In the first of an fourteenth (and wildly popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario. 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 month we are checking in with the extremely talented (and extremely funny) Jeremy Elliot.
Correction : Previous posts incorrectly referred to Jeremy Ennis as Jeremy Elliot.
Good Food Revolution: So Jeremy, what is it that you are doing these days? (Your position, and what that role entails)
Jeremy Ennis: I work at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel downtown Toronto. My position is the Sommelier for Chef Corbin Tomaszeski’s exclusive chef’s table room called “Savoury”. I also was just hired by Langdon Hall and will start working there as a full-time Somm as well.
GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before doing what you do today?
JE: I’ve been in every position that exists in the service industry since I was 14. My Somm training began in 2011 with the CAPS program, then the certified prep course with Bruce Wallner at The Sommelier Factory which helped me to become certified with the Court in 2014 and most recently I completed WSET level 3.
GFR: How would you describe your role at Savoury?
JE: Best Somm job ever! It’s basically myself and Chef Corbin in the 10 seat room. He has a full kitchen in the room and I have 2 x 250 bottle wine fridges, he cooks whatever he is inspired by at the time and I get to decide on and pour the pairings for all his courses. The guests just sit back and enjoy and Chef Corbin is an amazing Chef to work with!
GFR: You have worked in a number different types of places… how does Savoury compare?
JE: This is actually my first experience working within a hotel and The Westin is both large and well known. They do a ton of banquet business, conferences, etc., but I just come in and head to my room and do my thing. I don’t really see much of what else happens at the hotel as Savoury is a separate area, accessible only through the kitchen and doesn’t have regular business hours. If you want to experience a Chef’s table dinner it must be booked in advance, no walk-ins are permitted.
GFR: How open do you find the clientele to trying new things when it comes to wines?
JE: Lol, they don’t really have a choice! It’s probably the best part of my job, as long as my selections are within the budget for beverages I get to decide on what my guests are drinking. They used to print a tasting menu for the guests and included the pairings but I had them omit the pairings after the first event. It stops me from being able to change on the fly if I think the pairing should change and I like telling people what they are drinking after they’ve tried it. That way I don’t have to deal with people that say that they don’t drink Pinot Noir or don’t want to try a Gruner. As long as the pairings are good people seem to accept what I pour for them!
GFR: When choosing wines for a Chef’s table, how do you go about selecting the wines from the restaurant’s cellar?
JE: I don’t have that many options to be honest but I don’t think it affects the pairings. Our F&B manager Ron Richter is very supportive of Ontario’s wine industry and we stock about 50% of our wines with local products. That means lots of great Chard, Pinot, Riesling, Cab Franc, Sparkling and many others that are all good food pairing wines. After that I try and make sure we have a good variety of European selections and a handful of New World options. As for the pairings with each course, I honestly just pair what I would want to drink with what Chef creates. Maybe classic, maybe unorthodox but I’m a firm believer in letting the dish be the star and the wine be the supporting actor.
GFR: Now, how do I word this? Have you drunk the Natural Wine Kool Aid? I’m just kidding, how do you feel about the scene?
JE: I feel like the Kool Aid is fizzy and weird and doesn’t really taste like Kool Aid. Just kidding! I recently returned from Verona and had the opportunity to taste some Emiddio Peppe and it along with some others are amazing wines. At times natural wines can be awful but so are polished commercial wines sometimes. I don’t care as much how you make is as much as I care that it’s good.
GFR: What makes for a good agent/supplier in your mind?
JE: I don’t deal with them often but in general I like agents that care about quality as much as they care about the margins. I don’t care how cheap a product is if it’s shit.
GFR: And what makes for a bad agent?
JE: Refer to the last question.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? Any current favourites?
JE: Love them! I drink a lot of Leaning Post and more Big Head than I’d care to admit to! So many quality producers in Niagara and PEC….
GFR: What do we do well in Ontario, in your mind, and for your palate?
JE: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, Sparkling. I’ve enjoyed a few nice Syrahs and Cab Francs as well but those 5 I think are very well represented locally.
GFR: And what do you feel we should give up on?
JE: Trying to make warm climate wines in our cool climate.
GFR: Just as there is from everywhere in the world, there is quite a lot of dreadful wine coming from Ontario also. How do you feel about the issue of people simply promoting something because of it being local, and not because of its quality?
JE: Same was as I feel about people promoting Natural wines because they’re natural. If something isn’t good I don’t care where it comes from.
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
JE: My parents gave me a taste when I asked but it wasn’t something I liked, I enjoyed filling their glasses out of the box in the fridge with the rubber nipple! I thought beer was much cooler, my grandfather drank Labatt 50 and I swear he could open a bottle with just his thumb like it was an opener!
