Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

In the second of an fifteenth (and wildly popular) series, we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario (and occasionally from further afield as is the case this month). 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.

Today we tap into the mind of Kristi Linneboe, a talented Sommelier I bumped into at Vancouver’s L’Abattoir restaurant whilst I was nursing a nascent flu. Her charm, wit, and wine ensured that I somehow weathered the storm, and so I felt it would be only fitting to feature her in our Young Blood Sommelier series.

Expect to see a few more Sommeliers from Vancouver in the coming months…

Good Food Revolution: So Kristi, what is it that you are doing these days out in Vancouver? (Your position, and what that role entails)

Kristi Linneboe: Besides worshipping Mother Nature and all things outdoors, I am a part of an amazing wine community that continues to inspire me everyday. Just the other day, for example, I got together with a bunch of wine nerds to taste through various bottles of sparkling wine from the same plots and same vintages but at different stages of disgorgement and development. So fun!

Currently, I am working as a Sommelier at L’Abattoir restaurant in Gastown. I truly think that hospitality brings out my favourite qualities in myself. I love meeting new people and being a part of facilitating happiness and celebration. Not only do I love coming into work but I spend my days off reading wine books, getting lost in maps, ‘breaking bread’, and sharing with others… I know I’m committed to a career in hospitality because all I want to do outside of work is what I do everyday at work!

GFR: And what kind of experience and training did you have before doing what you do today?

KL: I was working as a bartender at Maenam Restaurant when I first started getting into the world of wine. Chef Angus An really opened my eyes through all the exotic flavours of his Thai cuisine. I had so much fun creating cocktails to pair with spicy, sour, sweet, and salty. The wine consultant at the time, Kurtis Kolt, who has since become a friend and mentor, taught me how much fun it could be to pair those flavours with wine as well. I started taking my WSET courses and Kurtis soon passed the reins onto me. I was so honoured to become the Wine Director at Maenam and learnt a lot about leadership throughout the process. I eventually started to feel that there is only so much you can learn when you’re self-guided and found myself craving a new learning experience.

GFR: How would you describe your role at L’Abattoir?

KL: I am a Sommelier at L’Abattoir, under the wing of my Queen Bee, Wine Director, personal mentor, and recently crowned ‘Best Sommelier of the Year’ by Vancouver Magazine, Lisa

Haley. She scooped me up from Maenam right at the moment I needed it most and welcomed me to the team at L’Abattoir. Being a part of the management team means that I help to run the floor during service; welcoming guests as they enter the restaurant, keep the team motivated and professional, and as the Sommelier, I help with the selecting and opening of wine for regulars and out-of-town guests.

Lisa gives me homework assignments and weekly challenges that keep me stimulated and engaged above and beyond my job description. She will present me with a series of tasks like the following: “List 10 wines that have had a lasting impression on you” or “Tell me about two wine lists that you love and why. Neither of them can be from Vancouver” or “Present two ideas about alternative wine service” or “Read this article or chapter from this book. Do you agree with his conclusion? Why or why not?” In addition to these homework assignments, I am responsible for staff training sessions (on topics such as “Understanding Sparking Winemaking Methods” or “Suggested Dessert Wine Pairings”) as well creating and updating a detailed Wine Syllabus whenever we get a new product in. Over the past several months, I have also assisted Lisa in the facilitation of numerous agency-led wine tastings, a full day of Top Drop seminars, as well as multiple winemakers and wine-paired dinners.

GFR: You have worked in a number different types of places… how does L’Abattoir compare? Tell us a little about the place for those who are unfamiliar…

KL: L’Abattoir is located in Gastown, which is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver.

The restaurant was built in the 19th century and is the site of Vancouver’s first jail. Once the neighbourhood’s main butchery and in the heart of the meatpacking district, the cuisine plays well into the name’s definition of ‘Slaughterhouse’; meat-focused and French-inspired meets Pacific Northwest. The philosophy behind the wine list is based on the philosophy of the cuisine: French-influenced West Coast fare, with a focus on Old World wines. The wines show restraint and elegance, just like the food.

GFR: How open do you find the clientele to trying new things when it comes to wines? Is there a specific style of wine that the demographic crave? And just what is that demographic?

