In a new spin-off from our enormously popular Young Blood Sommeliers series, we are proud to present The Old Bastard Sommeliers, who will be running in alternating months to our ongoing YBS interviews.
This sure-to-be-entertaining series will focus upon in-depth extended interviews (6,000+ words!) with some of the more infamous veteran characters in the scene, examining where they go 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.
For our inaugural chapter allow me to present a fellow who really requires no introduction whatsoever, the one and only Mr. Peter Boyd.
Good Food Revolution: So Peter, what is it that you are doing these days?
Peter Boyd: 2019 finds me with a few less ‘consults’ than I’ve usually been fortunate enough to have over the past few years. I like work.
So, because consultation is a hard thing to beat the bushes for – it usually finds you, if you have a track record or a bit of profile – I’m spending this winter getting my house ready for some major renovations. Once that’s done I plan to get back to a bit of writing – and music, as always.
As well, I’m very fortunate to have been asked to help pop some corks a couple of nights a week at Barberian’s Steakhouse, too. I don’t do the list there – the excellent Christina Sharpe does that – but the team is so great and the wine list is just insane. It’s a lot of fun!
I also do a little work for The Small Winemakers Collection, a bunch of lovely guys I met a long time ago. Nice portfolio, really well-managed, and they basically keep me around to be their version of Bad Santa.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?… and was it with a view to becoming a Sommelier?
PB: It’s funny. I never really saw the title of Sommelier as the brass ring. I fell head-over-heels in love with wine in 1980 and my obsession with it led me uptown from where I was working on Queen Street to one of Toronto’s earlier winebars, Raclette, situated in the Delisle Court in the very location occupied by Cava today!
From there, I talked my way into a waiter job at Scaramouche in 1982. (Ironically, by answering some impromptu questions about Jura wines which I had never tasted but I was absorbing absolutely everything I could back then!)
But even then, I had no real ambition to be a ‘somm.’ There really weren’t many somms around at that time. The only ‘pure’ wine jobs in Canada in 1980 were in Québec or in a few CP-owned hotels across the country. Nobody else had any money to employ one, the wine scene’s footprint was nothing like it is today and, quite frankly, when I encountered the few of them that were around at the few wine shows and portfolio tastings that even happened back then, I thought the whole bunch of them were insufferable pencil-necked dweebs.
So, I did my own thing, read like crazy, spent all my money on releases, tasted anything I could get my hands on with anybody who cared to join me and when my life took a darkish turn in 1986, I sold my first house, took all the money and skulked about Europe for a year or so, tasting and talking to vignerons and wine people everywhere I went, until the money was gone.
(Understand, please, I will never presume to consider myself anywhere near the level of Master Sommelier – let me be the first to say that! But many years later, long after my time in France, when the amazing Jen Huether told me that it took her something like three years and over $20,000 spent on wine and study materials to get her MS diploma, I remembered about selling my house in ‘86 and blowing all the money on touring Europe, living in France and inhaling French wines and I thought to myself, “Yeah, that sounds about right…”)
GFR: Tell us about your history in the industry? Where did you get your first start?
PB: After I left high school, I spent the next ten years on the road working as a musician playing bars and shows all over southern Ontario. I got into restaurants because I was tired of playing other people’s music (If I ever hear Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight again, it’ll be too soon…) and I needed a job with the flexibility to be able to wrangle nights off to play my own original songs at places in Toronto like the Rivoli or The Cameron or The Beverley Tavern.
So, I lied my way into a crappy waiting job at The Old Fish Market and then, as soon as I was reasonably competent, I got a gig working at The Peter Pan when Queen Street was the New Wave equivalent of the wild west. The place was lined up out the door most nights. We all wore crazy vintage duds and the owners wanted the staff to dish some Soho-style snark for atmosphere like: “Get downtown much?” I was in heaven.
After three crazy years there, I discovered wine and started using what I was learning to get better jobs in more la-di-dah places.
GFR: And from that formative experience where did you go from there?
PB: Well, in ’84 I was hired away from Scaramouche to be headwaiter at Stadtlander’s on John Street. By the end of that gig, I was responsible for the wine purchasing and staff education. I started taking on that responsibility wherever I worked and became known for that ability. That’s how I found myself opening Lotus in ’88.
