“DON’T BE AFRAID TO START OVER AGAIN.”
Someone said that. “This time you’re not starting from scratch. You’re starting from experience.” I said that — in my mind. I’m a sommelier. And I found myself, like many, with no security during the pandemic.
I had become underwhelmed by the industry anyway. During the shutdown, I joined the online wine community — groups such as Wine Unify, Disgorgeous, Femmes du Vin, Tasting Climate Change, and many more. We’d discuss politics, trends, articles, symposiums, seminars…issues.
We were talking about the Wine Aroma Wheel and how it is not applicable for many areas and communities. It no longer made sense to me. I questioned terms I had used my entire career.
Then I received a call. Come work at the Fogo Island Inn. I thought, What else do I have to lose? This time would be different, I said to myself. This time, I will be sure in my words and try not to second-guess myself. I will not keep silent and I will advocate for myself. Basically, I will do the opposite of what I did in the past.
I arrived on Fogo Island to face one of the most terroir-driven menus I have ever worked with. Eighty percent of the food comes from the island. Chef Tim Charles expresses a thoughtful and intelligent terroir approach, quite at odds with what I was used to. I inherited the wines that sommelier Brie Dema had curated — wines from coastal places, such as the Azores and other Portuguese regions. Some of the varieties — Baga, Fiano, Greco, Bical — were not in my wheelhouse. I was fortunate to have my friend and mentor, Scaramouche sommelier Peter Boyd, take my calls, as well as Brie, who had moved to Ontario but always picked up the phone.
I was out walking one day and stopped to smell a shuttle brush. It reminded me of the Loureiro on our list — the smell of warm ocean water, salt, and minerals. Next came honeysuckle and Sauternes. Things moved quickly after that…and suddenly, the wine station exploded with elements of the seaside, stuff I collected while walking — heather, fireweed, northern wild rose, sweet gale, juniper, wild blueberry leaves. The Kaffir lime leaves behind the bar re- minded me of the green alder I had picked earlier. I wondered why I used the descriptor “Kaffir lime” during my entire career.
I experienced childlike wonderment again. My passion for community, terroir, food, and wine — it was still inside of me.
Fogo Island Inn’s naturalist, Lorie Penton, was struck by my innocent discoveries. She took to teaching me, bringing me gifts, including the book Wildflowers of Fogo Island and Change Islands. We were trying to stay within the parameters of native plants and botanicals, but occasionally a newly introduced species would appear. Pink yarrow was a favourite. Also hawkweed, field thistle, fall dandelion, butter-and-eggs. Cattails can smell like burnt marshmallows, and dogberries taste like Campari.
The inn’s food and beverage manager, Andrew Flynn, brought me some empty bottles. He had an idea. A plant would be laid on the table with each course and placed in the bottle as the course was cleared. At the end, the guest had a small bouquet. Jeremy Charles, chef-owner of Raymonds, in St. John’s, made a boutonniere for his vest. I now have some new commands on the floor. “Hey, Andrew. I need juniper on table 7!”
The interesting thing about our wines and botanicals was that they matched Tim’s food in a linear manner. It was a full-on collaboration with intuition as the guiding force. Tim let me explore and play. I’d call Raymonds’ sommelier, Jeremy Bonia, with spitfire questions, as he is familiar with the natural ingredients I was just discovering. This rekindling of a long-standing friendship meant the world, and he’s doing a dinner here in November. I can’t wait to get him to “play botanicals.” Bonia, I need blueberry leaves, stat!
So many people have contributed to this project. I don’t know what to call it, but
it has been a wonderful discovery. I am learning again — and falling in love again with wine, food, and service.
And it feels like all I am doing is picking flowers.
By Kim Cyr