Sleeping Giant Sommelier

March 2023

Som·me·lier: noun, a wine steward.

Originally, the word ‘sommelier’ is believed to derive from the old French words sommerier, somier, and bête de somme, where a bête de somme was a “beast of burden” and the “sommelier” was its herdsman. But when your ‘beasts’ are cabernets instead of cattle, and shiraz instead of sheep, then I can think of no better word to describe the shepherding of great taste.
“I think we need a different title,” says Paul Inksetter with a laugh. “Sommelier is a specific title for a person who holds specialized qualifications, and I don’t, so we shouldn’t call me that!”
I will reluctantly concede, with emphasis on reluctant. Paul Inksetter has had a love affair with wine for decades, and he has happily shared that passion with anyone who’s keen to learn.

“I remember the very moment that I first discovered just how good a wine could be,” he says. “I was still an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, returning from my summer job as Park Naturalist at Sibley, now Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. In those days we travelled by train (the fabled CP Canadian), with silver service in the dining car. One night, dinner was boeuf bourguignonne, and, flush with my summer’s earnings in my pocket, I ordered a half bottle of wine – Chateau LaGarde 1957. I had never tasted anything like it: the aroma, the complexity, the intrigue, the layered flavours, the long finish – what a revelation! From that moment on I have continued in quest of that experience.”

Thunder Bay was a city considerably more isolated back in the day, so I was curious as to how Inksetter set about on such a broad yet targeted quest.

“Living in Thunder Bay at that time, there was little wine information available locally,” he says. “So, I set about self-study, collecting and studying books about wine, and systematically sampling what I could find at the local LCBO.

And I was not alone; about this time there was an increasing interest in wine, and the LCBO began to improve their service, implementing the Vintages department to provide a greater selection of fine wines to a growing clientele.”

Inksetter is also an avid traveller, and he soon discovered that, like a grapevine on a trellis, his two passions naturally intertwined.

“The wine regions of the world are the greatest destinations for tourism,” he says, his eyes gleaming with happy memories. “The scenery is unparalleled, the tourist infrastructure is well developed, and the people are invariably welcoming. Every place that I’ve visited I would be delighted to return to, but there are always new destinations beckoning. The memories are like the wines themselves, each one unique. There is one stand-out memory, however: we were vacationing at the home of a small wine-maker in Vosne-Romanée in Burgundy, France. One day he had his consulting oenologist calling, so we had them over for lunch, serving, of course, our host’s wines. It turned out that the consultant, Pascal Marchand, had been to Thunder Bay! As a young man, he got a summer job on a grain boat sailing between Thunder Bay and Montréal. Pascal Marchand now has his own winery in Nuits-St. Georges, and they can occasionally be found at our LCBO.”

Quelle chance! A natural writer with a gift for creative nonfiction (with emphasis on creative), Inksetter began to share his interest in wines for the original Thunder Bay Magazine in the 1990s. When it ceased publication, Inksetter didn’t have to wait long to find another venue through which to share that interest.

“I’d met Bill Wrightsell when I was General Manager of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. Wrightsell Advertising was designing all of our marketing materials, and that friendship led to the invitation to write wine articles for their new Bayview Magazine.”

Bayview has been in publication itself for just over 20 years now (congratulations, team!), with a different wine article from Inksetter each issue. I asked him how he is able to come up with so many different ideas to focus on.

“There is an infinite world of exploration in wine,” he says. “So far, every article I have written is based on my own travels to the wine regions of the world, so each article is rooted in my own experience. The great diversity of grapes, wines, vintages, styles, and wine makers across so many wine regions of the world creates an infinity of ideas for future articles.”

And for that, I am grateful. I asked Inksetter to share what some of the best resources were to cultivate an understanding of, and appreciation for, wines.

“Follow your own curiosity and cultivate your own taste,” he says with a smile. “Dig seriously into the available books on wine. You can get lots of information from the internet, but it is unreliable, difficult to find, and does not go into the depth of information the way a good book does. Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Book of Wine is the universal indispensable handbook and makes a good starting point. For more depth, his World Atlas of Wine is my desert island choice. You must make this a serious study, delving systematically into the regions, the grapes, and the wines. The other thing you must do, of course, is diligently taste the wines you are studying about. And if you can find a couple of friends who share your interest, getting together to share information will enhance your own knowledge and sharpen your discernment!”

And it makes for a wonderful way to spend an evening! I can honestly say I’ve benefited from Inksetter’s expertise and willingness to share, or dare I say, ‘shepherd’ my own experience with the world’s grapey beasts. So, while he may be uncomfortable calling himself ‘sommelier,’ I’m not, and I’ll happily tip my hat (and my glass) to our very own Bayview connoisseur, Paul Inksetter, the Sleeping Giant Sommelier!

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

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