In the third of the twenty-third series (can you believe that?!), we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario and beyond.
A few years back Many years ago 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 and often underexposed stars.
Good Food Revolution: So Kenzie, what is it that you are doing these days? (current position and title)
Kenzie Peippo: I’m the on premise territory manager for Eastern Ontario for Noble Estates Wine & Spirits.
GFR: Please describe your role at Noble… What does a normal day entail for you? Is there a normal day?
KP: There’s definitely no “normal day” in sales! Roughly, in the morning I’m answering emails, sending invoices or having online meetings with the team or suppliers. In the afternoon I’m going out for meetings, tastings, dropping by on people. The exciting and unusual days are having suppliers in town or working an event. I also have a really large territory so days where I am driving to Prince Edward County or Kingston – I’m tasting all the wines I’m packing before breakfast.
GFR: Hopefully we are on the other side of this pandemic *fingers crossed*… how did the pandemic impact your professional life? And how have you bounced back?
KP: Whew, not an easy time for anyone. I had a little one when the pandemic hit and we were preparing at that time to start daycare.. I ended up staying home for a few more years than planned and was honestly very worried about how I’d be able to get back in the industry in a full-time role. My husband was very busy with work during the pandemic and I got to serve part-time when things eased up a tiny bit, the busy weekend nights at a great restaurant here in Ottawa. I started studying wine again. I’ve dreamt of this role since I was pregnant in 2018, so it’s my big bounce back from becoming a mum and the pandemic.
GFR: Please tell us a little about your Sommelier history? What kind of experience and training wine-wise did you have before doing what you are doing today? And looking back, if you could, would you have made different decisions?
KP: I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 15, everything – McDonald’s, pubs, wine bars, fine dining, tasting menus, and I would change nothing, it was a wild education. Most of my training was on the job, and I took my Introductory exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2015 as my first formal foray. I’ve also done my Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET level 3. I would like to have more certifications on paper – but I am happy to do them now.
GFR: When did you first decide that you would actually like a career in wine?… and was it with a view to being a Sommelier?
KP: I was 21, serving at a restaurant and wine bar, Juniper, in Ottawa. It was definitely with a view to being a sommelier! The sommelier there was a really cool woman in her 20s, just a few years older than me, coming to work in the afternoon in nice dress clothes, tasting wine, meeting suppliers, and touching each table during service. The guests were all smiles, and she was talking about wines I had never heard of. I was floored, I absolutely had to figure out how to do that.
I hadn’t worked at restaurants at that level yet and here’s a young woman with the coolest job I’d ever heard of. I got to taste a lot at the bar at the end of my shift. It was a deep google dive on Aglianico that did it. There was such a cool culture there, her, the chef/owners and GM were awesome. Their passion for food, wine and absolutely perfect service was really infectious. I was studying sociology at the time (which I was finding very depressing). Unfortunately the place closed a few months after I started. I wish I had kept in touch with her better (I thought she was such a rockstar, and she still is) but I’m really glad we’re in touch now.
GFR: So who or what gave you your very first insight into the world of wine? Did you have a wine epiphany?
KP: It’s not a really impressive wine epiphany story, but honestly – a proper Moscato d’Asti vs. the cheap Australian one was a huge discovery for me, my father gave it to me around when I started at Juniper. He’s always been super into wine. It’s our thing together now. He collects a bit and took a sommelier course at Algonquin as a hobby. Since he talked about wine all the time and wouldn’t let us open certain ones at Christmas, I had absorbed a bit.
GFR: How aware of wine were you while growing up there? Were you around wine from an early age?
KP: For sure, always aware but not super interested, wine was always around for dinner and holidays.
GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?
KP: Probably at church! We grew up Catholic. I can’t remember, but I do remember my younger brother loved the taste of red wine as a toddler. My parents thought he’d think it was gross when they offered him a taste and had to refuse him when he kept asking for more.
GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?
KP: Oh, I’m not sure yet, I have a kindergartener. But I think wine should be a normal part of the dinner table and of life. If something isn’t forbidden I think it’s less likely to be over-consumed. It’s produced by so many cool people from so many different cultures, with the most incredible lessons to learn about geography and human history. My daughter helps organize the wine bottles, she smells wine and gives her notes, she reads the ABC’s of wine, she’s visited wineries, but she’s never asked to taste it. She says she wants to be a winemaker when she grows up – of sparkling and Chardonnay. All I know is the first sip won’t be of sweet stuff – can’t have kids thinking it’s liquid candy.
GFR: Haha… I hear you there!
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 vibe from some of the usual suspects in the mixology crowd, full-on Jordan Peterson fans and all that stuff.I saw one of the usual suspects defend Andrew Tate the other month. WTF is going on there? I’d love to hear your thoughts?