GFR: And what were your most memorable gigs over all that time?
PB: The most memorable was washing dishes at L’Hostellerie de la Provençale – ‘fait la plonge!’ – in Gordes, France for the better part of a year, ’86-‘87. When the mistrale would blow, the wind would come down through the walls and blow open the cupboard doors over the dishpit, smacking me in the head and making me crazy! On days off, I would borrow a friend’s little motorcycle and boot it over to Châteauneuf or Gigondas or up to my friend Patrick’s place in Tournon to taste northern Rhônes, Beaujolais and Burgundies. And Calvados made by his father and father’s friends from his childhood home in Normandy. What a year!
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?
PB: Hell, no! But it is what it is. I’ve already told you most of it.
I bootstrapped it, with a lot of help from good friends.
It was all a matter of timing, in the sense that wine education in Toronto in the late 70s and early 80s wasn’t the going concern it is now. The only game in town was the International Sommeliers Guild which back then was under the spell of personalities – first, the legendary Jacques-Marie and then Jay Fallah.
(A friend of mine who took the course from Jacques-Marie, a loveable and very important figure here in Toronto, wine education-wise, told me that when the final sommelier exam was placed in front of him he became irrationally angry because Jacques-Marie had spent the entire course talking about the restaurant and wine business in post-war France and had addressed none of the questions on the exam! That’s his version anyway.)
In the late 90’s, I was recommended by Alan Marginean, who was the somm at Canoe at that time, as a potential instructor for the ISG, which by then had become a more serious and businesslike institution by the hiring of superb people like Peter Bodnar Rod and Mark Davidson, amongst others. I took the job despite my guilt at my lack of accreditation and poured my guts into it.
I’ve not told many people this. But I can tell you that I never in my life worked as hard as I did a few years later, preparing to teach the Diploma degree level! It was the beginning of the age of Powerpoint. The head office told me they were sending me Powerpoint lessons for each week of the course.
When I opened the documents, there were thirty blank slides with topic headings for the week – and pretty well nothing else! By the time I walked into each class that year, I had fleshed out those thirty blank pages to over three hundred – per week. It almost killed me. After two years of it my girlfriend at the time told me that if I taught the course again, she’d dump me…
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?
PB: Of course! No one exists in a vacuum.
First and foremost, Michel DesLauriers who got me my job at Scaramouche and, more importantly, taught me joie de vivre and how to live well. He’s back in Montreal now but I love to see him whenever I can. He’s an absolute riot! I’d take a bullet for Michel.
This could get WAY too long but here’s a short short list of mentors. I have amazing stories about all of them! I apologize to many of you who I may have neglected to include! You are innumerable.
Peter Bodnar Rod – the best attitude in the whole frickin’ world! A legendary lover of life and all thing vinous.
Leon Meslin – was there at my very first wine epiphany! Very generous, supportive and a great taster.
Keith Froggett and Carl Korte – these gentlemen, how they live and how they do things, have taught me as much as anyone I know. Our relationship goes back… in Keith’s case, back to 1983! They have shown me more generosity and more patience than I deserve.
Ian Clark – unruffleable, professional, the best maitre d’ I have ever worked with. You want to work hard for Ian.
Rob Jull – met Rob in Paris in ’86. A great winetaster.
Wayne Gotts – so smart, helped me become a good educator but always up for any craziness you can devise!
John Szabo – a gentleman, and a very good mind. Most of all, a good friend.
Mark Vlossak – owner/winemaker at St. Innocent in Oregon, Mark is an incredible cook and an even better taster. My mentor in terms of understanding and identifying wine flaws and outcomes. Amazing.
Charles ‘Chico’ Baker – I met Chico when he was a waiter at Jamie Kennedy’s Palmerston. Even then, he knew he wanted to make Riesling from Ontario limestone. Taught me what limestone tastes like. An ambassador, he took Ontario wines and placed them in stores and restaurants in London and NYC when nobody even knew we made wine here! A mensch.
Maya Dille – the reason my children are good people, thinkers who don’t take any shit. A great cook and taster, an indefatigable mother. Her hard work bankrolled my education and my progress in the trade. Zero enemies. Everyone loves Maya.
