In the third of a seventh (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 week we drag the Spoke Club‘s Sommelier, Ludovic Garnier to GFR’s Room 101…
Good Food Revolution: So Ludovic, what is it that you do at The Spoke Club?
Ludovic Garnier: I work as Dining Room Manager and Sommelier.
GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before this position?
LG: I spent seven years culinary school in France, Saumur to be exact, a town near my village. Every year I staged in both FOH/BOH and after my degree I specialized as a Sommelier. I was hooked.
Once I passed the exam I worked in Paris for a year (which I hated), St Tropez and London UK for five years. I also did a two year stint in Australia & New Zealand travelling and working at different restaurants and vineyards to get more experience and knowledge. All of the restaurants in Europe were recognized with Michelin Stars and in Sydney the equivalent, Hatted.
I feel blessed that these positions allowed me to be exposed to what I feel were some of the finest wines in the world. It broadened my knowledge and I had the opportunity to taste with persons of different backgrounds.
GFR: And how would you explain the wine program at The Spoke Club?
LG: It is quite extensive. I try to cover every wine producing country of the world. I think our best categories are Italian and French. But the wine list still needs improvement. I’m working on it!
GFR: What kind of autonomy do you have with regards to the purchase of wine?
LG: I would say 95%. There are sometimes partnerships that are procured by the president of the club. They benefit the club at different angles.
GFR: I have noticed that under your watch The Spoke Club has expanded it cellar somewhat. What are your favourite older bottles in there?
LG: Vosne Romanee, Jean Grivot 1999.
Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2009.
Domaine de Trevallon 2003. (unfortunately its gone by now).
GFR: It could be my own inherent narcissism, but when I worked as Sommelier at a private club many years ago I remember being quite upset that because of a private club’s PRIVATE nature my wine program, no matter how wonderful it was, would never get even a whiff of media attention. Do you ever think about this?
LG: Every day.
I truly believe that our wine program is attractive and competitive, compared to some of the other establishments on King West and in Toronto’s finest cellars. But then again our food and cocktail program is amazing as well. What can you do…? I think we have some of the best that this city has to offer, but it is accessible to members only. They’ll just have to get a membership and come check it out themselves. We’ll take care of them. Or maybe we’ll hold a media wine and dine. you’ve planted a seed Jamie!
GFR: How many wine agents/merchants do you deal with?
LG: Wineries and wine agencies… hmmm… about 35.
GFR: What makes a good agent in your mind?
LG: Good wines! They also need to have affordable wine & premium; Ideally small estates. It proves that they are looking for quality at first. It’s important to me as a buyer. We rely on the agents to make this accessible.
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
LG: I grew up in France, again in a small village called Longue, between Angers and Saumur. Wine in France was like baguette. It was on the table for lunch and dinner. Often common wine. Simple, from a local estate. Things have surprisingly changed in France for a number of reasons. Drinking and driving regulations, and Evin’s Law (Alcoholic beverages are not permitted to be advertised in direct television media). It changes things from when I was growing up.
Saying that though… each time we were going to a bar as kid to play foozball, there was always someone with a small pichet of wine alone or with friends. Often they were on work break. It wasn’t and still isn’t a big deal for kids to be in a bar.
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
LG: NO… I tasted it before I can remember it. It is a tradition in my family to rub the baby’s lips with champagne I obviously don’t remember it. As a kid I use to love going in my dad’s cellar and choose the wine for him. Back then I was already trying to pair food with wine. However… the first memorable experience was on my 16th birthday. I went to the local supermarket, I asked the guy in charge of the wine section for a recommendation and I bought a bottle of Pecharmant. My Uncle and dad were impressed how good the wine was. I think that was the first I got tipsy with my entire family.
Another memorable night about wine was when I was 14 years old. Lets just say two buddies and myself overindulged in a few beautiful bottles of Coteaux du Layon and paid for it the next day…
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
LG: As early as possible as long as you make the kid taste. There is a difference between tasting and drinking… this I learned from a young age. Taste is not drink and vice versa.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?
LG: Ummm…. Do I have to tell the truth? OK.. my wife will be reading this and call me out.
After seeing the movie Cocktail, I was maybe 11-12. I thought it was cool, the world of alcoholic beverages world intrigued me! I later went to culinary school when I was 17. The first year I was staging at a Relais & Chateau and part of my job was to help tidy up the cellar…I can’t explain why, but I loved it. And I still love doing that today. I find it relaxing.
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
LG: My Dad and my Grandpa. They use to go to wineries in Bourgueil, St Nicolas and Chinon to taste and buy wine. In the Loire the cellars are usually underground. I used to beg to go with them. That area is chalky. The houses are made with stone which leads to some beautiful caves.
The smell is memorable as well. It’s musty and damp almost. Up to this day my Grandpa takes pride in his cellar. He is 86. Again wine is such a part of our culture to the point where, when you finish a soccer game in a league you share the Vin d’honneur with the opposite team. It was sometimes finishing in big parties or fights.
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?