KL: Every service presents a new challenge at L’Abattoir and I truly feel that there is something for everyone on the list. The list focuses on smaller producers and sustainable viticulture. Lisa has created a list that seeks a balance between the new and the established. Sometimes that means unknown producers from well-known regions. Sometimes well-known varieties being

grown in unknown regions. Sometimes all the factors are unknown and the onus is on us to know the product in and out and share a brand new experience with the open-minded customer. Our demographic is all over the map. It’s a very modern room but fine-dining food and professional service. The room is very dynamic and gets loud and vibey. Sometimes our older guests think it’s too loud when I crank old-school hip hop beats during service. But for the most part, I get props on the beats, and often from the most unassuming guests.

GFR: What’s the size and scope of the wine program that you run?

KL: There are about 140 wines on the list but we always carry off-list items too. The list is definitely Old World focused but there is a complete range of expressions from all over the world. The list is organized from North to South and West to East. We also offer a rotation of 8 different Grower Champagnes and local fizz on our “Bubbles At Brunch!” menu, which provides tremendous value for sparkling wines, only available at brunch.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

GFR: Does your job allow you to travel much? Where have you been lately?

KL: My team is really great about giving me time off to enjoy my personal life, as well as providing me with the opportunity to travel as an Ambassador of L’Abattoir. Last spring, I had the pleasure of going on a Somm trip to Culmina winery in Oliver, BC, and next week, I’ll be spending the night at Tinhorn Creek in the Southern Okanagan. Almost one year ago, I traveled to Europe for a wedding and gave myself an extra week to bike through the rain-drenched vineyards of Burgundy. I have to give a shout out to a local agency, Trialto Wine Group, for hooking me up with all of my visits to unbelievable wineries. I would not have had the same experience if it wasn’t a referral I established through L’Abattoir.

GFR: What sets Vancouver apart as a wine and food city?

KL: A large Asian demographic and our close proximity to the sea makes our food scene diverse and delicious. Fresh seafood and a multitude of cuisines are definitely a draw to our visitors. Furthermore, Vancouver is the big city out here in BC, which is of course a tremendously important wine growing region in Canada. It is such an exciting time for BC wine and it is so inspiring to be at the epicenter of it.

GFR: Now, how do I word this? Have you drunk the “Natural Wine Kool Aid”? I’m just kidding, kind of… To be quite honest with you, I’m sick fed up of “natural wine” zealots who chose to preach the gospel of their wines with nothing but derision for those who feel otherwise. Saying that, I do feel that there are some astounding “Natural” wines out there, so don’t get me wrong. How do you feel about the scene?

KL: I definitely haven’t drank the Kool Aid but I appreciate my fair share of natural wines. I choose to use natural products on my body and prefer to nourish myself with non-processed foods, so I can appreciate a winemaker’s decision to make a non-interventionist wine. I think that there is a lot to be learned from the biodynamic and natural winemaking practices happening in France and Italy for example, since they have been making wine this way for hundreds of years. So while I don’t have a problem with people sticking to a particular philosophy, I do have a problem with it when it overrides their drive for quality or deliciousness. I like there to be less shit in my wine but I think that a little sulfur dioxide can go a long way in terms of stimulating clean fermentation practices, preventing oxidation and providing stability during shipping and storage. I want to drink delicious wine; I will therefore say no to a natural wine that has lost its sense of place. I don’t want my wine to taste of brettanomyces for example, but instead, to be varietally and regionally sound.

GFR: What makes for a good agent/supplier in your mind?

KL: A good agent is someone who knows what they’re talking about. It drives me nuts when I ask questions about soil types and vinification processes and I get a wishy-washy unresearched response. It also helps if the agent has an understanding of the restaurant side of the business as opposed to simply retail goals or margins.

GFR: And what makes for a bad agent/supplier?

KL: I don’t want to buy wine from a businessman who is giving me a sales pitch; I want to buy wine from a wine lover who stands behind the producer they’re bringing in.

GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines? Do you ever see anything but BC stuff in your market?

KL: I definitely don’t drink enough Canadian wine. I recognize and celebrate that it is such an exciting time for BC wine but, as a student of wine, I find myself always looking to classic expressions from around the world. I am a sucker for the Old World; especially France and Italy. Very rarely do we see wines from Ontario or Nova Scotia in our market, to be honest. The host country at this year’s International Wine Festival was Canada, in honour of our 150th birthday, which was a fantastic opportunity to taste some of the wines and get to know some the

producers that are doing remarkable things back East. I am currently working on a BC wine flight idea and preparing for a staff seminar about BC wine so the team can feel prepared and proud to showcase our local wine as the tourists start to roll through the city.