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
JE: A bit, I just remember not really liking it.
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
JE: I guess I just differ to the way my parents brought me up, if my kids ask I let them try and remind them it is an adult beverage. I think if you make it forbidden curiosity gets them eventually and then they’ll sneak it. Our kids always ask to nose our wines but rarely ask to taste. My son is actually pretty good at telling what brand of Rootbeer has been poured for him just buy smelling it!
GFR: When did you first decide that you would like a career in wine?… and was it with a view to being a Sommelier yourself?
JE: I never really thought I’d become a Sommelier as a career, I’ve just enjoyed it part-time while pursuing other business ventures. All the sudden I just decided recently that life is too short not to chase your passion so I recently sold my shares in my company and will be starting as a full time Somm at Langdon Hall soon. I couldn’t be more excited!
GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
JE: My first pairing dinner. It was with Vineland Estates and the dinner was at a nice restaurant up North. I was a Cab and slab wine drinker and that dinner was the first time that I really understood wine’s versatility with food and grasped the perfect pairing concept… When you get the pairing right 1+1 can = 3.
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?
JE: Meh, most of the people I know in wine are pretty solid. Hang out with Bruce Wallner long enough and you’ll be able to spot the douche bags pretty quick. Mostly it’s the guys in tweed suits and ascots I can’t stand. 😉
Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?
JE: I’ve been very fortunate to spend some time in Italy on a few different occasions. I’ve been to Tuscany, Piemonte and most recently to Verona. I love the Italian wine, food and culture! I’ve also been to Napa but that’s about it.
GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?
JE: God no! I’m a firm believer in leaving things in the hands of the experts! That includes electrical, plumbing and especially wine!
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
JE: Bottles. My first management position had me overseeing over 100 employees in one capacity or another. It’s what drove me to self-employment eventually! I really believe you have to have a bit of a mean-streak to manage people effectively, that’s not me and eventually people try to exploit that at some point.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
JE: So far all highs and high-fives brother! If that ever changes significantly I’ll prob find something else to do!
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
JE: I staged under Jonathan Goesenhauser at E11even, he’s pretty solid. Brent Fraser is another guy I think has his shit together, both were very helpful and supportive when I first started.
GFR: And for Wine Agents?
JE: I just spent a few days with Nick Pearce, Mark Cuff and Bernard Stramwasser while I was in Verona, they’re all good guys. Tom Simons over at Halpern is great as well.
GFR: Do you have 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… in fact I had one last night!!! And I haven’t been in the role for over five years!!!
JE: Not yet but I’m sure they’re coming!
GFR: Sommeliers famously have their Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
JE: Spending the day outside with my wife and 3 children. BBQ’s got meat on it, beverage is in hand, sun is out!
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink.. perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of our city?
JE: I think the last real enjoyable experience I had was at Bar Reval. Patria was great last time I was there and Sam Fritz-tate knows more about Spanish wine than any human should ever know!
GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
JE: My wife is the Chef in our house, I do breakfast and BBQ!
GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Toronto?
JE: I think there’s an amazing Sommelier community in Toronto and Southern Ontario in General. GTA, Hamilton / Ancaster, Niagara, KW…. great Somms and very supportive of each other. Most of the community I met through Bruce and the Sommelier Factory.
GFR: Do you hang about with other Sommeliers?
JE: Of course! Who else is going to give a shit about the amazing Tempier I tried the other day??
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?
JE: I don’t really, I live in Ancaster so Toronto outings are few and far between.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not doing what you are doing today?
JE: I sold my shares in a MMA gym that I co-owned so I could work as a Somm full-time. If I wasn’t still doing that I’d be self-employed in some capacity.
GFR: What are your thoughts on music in restaurants?
JE: Can’t say I give it much thought, though there is a serious lack of good old-school Hip Hop in restaurants these days!
GFR: Maybe in Ancaster! There’s way too much of that pish in Toronto.
Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
JE: No, not really. I haven’t seen Bottle Shock, Sideways, French Kiss, etc. People seem to quote those all the time but I never get them.
GFR: I’m aware of how much you love Adam Sandler films, but I cannot think of a wine scene in any of those.
I know that you have non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
JE: I don’t think it matters much to them one way or another. Most of my friends have known me for 20+ years and/or are in the service industry. They like texting me from the LCBO for suggestions when they’re looking for wines.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
JE: Love the process, it’s fun to challenge yourself. Hate that sometimes people forget to also appreciate the wine regardless of if they were right or not.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
JE: Without, 100%
GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?
JE: Hard not to be in love with Italy right now. Just came back from Vinitaly in Verona and learned about the over 500 native grape varietals Italy has.
GFR: In your mind, as a Sommelier, what is “hot” in the world of wine right now?