GFR: Can you remember your worst customer experience ever? I have a few doozies…
PB: Ironically most of my nightmare encounters have been on the management side of the biz. On the wine side, we’re supposed to be the tallest foreheads in the room (which isn’t always the case) and we’re supposed to be educators when time permits and most of all, interpreters of OUR winelists and where it meets the Chef’s food, so that responsibility always gives me more patience than some folks deserve.
Now, the reality is that some wine has become a commodity and people often just know what they’ve been told to like and they quite often put the label before the contents, which has made for some eye-rolling moments… (Ah, and some people are obsessed with ‘curating’ every facet of their lives…)
The best part of reaching sixty is that I’m not afraid of threats from customers anymore, and raising children has made me realize I shouldn’t condone bad behaviour – from anyone. It’s not that I’m unfireable – Hell, no! – but when things turn south, I can suck it up and assume the role of the adult in the room.
As managers, we fix problems and make things better. That’s the job. Unfortunately we can’t cure the self-entitlement of some people but I will not brook rudeness or the idea that someone’s money trumps my staff’s dignity.
Favourite response in those situations? “Is this going somewhere?” I may get that as a tattoo.
GFR: How do you feel that the industry has changed since you first started all those years ago?
PB: When I started moving into the purchasing aspect of the job, there were probably about 35 importers* in the consignment program over half of whom were part-time. There seemed to be two major streams to becoming one: you were either a Toronto Symphony musician (Scott Wilson, Dan Ruddick) or a former Hiram Walker or Gooderham liquor salesperson (Russell Woodman, Tony Hirons, Jack Hanna).
I’m exaggerating but those two categories really were a thing back then. What this change means is there is more choice, more specializing, more professionality and more competition for your licensee dollar.
*(I’ve been told there are now around 135 agents, i.e: five times that 1990 estimate now in consignment, with about 30ish agents accounting for over 80% of all sales.)
As well, the number of local wineries has mushroomed too, many becoming specialists, which is a good thing. If you’re trying to be all things to all people, you’re more likely to underwhelm consumers, especially in this climate where it is difficult to ripen certain grape varietals. Now, I think everyone should have a little corner in the back of the winery where they’re experimenting with original or cool ideas but they should stay in beta until they’re ready to be market-proven. Is that conservative? Maybe. But if you desperately need to sell your experiments because of profit margins, maybe you’ve overcommitted…
The best Ontario wines are distinctly and unapologetically Ontarian. Fresh and frank, with that whisper of limestone.
GFR: And how has Toronto changed as a wine city?
PB: By getting more serious about wine and less serious about it, at the same time.
Thirty-five years ago, the drinkers in this country were overwhelmingly consumers of grain alcohol, i.e: beer and spirits. As wine became more fashionable and better wines became more readily available, consumers began to move toward regular consumption of wine, and as they learned more about the grapes and wines they liked, the beginnings of a wine culture began to take shape. Now, we consume as much wine as beer, I’m told, and a fully-formed wine culture has taken hold.
Now, all we have to do is to help people who buy the same bloody wine every time they go to the LCBO become more adventurous. A lot of it has to do with them being overwhelmed by the number of wines available that they’ve never tasted. And the fact that many folks who have no problem spending silly amounts on the most frivolous of things (looking at you, stupid Bluetooth toaster!) seem to be terrified of taking a flyer on a $18 bottle of wine! C’mon folks! It’s one night in 27,000 of them over an average lifetime! Live a little.
GFR: And where do you feel does a good job wine-wise these days? And what makes them stand out from the crowd?
PB: There’s something for everybody in this town these days. Obvi, the wine bars are hopping. And personalities make the best ones stand out: Giuseppe and Annette (and a whole bunch of great people who’ve passed through) at The Midfield. Josh and Kyle (and historical crew) at Archive 909. Krysta at Paris Paris is so enthusiastic and lots of fun.
The bar scene has exploded but more traditional restaurants have great somms, too. Toni Weber (Giulietta), Christina Sharpe and Courtney Stebbings (Barberian’s), the list is too long! Nate Morrell and Alessandro Pietropaolo, Jools Garton, all the somms in the McCotter/Penfold empire, so many more and it’s turning into a list of my friends! There are so many fabulous people worthy of mention!
