

GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?

MP: I had the opportunity to make wine once, prior to working at a winery of course. Back in the day I made a Syrah with grapes from Santa Lucia Highlands with Eric Gennaro and Nelson Abreu from 30.50 imports. We made the wine in Nelsons basement, with a small basket press and carboys. Nelson was truly the mastermind as he belonged to an amateur winemaking club. The wine in the end was palatable lol. Which is saying a lot as the three of us were not easily pleased.

GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?

MP: I would love to make wine in Australia in a pipe dream. I’ve never travelled there and am a huge fan of great Australian wine. Perhaps Tasmania because of my adoration of all things Pinot and Chard. One day.



GFR: Do you have any nightmares about working with wines? I do… regularly… and it usually involves being unable to find bottles in a cellar… and the clock is ticking away… I have them all the time, and I haven’t been in the role for almost 14 years!!!

MP: Our nightmares align Jamie. Though mine, after my time at ACC grew more elaborate. You see there were certain wines on the list that we had perhaps one or a few bottles of. Picture someone ordering a specific vintage release of Silver Oak Cab (something we had verticals of and sold a lot of.) If this didn’t live in your cellar and you couldn’t remember if it was in one of the other clubs, you would have to do a computer search in the office and see it was stocked in the warehouse, in the bowels of the stadium or in one of the other clubs’ cellars. Then there were elevators and huge expanses of hallways and corridors to speed walk through. Lol.

In my dreams these are longer than ever and the computer freezes and I’m speedwalking from one end of the long 200 seat Air Canada club to the other trying to get to the cellar but the club keeps lengthening and I cant make any headway… and then ‘my god’ I remember that that there was 7 other tables back in the 200s section that were waiting on wine. Haha. Those stress dreams SUCK.

GFR: Yes… that sounds horrific. Both the dream and the actual reality!

Wine industry folks famously have their weekends off… What’s your idea of a perfect weekend? And how does that day off differ from one that you would have had, say, 20 years ago?

MP: Ideal day 20 years ago would have consisted of a spa day, shopping for a great outfit and going for a crazy decadent meal with way too much wine.

Ideal day today would be a lazy day here in PEC at my favourite beach with my family and then perhaps Sushi or Idle Wild takeout (PEC gem and so delish!) and a sunset horse ride with my oldest back on the farm. A great glass of wine wouldn’t hurt either 😊

GFR: Your husband, Albert, is a very accomplished chef. Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?

MP: I cook a lot. Albert has taught me a great deal. I’m kind of like a short order cook at breakfast. One child wants French toast, one wants poached eggs daily, and one likes hard boiled or smoothies. My Carbonara though is epic. Our eggs make a huge difference as they are exceptional, and Albert taught me well.

GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?

MP: Not really. With life so busy, sometimes things are underwhelming for sure. I make a lot of légume soups for the freezer. I think the kiddos get a bit bored when I’m pulling those too often due to a tight schedule.

GFR: Do you feel that there is a good sommelier community in the County?

MP: I love the company of Astrid Young. She has been wonderful to get to know and I know we both would love to spend more time together but are both always running full tilt. She is the Wine Director of Merrill House and has curated award-winning lists for them. She’s also a very accomplished musician and is currently cutting a new album. I spend time with other wine folks too, they work in winemaking or in managing and sales at wineries. They may not be certified Somms, but they know so much and are the first people I call when I have questions that arise in my work life. There is a great community here.

GFR: I’ve heard so many of my peers say that they don’t do the big shows anymore, the big wine tastings. What are your thoughts on that? I guess that you aren’t obliged to be at a lot of those now?

MP: I usually don’t attend anymore but I think COVID kind of shut that down a few years ago. When I was in the city, I loved those tastings, not all of them but some. The Italian Trade Commission tasting was always my fav and when I saw colleagues post this year from the stage at Roy Thomson as per usual, I was a little nostalgic to be quite honest.

