By Jamie Drummond
In the first of a regular series we interview some of the most talented up-and-coming Sommeliers in Ontario. A few months back I was flicking through the pages of a locally published periodical and noticed that when it came to Sommeliers it was the same names that seemed to pop up over and over again. I was also becoming gradually cognisant of the fact that we more established wine folks were well and truly “losing our edge” to these young blood Sommeliers.
Being well aware of the depth of new talent that was out there I finally decided to get together with a couple of fellow Toronto Sommelier “Old Guard” (Anton Potvin and Peter Boyd) to assemble a line of questioning that would give us an entertaining insight into the minds of these rising stars.
This week we approached Pizza Libretto/Enoteca Sociale Sommelier (and City Bites magazine cover girl) Lisa LaPointe:
Good Food Revolution: So what are you up to?
Lesa LaPointe: Well Jamie, I was attempting to finish my lunch before we started this interview… I’m running the wine programs for both Pizzeria Libretto and the soon-to-open Enoteca Sociale… you are here early aren’t you?
GFR: Please do not take this the wrong way Lesa, but given your previous tenure with Terroni and of course your current gig with Pizzeria Libretto I often think of you as the “pizza Sommelier”. Seeing as pizza is so often paired with beer, where do you see wine fitting in?
LL: Well this represents my whole thing… bringing wine down from its historical high horse… making great wine accessible to everyone in every circumstance… as most people in the wine industry know you don’t need to be eating the finest of French food to enjoy wine. I think my whole stance is about making wine accessible to everyone… and this leads into the way I describe wine, the way I speak about wine, the way I educate the staff about wine, and everything I do with wine.
GFR: How aware of wine were you whilst growing up? Were you around wine from an early age?
LL: I was certainly very much aware of wine, but not fine wine. My dad used to drink wine with every meal, actually, he was unable to enjoy a meal without wine. Part of daily life was packing a small bottle of wine into my father’s briefcase every morning.
GFR: What was the first wine that you can remember tasting/drinking?
LL: Ha… Homemade wine at my girlfriend’s house in the 9th Grade… I think that we consumed an awful lot of it. *laughs*
GFR: Who/what gave you your first insight into the world of wine?
LL: When I was 20 I managed to get a job working at Splendido and one evening a regular customer gave me glass of his Shafer Cabernet and I realised that I had never tasted a wine of that calibre before… not that it is a style of wine that I would necessary veer towards today… but at the time I had just never tried anything like it before. At this point I realised that wine could be something great.
GFR: The Sommelier world is notoriously male dominated. Do you feel that being female has been a help or a hindrance in your career?
LL: I would say that overall it’s a hindrance??? that can masquerade as a help. Like finding the answers to a test you gave been given, it can feel like cheating. I feel that women are less entitled to make errors in this business. I have to be really, really careful as I am running in such a man’s world and if I make a mistake then they’ll say “Oh, the Lady-Sommelier isn’t up to her game???” whereas if I was a guy people might be more inclined to say “Oh, he made a mistake, no big deal???” I think that I may have been given some great career opportunities because I am a woman??? people making a conscious decision to hire a female Sommelier. I think that sometimes the Boy’s club thinks it might be nice to have a lady present, a woman’s energy around. Too many dicks on the dance floor, if you know what I’m sayin’.
GFR: Do you have to work as a Manager as well as a Sommelier?
LL: I did and now I don’t… it’s taken a long time for me to claw my way out of that. When I had an amazing gig at Terroni I was working with John (Szabo) and making really good money. It wasn’t until I started looking applying for other jobs that I realised just how well I was being compensated, but the price was that I was also managing full time… as well as running a wine list with 200 labels and managing two wine cellars. I left Terroni with the intention of finding a job working solely as a Sommelier and I was willing to risk my financial well being in order to do that. If I had wanted to go into management I would never have studied wine… I would have just… you know… managed.
GFR: What have been your career highs and lows?
LL: It was a very difficult low point leaving Terroni… it was such a family there and I was really connected to the place. It was really hard leaving there as I loved working with John (Szabo) but I felt that I had learned all that I could and I just had to go. That was tough. I was thinking “What am I doing? Why did I study wine? Was this a mistake?”
A high point… now having a project where I am making my own list and working as a full time Sommelier.
GFR: Sommeliers famously have Sundays off… What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
LL: Hmmmm… well… certainly waking up refreshed and rested. A leisurely breakfast, some good coffee, a walk, the park, sunshine, maybe a movie in the evening, takeout on the couch… that sort of thing…
GFR: How do you feel about Canadian wines?
LL: I think it is in its “babyhood”… There are some people here doing some really great things… things are happening and things are going to continue to happen, but at the moment I find it a challenging region to get excited about… just because I am from here I don’t feel that I should fake enthusiasm.
GFR: What would you be doing if you were not a Sommelier?
LL: I would go into naturopathic or homeopathic medicine.