GFR: Have to had the opportunity to try much from Ontario? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

KL: I was a bit too young to be interested in wine when I left my home province of Ontario and made the pilgrimage out West nearly 10 years ago. The only wineries I’ve really had the opportunity to try and fall in love with are Norman Hardie, Stratus, and Pearl Morrissette from Niagara and Prince Edward County.. Seriously tasty juice! An excellent reminder that Ontario does way more than just killer ice wine. I will be leading a seminar next month at Top Drop Wine Festival about organic and biodynamic wines, and one of the wineries that I’ve been paired up with is Tawse Winery on the Niagara Escarpment – really looking forward to trying their wines!

GFR: Yeah, that inter-provincial protectionism is a bitch when it comes to wine. Can you see a way forward here?

KL: Yes, big time bitch. But I can only deal with it in the way I know best, which is through optimism. While the North, South, East and West all produce such varied styles and expressions, it is crucial we come together and spread the Canadian love.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

GFR: How open are your customers to Canadian wines?

KL: Our guests are always asking for Canadian wine! The biggest challenge is formating an outline that hits different varietals, regions and price points on the list. There are many BC wineries within the same style and price point that it can be hard to narrow it down sometimes. We switch up the producers every now and then to showcase a few different local gems.

GFR: Just as there is from everywhere in the world, there is quite a lot of dreadful wine coming from Canada (BC, Ontario et al.) also. How do you feel about the issue of people simply promoting something because of it being local, and not because of its quality?

KL: This echoes some of the comments I made about natural wine.. While philosophy and promotion of local goods are both important, so is deliciousness. There is a stigma attached to Canadian wine because of the mainstream wines that give it a bad rep. There are many small producers like Nichol, Orofino, Tantalus, Meyer, Synchromesh and Blue Mountain for example,

that are totally worth fighting for. They make a strong case against shitty wine.. The good stuff definitely outweighs the bad!

GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?

KL: My parents are European! They always had wine with dinner. They love the idea of ‘breaking bread’ and proposing a family toast but we never had fancy wine at home. My parents would budget $10 on a bottle for dinner at home, but still knew how to splurge on special occasions.

GFR: Can you remember your first taste of wine?

KL: My first taste of wine was more than likely at home with my parents. It wasn’t until I started tasting the good stuff that I really started to think wine was delicious.

GFR: When do you feel children should be introduced to the wonderful world of wine?

KL: I think alcohol should be introduced in the home. My mother is Norwegian and my father is Danish. In Denmark, you can get a Tuborg out of a vending machine in any public place. 60 year olds party with 16 year olds. There is a much more open philosophy about alcohol over there, which I’m very grateful that my parents introduced me to. There are lessons to be learnt from getting trashed on vodka coolers in your first year dorm at University, don’t get me wrong, but there is definitely a more mature mentality that develops when you’re taught to enjoy alcohol as a beverage instead of simply a means to getting drunk.

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?

KL: I only decided that wine would be my career within the last couple of years. After two Degrees at University, I always thought I’d have a job in the Communications field. I worked a few Government jobs behind a desk and quickly realized that hospitality was way more my rhythm. I always had a part-time restaurant job to get me through University, so it was a natural progression to fully immerse myself in it and start taking it seriously.

GFR: So who or what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?

KL: I have to credit my former boyfriend, Edwin Hammond for getting me into wine. He always had a great love for wine and always had books to read and stories to tell. We rarely had beer or whiskey in the fridge, but we always had wine. I never fully understood his love affair with wine until many years after we separated.

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?

KL: My biggest turn-off in this industry is ego. It is impossible to know everything about wine, so why get all caught up in who knows more or who drank what? To be honest, th e more I learn about wine, the more I realize how much more there is to know about wine. The study of wine is the study of the world – it is social, historical, political and environmental. Everyday I learn something new about topography, geology, geography, climate change, sustainability, and so much more. Wine is alive. It is constantly changing. You can drink a wine from the exact same plot of land year after year and you will never drink the same wine twice. Wine laws, governmental regulations and land ownership are constantly changing, (just as the Earth is constantly evolving), which is why it is important to be constantly immersed in research and information.