I get to do a few shows per year representing the Grange. I think the next one we are attending is the T.O Food and Drink Show in early April. I miss attending those industry tastings though. I miss class and studying and geeking out, taking notes.

GFR: What would you be doing if you were not doing what you are doing today?

MP: I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Today’s reality is fairly perfect. I get knee deep in wine during the day working with a great team, I get to develop my farm and run a short-term accommodation in the evening, beaching and riding horses and spending time with my kids. I have a lot of gratitude for that. I feel like this side of the industry has allowed me to bring some balance into my life.

GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?

MP: I used to love blind tasting and I used to be quite good at it. I haven’t honed that skill in recent years but definitely saw value in it when working with an international list. It helped me judge wine without preconceived notions of what it should be and sharpened my senses.

GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…

MP: The evening before any big exam or tasting, I always tried to make sure I had enough rest and was at my best. That way you can be laser focused on your sensory experience of the wine and not distracted by any physical discomfort.

GFR: Some of the best tasters I know are heavy smokers. What are your thoughts there?

MP:I believe they would be even better tasters if they quit. I used to smoke around 15 years ago and when I gave it up. Personally, I didn’t see my tasting skills wane. In fact, I had already quit when going through my Somm certification and finished top taster from both the Toronto and Niagara cohorts. I feel like keeping your body and mind healthy should be top priority for anyone at, or wanting to be at, the top of their game.

GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?

MP: Sooooo many regions and so very difficult to pick favourites. I would say Piedmont for top fav red wine region and Burgundy for fav white wine region, if I had to choose.

GFR: In your mind, what is “hot” in the world of wine right now? And why? And what fads have you seen come and go over the decades?

MP: Volcanic Wines are super hot and my most beloved but this is nothing super new. The truth is Jamie, I haven’t worked the floor now in 6 years. I know what I get excited about, when I dine out, when I read about wine or purchase wine for home but what I think is hot might be a more personal reflection of my present situation and recent experience. I think people pushing boundaries in the vineyard, in the cellar and striving for exceptionality in winemaking and terroir expression is hot. I think thoughtful barrel selection is hot. I think carefully chosen barrel blends, single vineyard and single barrel bottlings as well as small run hand bottled magnum releases and insightful/artful label design are hot. I also think that wines from wineries working towards sustainable practices, that are cognitive of living wage and look towards programs and certifications that will enhance the experience and create safe spaces of and for their employees and guests are the hottest. Wineries with growth mindset and social consciousness are important. These days this is coming into laser focus and all else falls out of favour.

GFR: Do you often drink beers, ciders, or spirits? What do you currently enjoy?

MP: I do enjoy spirits from time to time. Spirit of York, our sister company, makes a fabulous Pink Gin amongst other delicious libations like their Negroni. I’ve had the pleasure recently of trying a few spirits under a private label for Montreal Plaza, as Chef Charles-Antoine Crete was here doing a collaborative dinner with my husband Albert, for Canada’s Best, at the Royal Hotel. Their distillates are unique and delicious. The Vodka Bizou, a vodka flavoured with buffalo grass is exceptional as is their Calendula Liqueur D’Herbes. Truly enjoy a good cocktail now and then and appreciate the art in it.

GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as a sommelier? Inventory always crushed me… In fact I just had a nightmare about not having done my inventory the other week!

MP: I wholeheartedly agree. Inventory can be an insurmountable task sometimes. At the winery, that job has been taken on by a few brave colleagues but I remember the dread like it was yesterday. At the Air Canada Centre (now Scotia Bank Arene) we had a warehouse and three cellars for our team to count and endless fridges in every club!

GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?

MP: A simple wine key/waiter’s corkscrew does the trick. I also have a wine cork extractor in the house for old vintage corks that might otherwise not come out cleanly. They are useful tools to have around.

GFR: Due to us being around alcohol, many people in our industry often have quite an increased tolerance for wine/booze, or they develop issues. I’ve seen a few of my peers fall by the wayside.

What is your limit, and how do you keep yourself in check?

