Somm In The City – A Sommelier’s Wine Fest Recap

SITC Winefestweek

Somm in the City : Vancouver International Wine Festival Week Recap

Wine fest week in Vancouver is a busy time for trade, and a very busy time for sommeliers at Hawksworth Restaurant, one of Canada’s top rooms and wine programs. Our Somm in the City kept a running log of his week’s wine-fuelled events/insanity for EAT.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Late night last night at work as we begin to set up the week ahead. Re-printing wine list to reflect wines that are sold out and the new wines that have arrived.

Early morning run in the rain. Breakfast and work by 10:30am.

I have to make sure all the buttons are made in Micros, our point of sale system. Each wine that comes or goes on the wine list has a button attached to it for inventory. Each time a wine is rung in, it is accounted for. Technology is helpful, but it still means that each wine has to be physically counted. That’s my first job this morning once I arrive at work.

Lunch was the standard rush from 12-2pm. What was unusual was the amount of wine that was sold. Typically Monday guests are not committed to the week by Monday lunch – or they possibly could still be reeling from the weekend. Whatever the reason, Monday is not usually very busy for wine service. Wine fest week has begun.

2pm – time for me to start to stuff all the wine lists. That took me an hour and half and then it was staff mealtime. By 4pm it was time to get ready for dinner service. But before that I had to do a count of the glassware that we have.

We are hosting a guest chef from London’s The Square restaurant, Phil Howard. It will be a 6 course-tasting menu with possible wine pairings. As we want to be fully prepared for each guest to do the pairing suggested, I need to make sure there are enough glasses of each type that might possibly be needed.

It’s my ‘off work early night’ and was able to have some food at one of my favorite restaurants with an old friend. Fuel for the week ahead.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Longest run this morning. Only 8 km, but that much closer to my 20k goal by June.

Day off, but still some e-mails and other last minute details to be planned for the upcoming Chef Howard dinner and week ahead.

On the plus side, I also scored Canucks tickets for tonight! Too bad they couldn’t score against the Coyotes.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tonight was our Wine Festival dinner. Many restaurants in the city do winemakers’ dinners and we were no exception. We hosted Giovanni Manetti from Fontodi in Tuscany and he captivated the crowd with his talk about the wines while Chef Hawksworth kept everyone excited by the food.

I was able to taste through the wines before service – excited to taste wines that are not your typical Sangiovese from Tuscany. The Syrah and Pinot Noir were both fantastic. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

The day actually started with a short run before coffee with an old friend who is in town for the wine festival. From there I did a little volunteering for wine festival. I was part of the sommelier team that opened all the wines for the Aging Well, California Cabs seminar. We opened all the wines, decanted them, made sure they were free of faults, and poured them back into the bottle so the pouring team could pour them into the glasses. As serving temperature is very important, each wine was plunged into an ice bath for a few minutes while in decanter.

The Line Up

Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection 1992

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 1993

E & J Gallo Northern Sonoma Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1991

Girard Winery Napa Valley Artistry Blend 2004

Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 1994

Joseph Phelps Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Paul Hobbs Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999

Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1995

Signorello Estate Winery Padrone 1997

Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon 1995


It was a fantastic two hours with some of the city’s top-notch sommeliers tasting and talking about each wine. We only had two hours to open, taste and pour, but we had enough time to keep the smiles alive.

Then it was time for me to head to work. A quick pit-stop at Joyeaux Cafe and had my favourite plate there, lemongrass chicken. Go, eat, and enjoy the best Vietnamese coffee after!

As luck would have it, I needed to head to the liquor store to pick up one of the wines for one dish on the tasting menu that we are featuring the next two nights with Chef Howard. (the last 23 bottles of Joh. Jos. Prum 2004 Wehlenner Sonnenuhr spatlese), plus a few other odds and ends to get us through the night until our wine order is delivered the next day.