LG: It is not new to me. I worked a year in Paris and that culture has existed way before our time. Once, an arrogant somm told me that we were the aristocracy of hospitality. I was shocked. We don’t create anything, we buy and sell. We do our best to deliver an experience, a pairing. At the end of the day the true artists are the vignerons and the chefs.
However… The bro culture is necessary to become better, especially in the now very competitive wine industry. Our industry thrives on constructive criticism, skills and sharing knowledge. It’s how we grow and it is the only way to have someone get a better understanding about wine… But if you can’t be a humble taster then you’re just a dick.
GFR: Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?
LG: The Loire obviously.
But also Champagne, Provence, South West, Languedoc, Roussillon, Rhone, Douro, Tuscany, Margaret River, Great Southern, Hunter Valley, Canberra District, Macedon Ranges, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Auckland, Hawkes bay, Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury, Central Otago. I always wanted to visit Burgundy with some somm friends but we never been able to make it together. It is for sure on my bucket list. The macedon ranges in Victoria really impressed me. And driving through was sometimes memorable.
GFR: Have you ever thought about making your own wine?
LG: Doesn’t everyone? Of course I do, but it is just a thought. I have a lot to learn, especially the understanding from a young fermented juice to a wine.
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
LG: Loire, Languedoc or Prince Edward County.
GFR: Is your role purely that of Sommelier or do you have managerial duties also?
LG: I have both. Managerial and sommelier duties.
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
LG: Bottles of wines for sure. However both people and bottles can be as temperamental as the other and you need to be able to know how to handle them. BUT The good thing about wine is that it doesn’t back chat you.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
LG: Hisbicus (Claude Bosi, 2 Michelin star) in London was probably one of the best place’s I’ve ever worked in, it certainly was the most memorable. the wine list and food was world class. I worked along side a great Sommelier Romain Henry who taught me a lot and who inspired me. I also had the opportunity to really learn about biodynamic wines. The second was being able to work and travel in Australia & New Zealand. There were a lot of foreign wines, new discoveries, new approaches. I gained experience and had a lot of fun. We visited so many regions, my wife named our travels ‘Chasing Vines’.
The low was working in Paris, great wine exposure but really tough mentally and financially.
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
LG: Gerard Basset in UK. This man is a machine. I think he has every title that one could have as a sommelier. He has trained some of the best somm in the world. His dedication to wine and the trade is amazing.
Bruce Wallner in Toronto. What Bruce is doing for the trade is fantastic; the system here makes it difficult to discover good wine. His somm factory and other tasting platforms are great to be able to understand more.
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… and the clock is ticking away.
LG: Not really, if I don’t have the bottle I go back to the table and offer something similar. When I first arrived in England I use to have nightmares because of the language barrier.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?… or perhaps you have Mondays off?
LG: Perfect Sunday would involve my wife and my baby girl. Good friends and/or family around an amazing meal with or without wine…then a game of soccer on the telly to watch at the pub. Might sound boring but that’s how I recharge my batteries.
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink in Toronto.. perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of our lovely city?
LG: I travelled a little bit in Malaysia and got hooked on the cuisine..so I would say Soos on Ossington. Great Malaysian/Canadian fusion food. Ascari and Glas in Leslieville, I love the simplicity and the quality of the food. Hargow on Danforth good dim sum. My next stop will be at Atlantic and Edulis, I only hear great things about these places.
GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
LG: I used to cook way more, but my wife cooks so well that I usually leave it to her.. She’s a Natural Chef so she’s got me eating all this raw food and drinking green stuff. IT’s actually quite good…but when I want something for myself, pizza or pasta.
GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?
LG: Once we some friends over, I forgot the rice. I had to throw away the entire pot and basically messed up our meal.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? Any current favourites?
LG: Canadian wines can be world class. It’s a shame that they are poorly represented in other countries. Favourite wineries? Pearl Morissette, Norman Hardie, Lailey, Hinterland… I plan to organize a tasting with some of the best wineries in Ontario. I think it will be fun for our members and I want to open it to the trade as well.
GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Toronto?
LG: I can’t really judge. I’m a bit isolated by working in private club. From what I have been exposed to I would say yes. It stills a young industry here. But it is definitely on the right track.
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?
LG: Compare to other cities, the Ontario system makes it tough to have the city improve on the wine scene. Its tough to find a good bottle under $15 and therefore restaurants struggle.
I haven’t been out for a while, but I used to love going to Ascari for the Monday night “Wine Killahs” and The Harbord Room for cocktails.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not a Sommelier?
LG: A Carpenter.
GFR: What are your thoughts on music in restaurants?
LG: It is necessary to create an atmosphere and experience. I hate restaurant without music. But it still need to represent the place. I’ve been to a fine dining restaurant here in TO where the playlist was deep deep house. I personally love it, but at that point my senses were confused. It set me up for a bad experience right off the bat. The restaurant should set the tone of your senses. Make it loungy, make it last. Guests don’t want to have palpitations while eating!
GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
LG: I have one in mind but it’s a French movie, its call Aprez vous. He play a sommelier in a French brasserie. The first blind tasting is hilarious. Bottle Shock is really good as well.
GFR: I’m guessing that you have non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
LG: Everyone says I have the best job. Tasting wine. But none of them want to work these kind of hours. Most of them think that im always working, they are probably right.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
LG: It is the best way to test your knowledge. And the best way to make you realize that you need to study more or Judging a wine blind without knowing anything is a bit weird to me. If you judge blind by knowing the varietal and region makes sense. How can you determine that a wine is good and represent what its suppose to be like?
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
LG: Without a hangover for sure.
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
LG: Wow, one? These days..? I would say Piedmont. I’ve tasted several piedmont reds recently and overall they were killers.
GFR: What is “hot” in the world of wine right now… at The Spoke Club?
LG: Not sure if we should call it hot. But I try to present wine differently than my predecessors. I created a section called Indigineous, forgotten and unique Varietals. (Whites and reds). Like most of us that’s where I have the most fun with. I ask what kind of wine the host would like; I always try to recommend two wines; One that they almost ask for and one that could be obscure to them.
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour at the Spoke Club?
LG: From me or members? I’ don’t really push Australians and Americans. These wine sell for themselves, I don’t think they need me.
GFR: Good answer Ludovic.
When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?
LG: Grand Cru from Bordeaux and Napa wines. Both way to expensive for what they are. Don’t get me wrong they can be good wines, but the value for money is not there. Wine Spectator ranked wine as well.
GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now? A dish on the current Spoke Club menu?
LG: Right of the bat. Hamachi Crudo with Tokyo parsnip, heirloom carrots, mustard sesame dressing.
I serve it with a glass of Falanghina Taburno, Masseria Fratassi, 2013. The dish is already well balanced. The Hamachi has a fatty texture and the sauce is pretty rich. The chef squeezes a little bit of lime to lift up the richness of the fish. The falanghina is dry, pungent, it has notes of stone fruit and flowers with a slightly oily texture. I love how everything rolls in the mouth. There is no perfect pairing but it is perfect to me.
GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… but with some infamous Frenchmen.
What would you suggest for them wine-wise and why?
LG: I love his music. To me he is the one who change French music in the late 60’s. He even made reggae popular back home. So for all this reason. Champagne!!!.He use to smoke like a chimney so I would have love to offer a rich style of champagne. Jacquesson 735 Brut. Made with a third of pinot noir .The wines are vinified in Foudres on their lees with batonnage.
LG: Blue Nun and I’m being generous.
Thomas Bangalter (of Daft Punk)
LG: Occhipinti SP68 rosso 2012, because the wine is delicious and as funky as his music.
GFR: Do you often drink beers or spirits?
LG: I’m a big rum fan, especially from Martinique, There is a particular one called Clement. I love beer as well, Pilsner is my poison.
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as Sommelier? For me it was doing inventory…
LG: Polishing glasses. Especially in fine dining after a night full of degustation dinner and wine pairing.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
LG: A regular Pulltap. It’s the most efficient that I work with.
GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screwcap vs. cork debate? And how do your customers feel about that?
LG: Oh man that might take a long time. If you manage to read all of my answers. We should share a glass or a bottle and chat about that.
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?
LG: I use to be wiser when I was younger. Now I tend to make up for my past years. Last cut off. If you don’t mind I would like to keep that to myself.
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time?
LG: Probably. No Comment. Lets just say it involved me losing my shoes!
GFR: Do you have a good hangover cure?
LG: COCA COLA AND PIZZA!!!!!!
How many wines do you taste in a week?
LG: 30-40 but it really depends.
GFR: When do you choose to spit or swallow?
LG: I don’t choose it just happens…
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
LG: Barbera colli piacentini Mont’arquato and pinot Francoistein. Great value for money!
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
LG: Oh that’s mean. I have been able to taste and drink some amazing wine but my top 5 would be the following:
Meursault Coche Dury 2002
Nuits st George 1er cru Rober chevillon 1996
Muddy Water chardonnay 2009 from waipara in NZ. Not just for the wines. But for the atmosphere I was in. My wife and I were travelling in our campervan. We stopped along the coast and manage to got fresh abalones off a diver. She prepared them two ways. One classic with butter and parsley, the other with a little edge, some spice and garlic. They both matched the wine perfectly. We parked just by the water and dined like royalty (we did get called posh backpackers at times.) blasting some Kiwi reggae (which is really good BTW). That was just quality.
My first year in London in 2005. I was able to taste the Chateau Margaux 1945. The wine was magnificient for his age especially knowing how difficult it was for the wine industry during the war. It had everything close to perfection.
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy night at the club?
LG: I’m sorry but I start with a beer.
GFR: And now the cheesy question Ludovic… If you were a grape varietal what would you be?
LG: You should have the answer by now. Chenin of course!
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Ludovic!
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. He celebrated 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 just opened his exciting new project DaiLo with Chef Nick Liu.