GFR: What does your Mother wish you were doing?… I know that mine probably wishes I was a Doctor…
LL: She’s happy with what I am doing… what she wishes I was doing is having babies… if that’s a career choice.
GFR: What are your thoughts on blind tasting?
LL: In my mind, that whole blind tasting competition thing is a who’s dick is bigger contest. I like to blind taste, it’s fun. I don’t mind sitting around blind tasting with friends… but competitive blind tasting, that’s bullshit, that’s not what wine is about.
GFR: I have heard that you are rather skilled when in comes to pairing with wine… What is your favourite wine pairing?
LL: White Burgundy and a bathtub
GFR: I’m publishing that!
LL: Honey there’s more where that came from…
GFR: Speaking of pairings… I’d like you to do a few for me… *rummages around in bag, producing an ipod and headphones* How about pairing some wines with three pieces of music?
LL: Errrrrrrrr… Sure!
Musical Pairing #1: Cutty Ranks – Limb by Limb
LL: Ha!… I love music like this… It’s going to take me a second… Okay… I got it… Albarino! Because it is such a fun, summer, vacation-like wine… nice and cold… outdoors… probably colder than most Sommeliers would like it served.
Musical Pairing #2: Arthur Russell – A Little Lost
LL: I like this very much… I’d say a St. Joseph… because it’s soothing and kinda moody… it can induce a kind of soothed state for me, with it’s combination of aromas and its body. I liked that song, it was very beautiful.
Musical Pairing #3: Motorhead – Ace of Spades
LL: This is horrible… it’s dreadful…
GFR: It’s Motorhead’s Ace of Spades! How can you say that!?
LL: No wine in the world should be consumed while this is playing… this has DIRTY BOURBON written all over it.
GFR: Now… what wine would you pair with these situations?
LL: Bring it on.
Situation Pairing#1 – A warm Toronto Summer night
LL: An old style white Rioja… kicking it old school… in Spain I spent so many after beach evenings with white Rioja.
Situation Pairing #2 – A seduction
LL: Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Because its a sly wine, masculine and feminine at the same time… with the capacity to captivate and entice both women and men on their own gut levels simultaneously. Mmmmmm.
Situation Pairing #3 – A breakup
LL: I want an old Amarone… at least 10 years old…I want it to bludgeon me and an old Amarone can do that very sweetly.
GFR: Do you drink beers or spirits?
LL: Much like wine, beer is all about mood for me… I like Guinness… I like a dark stout… and I love me a Red Stripe.
GFR: What is your least favourite part of your job as Sommelier? For me it was doing inventory…
LL: For me it is accounting… figuring out the logistics between costs, markups… having to be in front of any kind of excel spreadsheet and having to plug numbers in.
GFR: What is your weapon of choice when it comes to a corkscrew?
LL: I have a Pulltap corkscrew from Le Sommelier.
GFR: Sommeliers often have quite the increased tolerance for wine. What is your limit?
LL: Ohhhhhhhh… really low… I am a lady, so I drink like a lady. I am the soberest Sommelier that exists in this city. I am convinced of this fact.
GFR: How many wines do you taste in a week?
LL: Around twenty.
GFR: Do you spit or swallow?
LL: I spit always. I spit up a storm.
GFR: Do you travel much for work?
LL: Not yet… I travel as much as humanly possible for pleasure… but for work, I have only been in the game for a couple of years.
GFR: What’s your house wine at home?
LL: Well, I am given so many gifts (read: samples) of wine that I don’t really need to purchase any wines.
GFR: Now it’s time for some free association… what comes into your mind when I say the following?
Free Association #1 – Brettanomyces
LL: Mice… dead mice in a dry storage *pulls a grimace*
Free Association #2 – Robert Parker
LL: Textbook… learning material, educator.
Free Association #3 – Celebrities making wine
LL: Oh God… *rolls eyes*… that’s what I think… C’mon! Who knows, a celebrity could be a talented Winemaker, but chances are… no.
GFR: And now the cheesy question… If you were a grape varietal what would you be?
LL: Definitely Pinot Noir… it’s delicate… it has to have everything in its environment just so in order for it to really flourish… I’m extremely sensitive to things such as temperature and light… I’m very particular… and also, when it’s bad it’s bad, but when it’s good it is f****** outstanding… and I can relate to those extremes.
GFR: And that’s it.
LL: Really… that was great… I could do this for hours.
GFR: Thank you Lesa Lapointe!
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 Lesa has what it takes… without a doubt.
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.
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. And he looks a bit like the Mad Monk himself… Ra, Ra, Rasputin. Ah, those crazy Russians.
Tags: Anton Potvin, Enoteca Sociale, Jamie Drummond, Lesa Lapointe, Niagara Street Cafe, Ontario, Peter Boyd, Pizza Libretto, Scaramouche, Sommelier, Terroni, The New Juice, Toronto, Toronto Sommeliers, Wine, Young Blood Sommeliers