Once I am back at work, I had a meeting with Alexandre de Bethmann, owner of Chateau Olivier – Cru Classé de Graves. We tasted 2 wines: Château Olivier Blanc 2007, which is not available in this market, and the 2001 rouge, which is. (+379909, $69.95)

From there it was pre-service to describe the flow of the evening, and there were also some glasses that needed to come out of their shipping boxes, washed and polished for the next two nights with Chef Phil Howard.

The night was quick and early and by 9:30pm it was pretty much over. There was still lots to clean and organize for the next two nights, but the majority of service was done.

I made time to stop by a friend’s place and share a glass of Pinot Noir left over from the Fontodi dinner.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rain run. Thought it might make me faster but it was average 5km time.

February is a short month and also ends right in the middle of wine festival. The days surrounding the end of the month is never the best for sommeliers as there is the dreaded inventory to contend with. Toss in the two Trade Tasting days at the wine festival and it makes for some unique times.

I arrived at the restaurant at 1pm, printed off the count sheets and was counting bottles and boxes by 1:30pm. That lasted until 3:30 when it was time for staff meal.

Thursday was the first night of two with Chef Phil Howard so there were last minute details to address, decanting to be done and wines to chill and taste before they could be served. It is an amazing experience to be part of a team of sommeliers decanting, tasting and talking about it wine. But it is also very fast paced, as it had to be done very quickly. Pre-service was at 4:30pm and the reservations started arriving at 5pm!

It was a much longer pre-service as we had never done every table with a 6 course-tasting menu. We were running toward the end of the dock in the hope the lake were all about to jump into would be warm!

Chef Hawksworth explained about his experience in London before coming back to Vancouver and how he met Chef Howard and that when Hawksworth would open a restaurant in Vancouver he would bring over Howard and they would do this dinner. It was a 16-year dream that we were becoming part of.

The wines were opened and ready and by 5pm, and so was the rest of the team.

It was a fast paced from the start. Though there was more staff than usual in preparation for the night, it was a huge success. More people did the wine pairing option and it kept us all busy pouring and talking about the wines. It was great to be so busy and a part of such a success.

Gone by 11:30pm. There are some perks of inventory!


Friday, March 1, 2013

This was my one day to pack in as much of the wine festival as possible. But first I needed to count some more bottles.

No run today as I was up at 5:30am and at work by 6:45am. Colin and I counted until 11:30am and then it was time for the Awards Lunch, one of my favourite lunches of the year. There are many familiar faces and lots of great wines and winemakers at each table. Awards are given for wine lists and the sommelier of the year. Samantha Rhan won this year from Araxi. A true lover of Riesling and an all-around great girl. Hard core down hill mountain biker too!

The highlight of the lunch was listening to Margrit Mondavi. She remarked about how her late husband Robert had “always wanted to make wine that was never better, but equal to the greatest wines.” As this year’s theme was California, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate ambassador. Her passion was contagious and her energy invigorating.

From there it was off to the Trade Tasting. 1:30-5pm was quickly spent catching up with both locals and visitors, talking business and tasting wine. After that I was starving, so it was a quick burger and beer before the suites and “after parties” start. And it is not even 7pm yet!

The next few hours got me around town to a few places to share congratulations and good times with winners and others in the industry. I’ll spare you all the details, but it was merry and festive in Vancouver that night.

It was a wine-soaked few days and they will be the same ones I look forward to next year when France is the feature country and bubbles are the feature wine! But my alarm was never so loud than it was on Saturday morning. Thankfully I only had to work brunch and was home by 9pm that night. To sleep!


Postnote: I would be remiss if I don’t mention that I had been thinking about the weather a great deal during the festival. Maybe it was the years of living in Whistler, or maybe it is the fact that we all talk weather when vintage variation comes up. It is in the blood I guess. But there were heavy rainfall advisories for both Thursday and Friday and it got me wondering if the low pressure affects tasting. Seems I am not alone.



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