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? And how have you viewed their evolution since your early days in the industry?
PB: I want everyone to know that I LOVE Ontario wines. And I was one of the idiots in the 80s saying we should rip out everything except Riesling because that’s all we’ll ever do well here. I was so effing wrong!
We have something so special here and many people aren’t really ‘getting’ it yet. The combination of cool climate which gives our wines so much more focus than most other New World regions (and keeps our winemakers more honest!); and the palpable, almost obvious aroma and flavour of limestone which makes our wines instantly recognizable if treated transparently.
You could serve me a Riesling blind from Charles Baker or Cave Spring or Kevin Panagapka’s 2027 in Alsace or the Clare Valley and I would say, “Don’t fuck with me. I know exactly what this is!”
There are wine regions who would kill for that kind of signature terroir.
GFR: What do you think that we do well here in Ontario today?
PB: Riesling and Cab Franc, obviously, but I’m so jazzed about where that limestone meets our Pinots and Chardonnays.
GFR: And what do you feel we should really give up on?
PB: Whatever frickin’ commercial yeast every single producer of cheapish Pinot Gris-dominated white blends would seem to be using!
I buy my jelly beans at the bulk store, thanks.
GFR: How do you feel about restaurants support of our local wine industry? How has that changed since your early days?
PB: There have always been fervid supporters like John Maxwell at Allen’s and Jeremy Day at the late, lamented Café Taste but most of the problem ‘back in the day’ was with Ontarians who’d grown up with several generations of shitty local wines from what passed for wineries pre-1977 and the start of Inniskillin.
I had a ploy in the 90s where I would bring two glasses of wine I was recommending for food pairing to a table, put them down and say, “Try them, I’ll be right back after I talk to the chef.”
I didn’t want to tell them what they were. One would be Ontario wine, often a Chardonnay with a little bit of age on it. I’d come back to the table and ask them what they liked and more often than not they would point to the glass of local wine. I can’t tell you how many times I was told when I informed them it was Ontario wine, “Oh. Then bring us the other one. We don’t drink that shit!” I am being completely serious. But if I told them up front that I recommended a local wine, they wouldn’t have even tasted it.
Things have changed, eh?
GFR: And what’s your take on this natural wine thing? And why do you feel it is even a “thing”?
PB: This is a conversation that needs more time to express more measured thoughts on all the facets of the phenomenon.
I know why it’s happening.
I know that it’s here to stay, even after many of its proponents eventually get bored and move on to the next trend. That’s ok.
I’m pleased that the general quality of ‘natural’ wines has improved from the first ones that came to our market.
I’m dismayed at the average prices of them (If you’re telling me that there are less additives in this wine and that it “basically makes itself” shouldn’t it be less expensive? Kidding!) but the prices of all wines seem to be getting more expensive, right? No one talks about ‘inflation’ anymore but if there ever was an indicator of it, the price of wine would be near the top of the list.
To finish the natural wine conversation here – and I’m open to this discussion any time – I wish we could find terminology to describe and categorize them better. We need subcategories. Most of it’s about sulphur. Few of them are actually ‘natural’ whatever that means. Process and winemaking decisions always get in the way of terroir. Human beings tend to fuck the natural up. Skin contact is a winemaking decision. Whatever degree of sulphur you’re adding or subtracting is a winemaking decision. (I’m guessing here, but there is probably more sulphur in the average packet of Turkish dried apricots than in an entire bottle of the most commercial of wines.)
I wish more of the natural wines I’ve tried didn’t taste so similar. Varietal typicity seems to be a casualty as well as terroir with many of them, especially skin contact wines.
But then, I’m a grumpy old bastard somm, aren’t I?
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
PB: My folks were gin-and-tonic people but there was often a bottle of red on the Sunday dinner table. Why, I’m not sure, but there it was.
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
PB: Yes, my parents felt that a taste of wine or beer wasn’t going to corrupt a curious child. I remember not really caring much for either and later on being more likely to jimmy open the liquor cabinet for a glug of crème de menthe than a taste of wine!