I think the best part about learning is sharing it with others. I love when people taste a wine, fall in love with it and become inspired and excited to ask questions about what it is and where it came from. Wine is all about the story: who made it, what makes it different from other wines, why it tastes the way it does, and why it is the right wine for that moment.. I love it when an organic conversation about viticulture arises over dinner instead of out of a textbook… Giving people knowledge creates an opportunity to connect people together.

GFR: Which wine regions have you had the opportunity to visit?

KL: Burgundy! What a treat that was! It was almost exactly a year ago that I had the pleasure to visit the Motherland. I went to Berlin for one of my best friends’ wedding and decided it would be foolish not to extend my trip so I could finally see Burgundy first hand. It rained every day but it was worth every moment.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

GFR: Have you ever made your own wine?

KL: Never! I would absolutely love to. Lisa is close with some of the winemakers in the Okanagan and we’ve flirted with the idea of teaming up with one of the wineries and making a special cuvee for L’Abattoir.

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

KL: I’ve heard the Douro is the most spectacular wine region on the planet so part of me thinks it would be so picturesque to make wine in Portugal. And the thought of living and making wine in the Italian hillsides is ever so romantic. Realistically however, I speak French and would get so much joy to be immersed in a winegrowing culture, where I can speak the language and participate in the local community. Where in France? Everywhere. I am a sucker for the sunshine so I might try my luck in Roussillon or Languedoc. Right by the sea.

GFR: So do you prefer to manage people or bottles and why?

KL: I’m a people person. I love being a cheerleader for my teammates but at the end of the day, I can’t wait to organize the wine fridge or ogle the wine wall to see what I want to sell next.

GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?

KL: Career highs? L’Abattoir is absolutely a career high for me. I’m so happy at my job. Last year, I received a Premier Cru service award from Vancouver Magazine for my tenure at Maenam, which was pretty awesome. Furthermore, just a few months ago, I was awarded a scholarship from the BC Hospitality Foundation for my wine education. I’m looking forward to using it towards the spirits portion of my WSET Diploma in July.

Career lows? Probably the shitty local pub I worked at, while trying to get through University. The food was pre-packaged garbage, I didn’t come home til 4am and my hangovers the next mornings were out of control because my alcoholic boss would force me to drink Jameson shots all night.. Needless to say, the place doesn’t exist anymore. And you gotta start somewhere, right? No regrets, just lessons learned.

GFR: Who is, in your mind, a real role model for Sommeliers?

KL: DJ Kearney. She is a legend. DJ was one of my WSET instructors, she is a wine writer, judge, events coordinator and now, Wine Director of New District wine shop. She will send me words of encouragements when I need it most, and lights up any room she walks into. DJ has taught me that knowledge is power; commitment to continuous education and embracing infinite learning brings perspective and open-mindedness which undoubtedly leads to endless opportunities.

GFR: Oh yes… I agree with you there! DJ is amazing.

And for Wine Agents/Importers?

KL: Nicole Campbell at Lifford Wines & Spirits. She is spunky fresh, extremely hardworking and knowledgeable. I had the pleasure of getting to know her out here in Vancouver before she moved back to the company’s home base. She just received an award for Top 30 under 30 in Ontario Hospitality – well deserved! She would taste me on relevant wines and share so much information and enthusiasm about the producers she tasted me on. She is a mentor and friend who deserves all the success coming to her!

GFR: Ah yes… Nicole is a hoot. I’m very fond of her.

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. And I haven’t been in the role for over six and half years!!!

KL: Absolutely. I’ve dreamt that I can’t find bottles or that every bottle I open is corked. I’ve also dreamt, more than once strangely enough, that I forgot to wear pants to the table and for some reason I am the only person in the restaurant that didn’t notice.. I always check that I’m clothed when I leave the house now.

GFR: Sommeliers famously have their Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?