KP: I definitely don’t know those guys! I absolutely have some selective exposure going on here – of who I interact with in real life and follow on social media. People in the industry who I admire- celebrity wine writers, winemakers, and somms, and locally.. I just don’t think we have any real arsehole somms in Ottawa, or I haven’t run into them yet.
GFR: Oh, maybe not as bad as Toronto, but you certainly do!
So, natural wine is basically the new normal in many places… I’m pretty choosy when it comes to my personal forays into that world. What’s your take? And how do natural wines fit into things at Noble?
KP: What a question!! I love both “natural” wine and “conventional” wine. I think I prefer wines that are “testable” because we’ve studied so long it’s a relief when things taste and pair the way you thought they would on paper. But natural wine is exciting too – when the climate is blessed, grapes are perfectly healthy and the winemaker decides they don’t have to add or take away anything. There’s some really cool wines with nice texture.. recently re-discovered varietals or explorations of ancient ways of doing things.. I love history! I don’t like exploding pet nats and I think there’s a too many imaginary sulfite allergies coming from people eating salami but I can’t complain about natural wine becoming popular.
At Noble we have a really great mix of producers and styles, and many that are organic, biodynamic, sustainable.. I know it’s different, natural is about the low intervention winemaking process, but these designations about the vineyard are more important to me personally. Then again a lot farm organically and don’t apply for the certification because it can be expensive, or they don’t agree with some things that the organic certification allows in their country.
It can be snooty too, to think that a family relying financially on a good harvest, farming mostly organically, in a tough climate, wouldn’t do one spray should things suddenly go wrong? Is it natural wine if the grapes are conventionally grown? Does it go with the natural ethos to create an insane amount of pollution getting it from Europe to your table? Or is it just about the taste? I don’t know. I will continue to enjoy drinking all the wines.
GFR: How would you say that your palate has evolved over the years?
For example, I went through an old vine Zinfandel phase. I revisited such wines last year back… Hmmmm… interesting, but really not for me any more.
KP: OH the phases, right?! Cheap Malbec and Moscato, to the Anything But Chardonnay phase, Riesling over everything, to the weirdest wines I can find.. I think the best growth period was discovering good Chardonnay.
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines?
KP: I love Canadian wines and Ottawa is especially keen on them. In Ottawa we are really proud of our local products and you see a lot of good Canadian wine on the lists. Kingston and the County are great supporters of PEC of course. Naturally, like in every wine producing region, there are a few wineries making cheap bulk wine, or that are outside of the regions with great terroir, but we should be really proud of our world class wineries.
GFR: What do you think we do well here in Canada, and how is the interest for them at Noble?
KP: We do sparkling really well in Canada, as well as still Riesling, Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.. We have great interest in sparkling at Noble (we represent two of the very best, 13th Street from Niagara and Hinterland in Prince Edward County). Vicki from Hinterland says the most consistent thing about Ontario summers is that they are inconsistent (I love that). The terroir was speaking to them to make sparkling. In terms of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Cloudsley is laser focused on these varietals and getting a lot of (well-deserved) love. The single vineyard expressions are incredible. I could talk about these wineries forever and always have Canadian wine in my bag at tastings.
Of course, I think we do Icewine really well in Canada (13th Street in particular), and I’d like to see it on more wine lists or after dinner drinks on dessert menus are such a nice touch.. A lot of tourists ask for it in Ottawa and it would be so cool to be able to recommend a restaurant with an extensive Icewine collection.
GFR: And what do you feel we should really give up on?
KP: Hmm. Fruit wine. Not a fan. But really, it’s so difficult and expensive here, that anyone who isn’t striving for world class wine… doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know. There’s a lot of average/good value wine coming in at cheaper than a Canadian winery could offer so it’s important to see real quality and sense of place.
GFR: Interesting answer there.
How do you feel about Canadian support for our local wine industry?
KP: I feel very good about it in Ottawa in particular, and among the younger generations. Not to be ageist but some people that remember Canadian wine in its infancy and haven’t tasted it since should give it a chance before speaking about it.
GFR: Just as there is from everywhere in the world, there is quite a lot of dreadful wine coming from Canada (BC, Quebec, Ontario et al.) also. How do you feel about the issue of people simply promoting something because it is local, and not because of its quality?
KP: Oh, I don’t see how it’s profitable really, but I guess the business depends on what is most important to the end consumer (you and I are not their target).. and I do respect individual budget constraints and concerns about international shipping and its effects on the environment..
GFR: Has your job allowed you to travel much?
That’s one thing that I really missed through the pandemic, going on wine trips… although I don’t know if I’ll ever want to get on a plane again!
KP: Yes, I am so excited to be working at Noble, we had an incredible trip through Spain last year – Rioja, Cariñena, Priorat, and Penedès. It was actually my first time in Europe. There will be more in the years to come to visit suppliers!