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
PB: in utero. Seriously, though… While alcohol addiction is a terrible thing, I feel that living in a culture like Ontario’s that stigmatizes alcohol right down to its government-controlled point of sale is a worse visual for children than the occasional taste of wine or beer. Education and the point of view that moderate use of alcohol can be beneficial is a better response. Train children to understand it as a food group but one that’s dangerous to be ‘hungry’ for.
GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously full of pretentious arseholes, and after seeing that film Somm a few years back I still worry about the emergence of a new Wine Bro culture… also, I recently picked up on a LOT of that from the mixology crowd, full-on Jordan Peterson fans and all that stuff. I’d love to hear your thoughts? There have always been pretentious arseholes, right?
PB: Specialized knowledge of any type will always allow some types of people to exploit their inner capacity to become total douches… Wine’s no different. Indeed, the ‘connoisseurship’ associated with wine quite often ratchets up the douchiness to insufferable levels. I’ve seen three generations of it now…
The best thing and worst thing about being a floor somm is bearing witness to some of the most outrageously eye-rolling conversations about wines in general but especially ‘status’ wines.
Thank god there are some really great people involved in it too!
GFR: Speaking of which, we are having some really important conversations right now about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, and what can be done to eradicate it from the culture. Things are changing and certainly for the better.
I’d be interested to hear your take on the topic, and perhaps what you witnessed during your years in the restaurant world… big question I know, but I feel it’s a topic that deserves discussion.
PB: Over the past forty years, I have seen the most vile and repugnant behaviour toward women, LGBT employees and visible minorities, from males in power in our trade, stuff that would boggle your mind. The good news is that, believe it or not, the situation is getting better. But, we still have a long, long way to go. And a lot of people haven’t got the memo yet.
My children are way better at policing objectionable behaviour than my generation was, and their children will be even better. My kids have taught me so much about new benchmarks of gender and sexuality, accepting people for who they are, and trying to change entrenched cultural behaviour. It’s difficult because the people who tend to hold most of the power generally belong to an older generation who don’t want change, who are threatened by it.
The worst stuff I witnessed, especially in the 80s was usually conducted by men who felt their ‘birthright’ power threatened in reaction to the nascent movements of feminism and gay activism and the burgeoning realization that Toronto was becoming one of the most culturally diverse places in the world, but way too quickly for their tastes.
The easiest thing to address hopefully is the gender gap. The participation of women in any endeavour improves it, brings new ideas, new energy, importantly different viewpoints, and expands the dialogue.
Old white men are killing this planet and will continue to subjugate its disenfranchised and dry-hump its resources until it’s all one big landfill crashing into the sun. We need change and that’s one of the most obvious ones. Not just a place at the table. A place at the head of the table.
GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?
PB: No. I’d love to but I am SO disorganized. Every time September rolls around, I find myself in the weeds again!
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
PB: Funny, I used to think Alsace or Burgundy, obviously… but now I am sure making wine here would be even better. Share it with friends and colleagues, exploit our insanely good terroir! And keep it affordable.
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Old Bastard Sommeliers?
PB: John Tait, Chris McDonald, Jean-Jacques Quinsac, maybe even Anton Potvin and Will Predhomme although they’re really not that old… And Brucie, of course. Mr. Wallner is going to be the ‘bad Gandalf’ of our local scene sooner than later. And the late Tim Lovelock.
GFR: And for Wine Agents/Importers?
PB: Scott Wilson, who’s retired and crawled off to play golf in Kelowna, Mark Cuff (just for the great hair!)
GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Toronto? And how was it when you started in the business?
PB: It’s really good here! We have lots of really talented, generous, outgoing people here. The Force is strong in them. Thirty years ago, when you went to a trade show, you had to dodge the tumbleweeds blowing through.
GFR: How often do you hang about with other Sommeliers?
PB: I’ll start hanging out with Sommeliers when they start better observing the basic rules of personal hygiene, thank you very much!
No, seriously, I’m blessed to have as many fine friends as I do in this industry. I love hanging out and talking about wine with folks but I’m starting to prefer interaction in smaller groups over the big somm cluster$%#s that occasionally arise. Mostly because forty years of standing in front of very loud guitar amps has compromised my hearing a bit, especially when there’s a lot of white noise. (And now I’ll never get invited to a big somm cluster$%# again!)