KL: I wish! I think I’ve had one Sunday off since I’ve worked at L’Abattoir. Lisa and I launched our Bubbles At Brunch! Program to promote brunch at L’Abattoir. We offer crazy prices on limited bottles of Grower Champagne and sparkling wine, only at brunch. It has been fun and successful so I’m happy to be a part of it.. But lazy Sundays truly are the best. My idea of a perfect Sunday involves hiking in Squamish, park beers, take-out Indian food, and late night movie marathons in a cuddle puddle of pals. I’m always open to productivity, but it is so rare for me to have a lazy day and I think it’s importantly to indulge every now and then.

GFR: Where are your favourite places to dine and drink.. perhaps tell us a hidden treasure of your city?

KL: My hidden gem is Merchants on the Drive. A neighbourhood oyster bar that specializes in local, seasonal, sustainable and delicious. Chef and Owner, Doug Stephen, is an incredible host

and humble cook. Other favourite places include Osteria Savio Volpe, Nightingale, Kissa Tanto, and Ask for Luigi, just to name a few. There is a very long list of amazing restaurants in Vancouver!

GFR: Do you cook yourself? What’s your favourite dish to cook these days?

KL: I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not a very good cook. I specialize in fresh salads and simple ingredients. Oh, and I love barbecuing. I’m always working at dinner time, so the only meal I ever really prepare for myself is breakfast – I’ve become great at rye toast with eggs, tomato, cucumber, and avocado. Ha! I love kitchen parties and playing the role of sous chef to someone who can give me directions. I did make pasta from scratch for the first time recently which was great fun! Looking forward to more culinary adventures!

GFR: And have you had any cooking disasters recently?

KL: Hmm apparently my recent banana bread was a little dry. And the last time I had a potluck with pals, I attempted to make mashed potatoes to accompany the chicken I was roasting in the oven. I didn’t have any milk in the fridge so I decided to use coconut milk instead. Turns out it was ginger and lemongrass infused coconut milk, which did not make for a great pairing. I won’t be doing that again..

GFR: Do you feel that there is a good Sommelier community in Vancouver? On my recent trip I was made to feel most welcome there!

KL: Absolutely! I am honoured to work alongside so many aspiring wine professionals who are illuminating the Vancouver restaurant scene at such an exciting time for the emerging BC wine region. I am so grateful to be a part of this incredible wine community that offers amazing support structure through organizations like the BC Hospitality Foundation, Les Dames d’Escoffier, BC Wine Institute, CAPS, WSET, Wine Scholar Guild, Top Drop Vancouver, etc. I have learnt so much from my fellow peers and am committed to sharing my drive and passion with them for many years to come.. A student for life on this ongoing journey through the wonderful world of wine!

GFR: Do you hang about with other Sommeliers?

KL: All the time! Some of my closest friends are my wine friends.

GFR: How do you feel about Vancouver as a wine and cocktail city? Where do you go if you need to get your wine or cocktail on?

KL: Fantastic. I like to drink cocktails at The Keefer Bar, where a rotation of my pals play records nearly every night of the week. My favourite cocktail there is The Buffalo Soldier. Otherwise you’ll see me catching last call at The Diamond, which is a great cocktail bar right across the street from L’Abattoir in Gastown. If I feel like venturing away from the work hood, I might grab a cocktail at UVA Wine Bar, but if I’m closer to home-base on Commercial Drive, I’ll crush a margarita at La Mezcaleria – I still think they have the best margarita in the city!

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

KL: Anything that would allow me to travel and work abroad. I studied Communications and International Politics at University, which led me to believe I would end up working in radical or alternative media. I was always involved in social outreach projects and community building and I am definitely a people person, so I don’t doubt that it would be something social and adaptable.. The idea of sitting in a cubicle all day makes me squirm.

GFR: What are your thoughts on music in restaurants?

KL: Great. I notoriously play hip hop at L’Abattoir because I like to think I’m a G. And people are always complimenting my playlists. While I enjoyed it for the first 10 years, I might snap if I hear Air or Cafe del Mar in one more cafe. Get more creative people!

GFR: Do you have a favourite food/wine related scene in a film/movie or show?

KL: Lots of great wine movies out there! Of course I love the movie Somm. Other gems are ‘A Year in Burgundy’, ‘Sour Grapes’ and ‘Red Obsession’. I learn something new every time I revisit them so I will watch them over and over as I wait for the next wine movie to come out. Also, one of my guilty pleasures is watching Top Chef.

GFR: Do you have many non-industry friends… how do they feel about what you do for a living?