GFR: Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit over the years?
KP: I have never taken much time off work to travel in the past, so spent time visiting local regions – Prince Edward County, Niagara, and the Finger Lakes, before working for Noble.
GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?
KP: I have not.
GFR: And where would you like to make wine (in a pipe dream)?
KP: Oh god, I don’t know. I love wine so much and love to be so well-researched before attempting something, I’d be heartbroken if I was bad at it. But it’s a whole different set of skills than working with wine in a restaurant or in sales, so I don’t think I could just take off and make wine. Maybe in an alternate world I’d study winemaking in New Zealand and make wine there. My parents lived there for a while and speak very fondly of it.
GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?
KP: I actually miss managing people on the floor, pulling off (the appearance of) a seamless service together, fixing problems. Bottles don’t get shipped on time, get held up at the Montreal port, or in lab, or any number of things and we go out of stock. That can be hard. Bottles don’t drink on shift though.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
KP: Highs have for sure been getting my first wine buyer role and my current role. Lows.. running out of wine a guest or a buyer wants!!
GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?
KP: Victoria James, especially for young female sommeliers. I’d love to eat and drink at Côte some day and I loved her book Wine Girl. I’ve thought, in the past, that it’s lame to write a book about your life when you’re still very young, but it’s obviously very good, and what a good thing she didn’t wait to publish.
GFR: And for Wine Agents/Importers?
KP: I’m not trying to brown nose ,but my boss Craig! (*cough* – JD) He is extremely calm, honest, and has fun in the business. He has a way with people and he’s grown Noble exponentially. It’s a really cool list and we always have something new to learn and share.
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… I have them all the time, and I haven’t been in the role for over eleven bloody years!!!
KP: I totally sympathize, I have a similar nightmare. Now I also have nightmares that I forgot to put an order in. We only have one delivery day a week in Ottawa, so it’s crucial.
GFR: Wine folks famously have their Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
KP: Yes, I love Sundays. The perfect day would be to go swimming with my daughter and have family and friends over for dinner in the evening.
GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink in Ottawa… perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of your city?
KP: This is so tough because I don’t want to forget anybody. I’m going to stay away from downtown – We have SO many excellent places to dine, and a lot of new spots have opened this summer… I could list 50 restaurants as favourites!!
One thing I love about working for Noble is having the excuse to venture outside of downtown – Aperitivo in Kanata is awesome, Angelina in Manotick, Le St-Laurent in the east end has the best views of the city. Worth the long drives too are Riva in Gananoque, Chez Piggy, Pan Chancho, Olivea (and more) in Kingston. Bocado, Adega, and Merrill House in Prince Edward County are incredible.
GFR: A WHOLE LOAD of places I have never been to, right there.
Which reminds me, Thierry at Adega has been sitting on one of these Young Blood Sommelier interviews for over a year now!
Do you like to cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?
KP: Yes, I love to cook. I like the time alone, off my phone. Lately, mostly tons of salads to go with BBQ. Risotto is another fave.
GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?
KP: Many more cooking disasters since becoming a parent, forgetting things in the oven, or turning the heat off so we can go outside before things are really done… it happens.
GFR: I know ALL about that. Thankfully when they get a little older they can be your mini Sous Chef.
Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Ottawa?
KP: I do, I’d like to see more portfolio tastings and industry wide events. People are laidback here and very supportive of each other.
GFR: Do you hang out often with other Sommeliers? And if you do, do you only shoot the shit about wine?
KP: Not as often as I used to, I’m trying to be home every evening!
GFR: How do you feel about Ottawa as a wine and cocktail city? Where do you go if you need to get your wine or cocktail on?
KP: Ottawa is crushing it, I think our friends in Toronto would be surprised. Cocktails – The Moon Room, it’s an institution. Wine, oh everywhere, but Arlo is always a treat. Cocktails are excellent there too.
GFR: What do you feel you would be doing if you were not doing what you are doing today?
KP: I’d be working on the floor, for sure.
GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?
KP: The Bear Season 2 Episode 7, where Richie stages in FOH, and hospitality just clicks for him. I never cry at tv and movies but this was beautiful.
GFR: Interesting choice. I just couldn’t get into that show at all. Perhaps I should give it a second go, although I think it brings back PTSD of being in service!
Do you have many non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?
KP: Definitely, and I’m glad to be back around them on the weekends! They definitely appreciate the bottles I bring over, and restaurant recommendations and are happy I’ve found a dream job.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?
KP: I think it’s a very useful and important skill to assess a wine’s quality.. but it doesn’t really come up in “real life” working in wine besides studying or judging.
GFR: Are you a better blind taster with or without a bad hangover? I’m definitely the former…
KP: I try much harder when I’m hungover to prove it’s not affecting me.. haha.