MP: I think my family keeps me honest. Owning a farm and living a life I’m proud of and that I want to stay healthy to enjoy keeps me in check. I work out a lot, training in Kung Fu and riding horses. I like to keep up with my kids. I like to indulge, sure… but my love of all of those other things and my longing for a healthy and happy long life trumps over indulgence.

GFR: There’s a lot of open discourse right now around the topic of both drug and alcohol abuse within the wine world.

Would you care to share a few of your thoughts about that side of the business?

To be quite frank with you, the thing I miss the LEAST about working in that environment are the late nights of drinking and recreational pharmaceuticals. I don’t think my body could take it any longer anyway!

MP: Yes. It’s the thing I miss the least as well. It’s truly a huge problem. I definitely used to indulge too much when I was in the industry before children. It was the norm. You worked hard, long hours in a stressful environment and then everyone would go out for drinks until way too late and then get up and do it all over again. It was life you had worked for others all evening and wanted to reclaim a little of that day for yourself. I think… actually I hope.. that the industry is changing. I know that the generations after us are supposedly making better choices when it comes to substance over use. There is no way to preserve mental wellness when you are treating your body like that. Your body and mind are so interconnected.

GFR: Speaking of which, have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time? I think it happened to me back in Scotland once. At the City Café… where I worked! Hazy memories…

MP: Crazily enough, I have never been cut off though I can recount very quickly a few times I should have been back in the day.

GFR: Speaking of which (again), do you have a good hangover cure? None of the cures given to me by previous interviewees have really done the job for me. but seeing as you are an old pro…

MP: Jamie, I don’t believe one exists. I suppose not overindulging is most likely the best preventative. The older I get, the more aware of my limitations I become. I love wine and definitely enjoy it many times a week, but I’m aware that in great quantities it negatively effects the quality of my sleep, my nervous system and clarity of mind. I’m a bit of a suck with hangovers because, with the farm chores before work, the alarm goes off at 5:30 every day and that is no fun if you haven’t received adequate rest. Shoot… I truly sound like an ‘Old Bastard’ don’t I??!!



GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week these days? Truly depends on the week and the time of year.

MP: Right now, I’m tasting fairly regularly to pay close attention to how our wines are developing in tank and barrel from our 2023 harvest. Every barrel is different so until the final blends are decided upon there is a lot to taste and of course our entire portfolio that we need to continually taste to see how these are developing in bottle. I’m always inviting licensees by to taste what’s new and what is waiting in the wings and of course, with PEC being such a hot spot for travelers, there are often old industry friends stopping by and I’m always so grateful to see them and show them what we’ve been up to.

GFR: When tasting with clients/agents/customers, do/did you choose to spit or swallow?

MP: Spit mostly except the odd time. My evenings are busy mom-ing and I’ve never been a huge fan of waiting for hours in waiting rooms during their activities so most times we enjoy training together, whether its Kung Fu three times a week, weapons training or horse riding I’m right in there with them. Non of these activities lend themselves very well to prior wine consumption.

GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?

MP: Grange 2022, Farmers Serries, County Chardonnay. Jonas truly knocked it out of the park with this Chard. It’s the absolute best balance of all of the things I love in a wine. Its food friendly, great on its own, pairs with nearly anything, has a sensual palate, minerality and County typicity that is unmistakeable.

GFR: Do you keep a cellar at home? How sizable and deep is it?

MP: Sadly no. We had a beautiful, not-smallish cellar in Toronto. We drank through it before moving to the County. I don’t know if it was the stress of moving, building a farm from the ground up or three children two years apart, but whatever it was, we felt compelled to drink every last bottle 😊 We always have wine in the pantry and though there are a few gorgeous bottles awaiting a special occasion, I wouldn’t call it a cellar. I will definitely have one again someday. Right now, as the children get older, things like overnight camps and RESPs trump wine collection expenditures. Perhaps when we get them off to Uni we will grow a cellar again.

GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?