KL: I’m so lucky to have a huge circle of friends in the non-wine industry. For the most part, we are connected through the music community, but their careers have taken them into the world of

Film (Set Decorating and Prop Making, primarily), yoga, massage therapy, clothing design, accounting, digital marketing, and schoolteachers. It’s very rewarding to all bring different elements and perspectives together, and I think it’s important to have separation from the industry life to keep me grounded.

GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting wine?

KL: Love it. So humbling! As previously mentioned, I do it at least once a week with fellow Diploma students at Burdock & Co. Sometimes we have a theme like ‘Same variety, different regions’ or ‘Non-Burgundy Pinots’, and other times, we play bring your own bottle so that it is essentially the blind leading the blind. Blind tasting is excellent palate training.

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

KL: Yikes. Without!

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

Vancouver Sommelier Kristi Linneboe.

GFR: What’s your current favourite wine region?

KL: Italy. I am continuously fascinated by indigenous varietals and the differing expressions and styles that exists from North to South.

GFR: In your mind, as an Sommelier, what is “hot” in the world of wine right now? And why?

KL: The Jura. Located between Eastern France and the Swiss border, Jura is a unique cool climate and mountainous region where the vines grow on limestone soils that date back to the Jurassic period. Due to the steep terrain and northerly exposure, the vines grow on the south and southeast facing slopes in order to catch the most sunlight. While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown there, we do see a bit of the indigenous varietals like Trousseau, Poulsard and Savagnin in our market. Savignin is best known for their local specialty, ‘Vin Jaune’, which is a unique sherry-like wine that is deliberately exposed to oxygen during ageing. It is pretty tough to grow grapes there, which is why I think it’s trendy among Somms; the nerdier the better!

GFR: And what’s not so hot? What has fallen out of favour? I why do you feel that is?

KL: California. I think it is much more common among local Somms to drink crunchy and fresh instead of over-extracted, over-oaked, and high alcohol wines, which are often associated with California. Don’t get me wrong, there are incredible producers and a very wide range of styles coming out of many different regions in California, but I think it was so hot for a while, that now it is falling off the trend train a little bit. The California Wine Fair came to town last week and I thought it was interesting to hear most Somms in the room start the conversation off with “Well, it’s not really my style, but…”. Somms have this idea that French oak is more refined than New American oak and many just can’t get passed the few oak bombs that have set a bad rep for the rest of California.

GFR: When it comes to wine is there anything that you feel is overrated?

KL: Argentinian Malbec. I love Cot from Cahors and I think Argentina is a cool winegrowing region but I don’t understand the hype over Mendoza Malbec. There are 30 options on the liquor store shelf, that all come in at a similar price point. Why so many? It is structured, fragrant and concentrated, which are great selling features to the masses, but I never understood how it was considered an easy-drinking wine. I just find it exhausting to drink such a big wine on its own.

GFR: What is your favourite wine pairing right now, something nice and seasonal?

KL: It is the beginning of Spot Prawn season out West! These local delicacies are sweet, juicy and plump, and they are delicious simply grilled or steamed with lemon, butter, and cracked pepper. Local Spot Prawns with a bottle of Thomas Pico Pattes Loup Chablis. He is one of the youngest winemakers in Chablis. Small production and biodynamic juice that is bright and expressive with lemon peel and mineral depth. I’m salivating just thinking about it!

GFR: Okay… three pairings with me on the spot?… this time with… Hmmmm… Conservative Party Leader candidates… (trying to come up with something as topical as possible… I’m not a conservative for the record!)

What would you suggest to pair for them wine or beverage-wise… and why?

1. Kellie Leitch ?

KL: Domination through presence. Nation over individual. Apothic Red

2. Kevin O’Leary? (Who has since we spoke stepped back from the race)

KL: All about the money. Screaming Eagle

Conservative MP Michael Chong speaks during a news conference to announce he is running for the leadership of Conservative party in Ottawa, Canada, May 16, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

3. Michael Chong? 

KL: Trying to change things by embracing tradition. Marcel Lapierre

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

KL: Yes indeed! Sometimes all I want is a beer. My beer of choice is an India Pale Ale. I prefer a fruitier one to a very bitter style. I like India Session Ales too because they have that lighter, more citrusy character to them. Basically, I want something with flavour. I’ll drink a shitty lager if I’m out in the sunshine with good company and someone passes me an icy cold can, but I would never choose to buy myself a 6-pack. I am a cider lover too! – Especially because I find it less bloating than beer. While I’m into earthy and wild, I don’t like my ciders to be too cheesy or funky; I’m not into Kombucha if that gives you some perspective. There is a good local cider called Left Field Cider just outside of Merritt, in the BC Interior, that I really enjoy.

GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as a Sommelier?

KL: Egos.

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

KL: I have a few hardworking corkscrews in the pockets of my rotating work pants; Usually they are a gifts from agents. I like the high-hinged kind with a little notch for added leverage. Pulltap’s double lever is my jam! Right now, my go-to is a green one from La Chablisienne.

GFR: And your thoughts on the Coravin system… has it changed the playing field?

KL: Love it! We offer a rotating Coravin pour by the glass. It really is a great opportunity for us to open premium bottles and engage in a conversation with the curious diner or already converted wine enthusiast.

GFR: Speaking of which, where do you stand on the screwcap vs. cork debate? And how do your customers feel about that?

KL: There is something romantic about the cork. I love popping the cork out of the bottle and giving it a smell. I am a true lover of the Old World. I think screwcap is easy and I remind my guests that with a screwcap, it is nearly guaranteed that the wine will be in good condition, which everyone likes to hear.

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?

KL: I don’t think it would be excessive for 2 people to drink 2 bottles of wine at dinner. Yes, I am a lush. I’m pretty busy during the weekdays, so I try to keep it to a minimum if I’m working the next day. I’m always working in the evenings so in order to get productive in the daytime, I can’t sleep my day away. Committing to a morning yoga class or coffee date the next day also keeps me in check.

GFR: Have you ever been “cut off”? If so, where and when was the most recent time?

KL: Yes. At my 30th birthday party. I drank all the wine.

GFR: Speaking of which, do you have a good hangover cure?

KL: After the amount of hangovers I’ve had in my life, you’d think I’d have a good remedy by now! I always have a water chugging contest with myself before I go to bed. Otherwise, I’m still a believer in a banana in the morning. And coconut water. Then a greasy breakfast. If I have to work and am having a hard time sucking it up, I’ll pop an Advil.

GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?

KL: Depends on the week! Every Monday, I do blinds with a group of 8 or so fellow Diploma students and friends at Burdock & Co. So I always taste on Mondays. There is usually at least 1 seminar or tasting in a week beyond that. And I taste at work. And I always want a glass after work.. Sooo maybe 30 wines a week?

GFR: When tasting with agents do you choose to spit or swallow?

KL: Always spit.

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

KL: My white go-to is Ode d’Aydie from Pacherenc du Vic Bihl Sec. Its a blend of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng from Gascogne in the Southern France. Another go-to is the Collestefano Verdicchio. There might be a bottle of Von Winning Win Win Riesling kickin around in my fridge every now and then too.. My go-to red is anything by Catherine & Pierre Breton really. Or any Loire Valley Cabernet Franc for that matter. I’m lucky to live just down the street from Liberty Wine Merchants, which has a fantastic selection of smaller producers and geeky styles.

GFR: Most remembered glass of wine ever?

KL: Most memorable glass of wine ever was when I sabered a bottle of Champagne for the first time, which happened to be a bottle of Krug. It was a sunny day on the water in Seattle and I was perched and prepped for a picnic with a hot sandwich from Paseo and a glass stem filled with the nectar of the Gods.

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

KL: Something red, something lean and fresh. Langhe Nebbiolo or Rosso di Montalcino if I’m treating myself but Loire Valley Cab Franc or Beaujolais .. But not any Beaujolais – its gotta be Lapierre or Jean Paul Brun or Foillard.. Otherwise, gimme an IPA! I don’t want to think too hard after a crazy service.

GFR: And now the cheesy question Kristi… If you were a grape varietal which would you be? and why?

KL: I had a hard time answering this question because there are so many grapes I wish I could be! I asked Lisa and she says I am Riesling… Sunshine in a glass 😉 I can be sweet or dry. Some days I’m feeling sour or sassy but for the most part riesling is fresh and ages the most gracefully of all wines.

GFR: Thank you for taking the time Kristi.


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.