GFR: Some of the best tasters I know are heavy smokers… What are your thoughts there?
KP: I mean science says it dulls your palate so they must be really gifted to begin with. I remember reading the Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter and he didn’t even serve cocktails, didn’t want guests to have liquor dull their palate before drinking wine. Still sticks out to me as a super interesting choice all these years later.
GFR: In your mind, what is “hot” in the world of wine right now? And why?
KP: Consumers are definitely concerned about the environment- how the grapes are grown, how the wine is packaged, and more.. Wine in cans and alternative packaging.. People also want low and no alcohol wine.. shout out to Knyota Drinks in Ottawa, Benson has a really cool shop for NA beverages.
GFR: I’m all over the non-alcoholic stuff, and am often blown away by how damn good some of them are these days.
Aside from these fashions in wine drinking, what’s your current favourite wine style/region? And why?
KP: How do I choose just one.. Spanish wine will always be in rotation. I love the still wines from Penedès, expecially Xarel lo.
GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour? Why do you feel that is?
KP: I think people are looking for less expensive alternatives to the classic regions. It’s a numbers game when you have to mark it up too.
GFR: When it comes to wine, is there anything that you feel is terribly overrated?
KP: I don’t, there are wines that are not for me, but every wine has its guest that would order it and love it.
GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now, something nice and seasonal?
KP: Lambrusco and bbq sausages
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as a Sommelier? For me it was the f****** inventory. Oh, and breaking down boxes… and the resultant papercuts (I have such soft hands!)
KP: May I be honest? I don’t like to schedule days when I have a supplier in market. I LOVE them when they’re happening, learning from them, and tasting with a bunch of people in one day, but it’s the planning and the timing can really stress me out! I consider myself an organized person and I worry about making it the perfect day for weeks. Inevitably a somm I’d have loved them to meet gets sick or has to cancel last minute. That’s life! At the end of the day I’m always relieved with how it went, but I could really do without the planning phase.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew? And why?
KP: Classic waiter’s corkscrew. I used to buy flashy pink ones so no one would pocket mine at the restaurant. I’m glad our branded ones are solid!
GFR: I’ll have to get Craig to send me one!
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?
KP: I try to keep myself in check by setting a curfew of home at midnight!
GFR: That’s a pretty decent rule… not sure if I could stick to it, but it’s admirable.
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 is the late nights of drinking and recreational pharmaceuticals. I don’t think my body could take it any longer anyway!
KP: I’m almost ashamed to admit I was “captain no fun”… at the end of the day service slips if you’re drunk/high and I took it so seriously.
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… at the City Café.
KP: My husband says “we probably don’t need to open another bottle” all the time. At the end of the day I’m grateful.
GFR: As my wife doesn’t drink, it’s usually ““we probably don’t need to open another bottle” all the time.
Which leads rather neatly into the next question… do you happen to have a good hangover cure? None of the cures given to me by previous interviewees have really done the job for me… well, apart from the suggestion about CBD gummies.
KP: Oh I agree with them, wake up early, CBD (the tea for me though), lots of water, go for a walk, cold shower!
GFR: How many wines do you “taste” in a week these days?
KP: Anywhere between 30 and hundreds!!
GFR: When tasting with agents did you choose to spit or swallow?
KP: As the agent, I spit, I’ve got to drive those samples around!
GFR: What’s your “house” wine at home?
KP: Parés Baltà Cava, 13th Street Pinot Gris, and Cloudsley Pinot Noir.
GFR: Cloudsley Pinot Noir. Great stuff!
Most remembered glass of wine ever?
KP: Many years ago at work I tasted a 1936 Rivesaltes from Chateau Sisqueille and I remember my boss describing the production and saying they couldn’t be sure if it was really from 1936.. I don’t think it’s the most expensive wine I’ve tasted but certainly the oldest!
GFR: What is your perfect glass (or bottle) of wine at the end of a crazy day at work?
GFR: Coffee or tea?
GFR: Lemon, horseradish, mignonette, or hot sauce?
GFR: Vindaloo or Korma?
GFR: Milk or dark?
GFR: Ketchup, mayonnaise, or salt & vinegar?
GFR: Blue, R, MR, M, MW, W, Charcoal?
GFR: Finally… What three pieces of advice would you give to a young fresh-faced Kenzie Peippo, as she was beginning her wine journey?
KP: Don’t second guess yourself. Write everything down. Be nice but don’t lend anyone your wine books, you will never see them again.
GFR: That last one is classic!
Thank you for taking the time, Kenzie. It is very much appreciated. As this is a long interview.
Edinburgh-born/Ontario-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, educator, and Dad, Jamie Drummond is the Director/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 seriously knows his shit and just celebrated his 85th birthday!
A well-known and much respected figure on the Toronto food and wine scene