SOMM SMACKDOWN—Rumble at Aura Waterfront Restaurant

Strange, interesting, and wonderful things can happen in odd times, and there is no stranger time than now, but something needed to be done to pay tribute to the 30th anniversary of creating the BC VQA wine standard! It is the BC wine industry’s guarantee to consumers that if a bottle of British Columbia wine is a VQA wine, they can be confident that the wine in their glass is made from 100% BC grown grapes. The program 30 years ago was a massive success at the time and continues to be so today.

To celebrate three decades of BC VQA wine, The British Columbia Wine Institute has teamed up with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) to challenge BC, and Alberta’s best sommeliers in the Chef Meets BC Grape Somm Smackdown Competition. This year’s Smackdown took place at host restaurants in Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. It featured a three-course meal prepared by three different chefs, each plate paired with a BC VQA wine selected by three different sommeliers. Given the social constraints of Covid-19, the best option for making the Smackdown a reality was to go virtual. So with a good internet connection, a panel of esteemed judges in each city received a parcel with three prepped courses and instructions on how to assemble in your home kitchen. Along with the food came a box containing nine BC VQA wines, no instructions required!

L-R: Sommeliers Joey Sprout, Daniel Stiefvater, and Adriano Cartuliares.

In Victoria, Aura Restaurant & Patio at the Inn at Laurel Point was the venue; Zoom was the messenger. The participating chefs were Nicholas Nutting (Wolf in the Fog, Tofino), Matt Cusano (Boom & Batten Restaurant, Victoria) and Austin Lu (Aura Restaurant & Patio at Laurel Point Inn, Victoria). The wines paired with each course were selected by sommeliers Adriano Cartuliares (10 Acres), Joey Sprout (Swans) and Daniel Stiefvater (Wine List Consultant, Sommelier, WSET Educator, Sales Representative).

Back row L – R: Chefs Nicholas Nutting of Wolf in the Fog, Austin Lu of Aura, and Matt Cusano of Boom + Batten. Front: Sommelier Joey Sprout of Swans (seated) and Laura Kittmer, Communications Director of the BC Wine Institute (standing).

Dishes by:

Austin Lu

Nicholas Nutting

Matt Cusano


This virtual dining experience was a huge success, with emcee Neal Mclennan keeping the participants on script and timely. Before each course was presented, the chef responsible gave a brief explanation of what was on the plate than stood back and let the combatants have at it.

Emcee Neal Mclennan listens as Chef Lu explains his dish.

Very entertaining and informative as well, with each selection well thought out and intelligently discussed! But unfortunately, as we all know, there can be only one winner. After tallying the votes for each course’s best pairing, the winner in Victoria was Adriano Cartuliares, whose wine pairings received the most votes overall. 

Winning sommelier Adriano Cartuliares

The winning sommelier from each city now moves on to compete in the grand finale Virtual Chef Meets BC Grape Somm Smackdown Dinner in the Okanagan October 19 – 21. The sommelier with the highest score will win the title of Top BC Wine Sommelier 2020 and participate in the 4th annual Wine BC BootCamp featuring an all-inclusive 4-day, 3-night educational trip in BC wine country in 2021. Good luck, Adriano!

Images courtesy of Culinary Marketing Strategies Inc.

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