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Great wines tell a story
Tucked in the southwest corner of France, stretching from the Atlantic Coast and north to Libourne, the wine-making region of Bordeux is legendary.
It’s believed the first vineyards were planted more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
Pour Kristof Gillese a glass of Bordeaux, he’ll close his eyes and imagine its history.
“I find that wine is uniquely capable of telling a story of where it comes from. That’s the part that’s intriguing to me.”
You can’t help but feel the wet springs, gentle summers and mild winters when you savour a Bordeaux.
“Bordeaux really is my passion. I love those big, red Cab-Sauv-driven blends,” he says.
A certified red seal chef, Gillese was forced to reinvent his career when the economic recession hit.
Wine, just like food, has always been a passion but was more of a hobby than something to study until 2010. Some of his earliest memories of wine involve trips into his grandparents' cellar.
“My father has no formal wine education but is one of the best sommeliers I know,” says Gillese.
His dad belonged to the Opimian Society, a Canadian cooperative wine buying club, that introduced Gillese to something more than claret.
“We cooked all our food.. never went out to dinner,” says Gillese.
“We had these neat, very exciting wines. We were always learning more - what was special about the region, where it came from?”
So in 2010, as restaurants closed around him and chefs saw their teams slashed in half, Gillese started the International Sommelier Guild’s level 1 course.
His instructor was DJ Kearney, a well-known Vancouver-based wine educator, wine writer and judge.
“I had this amazingly gifted and passionate woman who spoke about wine with such conviction and vigour that all of us int he class were just swept away by it,” says Gillese, who credits Kearney for inspiring him to learn more. Three years later, Gillese is a certified wine steward who is studying to become a master of Bordeaux.
Gillese compares Bordeaux and Bordeaux blends to a classic painting.
“Everyone who goes to art school learns about Van Gogh but then they take a piece of him and use that to create their own Van Gogh or own self,” he explains.
The Cabernet Sauvingons, Merlots or Merlot grapes grown and combine in other parts of the world are all imbued with their own uniqueness.
“In all of these regions, especially in the new world, there are wine makers who are willing to step outside that Van Gogh box and say we appreciate Bordeaux but we are going to make our impression of it,” says Gillese.
He began chronicling his journey in a blog the Chef and the Grape, that’s slowly gaining a steady following, reaching a high of 62,000 hits in little over two years.
It’s clear Gillese’s passion is infectious.
He was highlighted as a B.C. wine writer at the 2013 International Wine Bloggers Conference held for the first time in Canada in January.
“I only write about wine I find extraordinary,” says Gillese, who unlike some reviewers doesn’t rate every wine he uncorks.
Great winemakers tell a story, he says.
That’s why he loves the French word terroir that describes wine regions, the soil and weather where the grapes ripen and grow.
“Terroir is not just about soil and the region and sunlight but about the human part of making a wine, the spirit of it. As a chef, I understand this implicitly,” says Gillese.
There’s no recipe that says you must invest this amount of love into this stew, he explains.
“But that’s the essence to what great cooking is and to me that’s what wine making is about.”