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?
PB: Sometimes I go just to be social. Stand away from the tables and catch up with my friends in the aisles. Agents often come out from behind their tables and pour you stuff anyway!
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not doing what you are doing today?
PB: Game show host. Or fabulously tanned tennis instructor.
GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
PB: ‘Tampopo’ is my favourite food film but for wine I love the “We want the finest wines known to mankind” scene in ‘Withnail and I.’
Everyone should see ‘Tampopo!’ It’s the greatest.
GFR: The Dentist scene is my favourite…
What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
PB: It’s the best. Gets you out of your safe spot and gets you using your brain.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
PB: Naw, I hate hangovers. I’m a useless moaning bag of crap.
GFR: Some of the best tasters I know are heavy smokers… What are your thoughts there?
PB: I’ve fought with smoking all my life and I’m currently a former smoker. If you’ve smoked I don’t think you can ever call yourself a ‘non-smoker.’ It’s too insidious and so many of us in this trade fall back into it too easily.
I used to hang out with a number of vignerons in the Rhône who not only smoked but smoked Gauloises ‘Disque Bleu,’ stubby unfiltered cigarettes so strong they could take down a rhino. And I smoked Camels and Marlies for years! These guys were amazing tasters, though, especially where wine flaws were concerned. I think you just get inured to it and taste right through it. It’s easier than trying to taste standing beside someone drenched in Paco Rabanne.
GFR: Coffee or tea?
PB: Coffee. I only drink tea when I’m down with a cold or flu.
GFR: Lemon, horseradish, mignonette, or hot sauce?
PB: Mignonette, please. The least likely to obliterate the Kimmeridgian thing…
GFR: Vindaloo or Korma?
PB: Vindaloo, but curry’s so delightfully diverse. Kashmiri rogan josh too!
GFR: Milk or dark?
PB: Both, and lots. I have a wicked sweet tooth.
GFR: Ketchup, mayonnaise, or salt & vinegar?
PB: Depends on my mood and the quality, both of frites and condiments. Housemade mayo only, please.
GFR: Blue, R, MR, M, MW, W, Charcoal?
PB: This depends entirely on the cut or the animal…
Rare generally, although black and blue is the only way to eat filet mignon.
Lamb medium-rare, mostly because it doesn’t taste like lamb until it reaches that point, I believe. Unless it’s mutton, haha!
GFR: Rather than get you to supply me with some delectable pairings, may I ask you to suggest a pairing that really DOESN’T work… perhaps a mistake that you have made over your years in the job… something that budding Sommeliers should know is a truly terrible pairing? A warning more than anything else!
PB: Baco Noir and Crème Brulée.
DRC and cat food.
Honestly, the best data is empirical data.
Go forth and make your own mistakes!
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
PB: Well, I love Burgundy but I drink a hell of a lot more Cahors! I’ve been there a number of times and quite love the region.
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?
PB: Although other regions seem to be getting more ink, I’d have to say that all things Italian – from all over the peninsula, for a change – have an incredibly high profile right now.
When I was studying furiously about wine, I had the most important book available in English about Italian wines – I can’t remember the title, sorry, but it was written by Cyril Ray. This was the early eighties. It was basically just Piemonte, Veneto, and Toscano. The ONLY wine briefly mentioned from south of Tuscany was Taurasi. And this was the best book available!
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour? And why do you feel that is?
PB: Beaujolais Nouveau. Because it’s superannuated grape juice, people! The purest definition of ‘tankiness.’
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is, or always has been, overrated?
PB: Don’t get me started. Super-saturated fruitbombs that reek of overtoasted wood.
But, really, any time you can detect the winemaking process, i.e: oak, elevated RS, even skin-contact or some types of deliberate oxidation, you are tasting who made it and not always where it’s from. Right now, too, there are unfortunately a lot more people impressed by power than nuance. And, believe it or not, that affects all of us where the market is concerned.
GFR: Do you often drink beers, ciders or spirits? What do you currently enjoy?