JE: Natural wines for sure. It’s this lingering conversation that always seems to come up regardless of where and with whom.
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour?
JE: Amongst Somm friends, Bordeaux to a certain degree unfortunately.
GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?
JE: Napa Valley Cabernets.
GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now, something nice and seasonal?
JE: Rose and anything!
GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… this time with… Mixed Martial Arts fighters.
What would you suggest to pair for them wine or beverage-wise… and why?
1: Georges St. Pierre
JE: Whisky – No matter the occasion you can always count on it. It’s not flashy or a fad, just always a solid choice.
2: Quinton Jackson
JE: Vodka / Redbull – Drink enough of them and you too may end up driving your car like a maniac over sidewalks, into other cars and almost hitting pedestrians while being chased by the cops and howling out your window!
3: Eric “Butterbean” Esch
JE: Jose Cuervo straight – Absolutely nothing attractive about it, period. But if you aren’t careful it’ll have you end up in the emergency room asking people what your name is.
GFR: Do you often drink beers or spirits?
JE: Yup. Black milk and brown liquor as often as the mood strikes.
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as a Sommelier?
JE: I don’t have one yet. We’ll have to chat in 6 months or so to see if that’s still the case.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
JE: What ever Pulltap I’ve been given by whomever. I was looking at a Laguiole for a while but I decided to spend that money on wine instead. Like sunglasses I’d probably just break it or lose it anyway so why bother?
GFR: And your thoughts on the Coravin system… has it changed the playing field?
JE: I think it has the potential to. I don’t know of many industry friends that have had their restaurants implement it but the potential for a deep, interesting and unique by the glass program is very possible with a Coravin. Langdon Hall doesn’t use one but it’s one of the first things on my wish list!
GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screwcap vs. cork debate? And how do your customers feel about that?
JE: I think guests very generally associate screwcaps with lower quality bottles and corks as the opposite. I myself enjoy the dance involved with opening an old bottle so my romantic notion of that aspect of wine clouds my judgement. I know that the Stelvin is a superior seal but I’d much rather remove a cork than unscrew a cap.
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. What is your limit and how do you keep yourself in check?
JE: Well, I don’t test my limits quite as often as I used to but I have a wife and 3 children so that certainly helps will moderation!
GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time? I can think of one night in a bowling alley in Piedmont when you should have been…
JE: I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever been refused service… though there’s many, many times I should have been! I guess that similar to this “one night in a bowling alley in Piedmont” you are referring to I just hold it together better when I have to. Always drinking with industry friends at industry places also gets you treatment that most people don’t have access to. That probably qualifies my friends as enablers but I’m sure they’ve been called worse.
GFR: Speaking of which, do you have a good hangover cure?
JE: Double Cheeseburger with Big Mac sauce. Works 100% of the time without fail!
GFR: Oh Man… that would kill me.
How many wines do you taste in a week?
JE: I try for 10-15 depending on when tasting groups meet and if I am in one of Bruce’s classes at the Somm Factory which is usually the case. The more often the better, it’s the only way to keep your palate calibrated.
GFR: When tasting with agents do you choose to spit or swallow?
JE: Always spit. It’s not a social get together and depending on how many wines, I’d like to be able to properly taste them. I’m usually at work when agents come by anyway so a bunch of drinks and working the floor isn’t my idea of professional.
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
JE: With my love for food and wine pairing I hardly ever have the same wine often. That being said 1/3 of my cellar is Big Head so I guess their wine is my house wine.
GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?
JE: I have 2… DRC Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux – I had just arrived at E11even for my first stage shift while in the CAPS program and Jennifer Huether was showing me around. A guest asked her to open a Grand Echezeaux (he was almost finished his Echezeaux on the table) and when he found out I was there to stage he offered me a glass of both. He said “if you’re gonna learn then you have to taste”, then I apologised for not spitting and they had a laugh!
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy day at work?
JE: German Riesling
GFR: And now the cheesy question Jeremy… If you were a grape varietal which would you be? and why?
JE: Riesling – Not because I think it represents me but because I love it and it makes me happy so I’d want to be it.
GFR: Thank you for taking the time Jeremy… and thanks for doing this.
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 just celebrated his 67th birthday!
A well-known and much respected figure on the Toronto food and wine scene for almost twenty years, Potvin has worked in many of the city’s very best establishments including Biffs, Canoe, and Eau. In 2004 Potvin opened his incarnation of the Niagara Street Café, a restaurant that has gone from strength to strength year after year, with universal critical acclaim. Anton spends much of his time traveling and tasting wine and has been ranked highly in consecutive years of the International Wine Challenge. Anton is now GM at DaiLo with Chef Nick Liu.