MP: A glass of Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello in Rome on a cobblestone patio, from the biggest glass I had ever seen (it was quite comical actually) and staring at my new fiancé.

GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy day at work? .

MP: That ebbs and flows too.

Right now, a super mineral driven lightly oaked County Chard often calls to me perhaps because it tastes like home.. or an Italian white from volcanic soils like a Fiano from a great producer in Campania. Again, savoury over sweet every time. I love that alluring saline minerality you get from certain soils around the world. Recently, our team ate at The Royal Hotel and I ordered a bottle of 2019 Vinatigo, Gual from Canary Islands, Spain (I think Nicholas Pearce Wines imports it.) This wine blew my mind in terms of the complexity and texture. I just went in on a case of this with Jonas. Fermented in part in concrete eggs and again.. from volcanic soils. May be a new fav. I love wines of character, wines that taste of place.

GFR: Coffee or tea?

MP:Coffee in the am and tea throughout the day.

GFR: Lemon, horseradish, mignonette, or hot sauce?

MP: All of the above.

GFR: Vindaloo or Korma?

MP: Mood dependant.

GFR: Milk or dark? And preferred cocoa content?

MP: Both. In succession but only quality chocolate in small quantities. I prefer savoury to sweet every time.

GFR: Ketchup, mayonnaise, or salt & vinegar?

MP: Sriracha Mayo

GFR: Blue, R, MR, M, MW, W, Charcoal?

MP: Tartare or carpaccio. So raw I suppose.

GFR: What advice would you give to these young bucks? What sage wisdom can an old hand like yourself pass on to the younger generation of Sommeliers?

1) Take your time with people, make them feel appreciated, seen and heard. Sometimes it’s as important to hone your skills of listening well as it is to develop an expansive knowledge about all things wine related. Be kind. We are in very uncertain times and many people are struggling with financial insecurity and with that they are dealing with more mental strain and difficulty. When people go out to dine and we serve them we have an innate ability to create positivity and a beautiful, memorable experience for them. We can uplift their spirits with a smile, a special story, a great wine and food pairing. It’s difficult but important to always keep that in mind.

I had a great mentor, Sommelier Eric Genarro. If you’ve ever been served a bottle of wine by him (and these days you can at Harry’s Steak House, or for licensees out there by contacting him through 30/50 Imports) you would have seen his quiet grace, his connectedness and whit. He remembers names, always waiting to greet you with a smile and a handshake and always genuinely excited to have put the perfect wine aside for your visit.

Eric always left people feeling great, like they had shared in something very special, learned something and longing to return.

2)Take care of yourself. Your health and mental health. The service industry can be a particularly stressful one. Work for people who appreciate you, who treat you with respect and dignity. This will go a long way towards helping you develop as a professional and maintain a healthy perspective as a person.

3)I learned a long time ago that I needed to see and understand my own value on a deep level for those around me to see it clearly too. This one is particularly important for young women coming up in the hospitality industry. I needed to hone my skills, understand my professional strengths and volunteer myself for promotions instead of waiting silently, hoping to be recognized. In my experience, having open conversations with an employer regarding your position, how you would like to grow within a company, skills you may like to utilize in your job that may have been overlooked have always led to me being met with positivity, with understanding and with me feeling more satisfied with staying in one place and growing my role. Advocate for yourselves. You are very valuable.

GFR: If you could go back and have a word with the young Marlise Ponzo as she started in the business, what specifically would you tell her?

MP: Jamie… I would have given myself the advise listed above in #3 a whole lot sooner than it took me to figure it out. I watched many colleagues, almost if not all of them young men be hired for management positions upon onboarding or being promoted to such… only to watch them crash and burn, to be dismissed or move on after a #@$* show managerial performance before I finally had the difficult conversations, put my hand up and said. Hey, I want that, give me a shot. Learn to put yourself out there. Learn to have the tough conversations. Ask for what you want and don’t assume people know you want it.


GFR: Thank you for taking the time Marlise. It’s a bugger of a long interview, so it is very much appreciated.