PB: Gin and Negronis in the summer. Whiskeys and Calvados in the winter. Amaros, especially Fernet, all year round. Rum on canoe trips. With cider I never know what I’m going to get so I wait until I have a good guide.
As for beer, it used to cause me headache problems but I’ve come back to it a bit – but I reached ‘peak IPA’ about three years ago.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
PB: I used to have a sweet Laguiole but they’re so expensive and when it got stolen, I went with the mass-produced types. Now, when the two-stage style first came on the scene, the worms were coated with Teflon which, to my mind, was the biggest improvement in a somm’s equipment in my lifetime. But all of the cheaper knockoffs that came after just had black enamel paint on the worms and weren’t nearly as good. But recently I started using a Murano two-step corkscrew with real Teflon on it that I got from an agent. What a difference!
GFR: Due to us being around alcohol, many people in our industry often have quite the 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?
PB: Never swallow any alcohol – unless it’s absolutely life-changingly good! – before 5 pm. Sundays and canoe trips are the exceptions.
I’ve had the most problems when I’ve forgotten to eat properly. Keep your stomach full and your waterglass close.
GFR: There’s a lot of open discourse right now around the topic of both drug and alcohol abuse within the restaurant 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!
PB: We’re entering a very interesting new era of readily available cannabis. It is going to be curious to watch what evolves so I reserve judgment at this point. I’m still not used to the idea of smoking pot in public and not feeling trepidation! It’s strange.
I’ve done just about everything short of crack cocaine and I’m done with most of it. It’s a young person’s game anyway. And it’s shitty mixed with alcohol for the most part.
And it’s changed. If you look at the stats you’ll see that Vancouver averaged 4-5 fentanyl-related deaths EVERY DAY last year… I will never do cocaine again.
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… hazy memories…
PB: My 21st birthday. The Arlington Hotel draft room, Collingwood, Ontario. I was carried to my room.
GFR: Speaking of which, 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…
PB: The best hangover cure is the past. In the sense that you should have been drinking more water the night before!
But, Fernet Branca and a greasy breakfast are my go-to applications. A little fruit sugar, i.e: juice, really helps too, and I’m getting into the world of kombucha which really settles my stomach fantastically. Going to start making my own…
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week these days?
PB: It used to be hundreds… I wanted to taste everything. But I’ve scaled it back a lot and mostly taste with friends or if I’m chasing a specific solution for a hole on the wine list. At trade shows I tend to just taste what I’m actively looking for unless there’s something really interesting there. I still really like wine.
GFR: When tasting with agents do you choose to spit or swallow?
PB: Spit religiously. Or I’ll be the grumpiest prick by 5 pm.
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
PB: I tend to drink inexpensive Mediterranean, especially Rhône or Languedoc. I’m in the wine business so I have no money. And I like Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, etc.
GFR: Do you keep a cellar at home? How sizable and deep is it?
PB: It used to be okay but never huge and as I’ve said I’ve never really ever made much money and most of it went to raising my kids and buying musical instruments and gear.
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
PB: ’71 Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses by Pierre Ponnelle.
I’ve had a multitude of better wines since then but it was the best thing I’d ever tasted at a very impressionable time in my career.
I also remember a picnic around the same time with a supernal bottle of Pomerol, a ’70 Vieux Chateau Certan that led directly to an astonishly good romp in the bushes on the Toronto Islands.
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) Taste. Taste blind. Taste lots. Get a small group of likeminded friends to help address the costs of this. Wine makes learning fun. Learning makes wine funner.
2) Try and find the elemental thing that separates a wine, a grape, a soil or a wine region from all the others. You’ll find the ‘tells,’ the things that will inform you down the road.
3) Get your taste of wine from the nice person at the trade tasting, step back from the table and quit blocking my &^%$ way to the &^%$ spittoon!
GFR: If you could go back and have a word with the young Peter Boyd as he started in the business, what specifically would you tell him?
PB: Get stuffed.
GFR: And now the cheesy question Peter… If you were a grape varietal which would you be? and why?
PB: Jacquère. Because I’m pretty and I want so badly to be liked.
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Peter. Much appreciated.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he thinks that this series is off to a cracking start!