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Malcolm Jolley: The wine world opens up again

Commentary

It occurred to me this week that things really are opening up. The occurrence happened on a Toronto Transit Commission subway train when I realized I had forgotten to put on my mask. This was quickly followed by the realization that I had forgotten to bring a mask. And then, after a glancing survey, the realization that I was in good bare-faced company with about half of the other mid-morning riders in the car. It was going to be okay.

If I had been paying attention, it might have occurred to me that the world (and particularly the weird wine world in which I inhabit) was opening up when I looked at my calendar to see that I had scheduled my attendance at three organized tastings in as many weeks. On the subway train, I was headed for more than just a tasting: this time it would be lunch. I had remembered wine lunches from the distant times of the 2010s and the first two or three months of 2020, so maybe it was the excitement of the idea that they have come back that made me forget my mask in the first place.

The wine world has its own system of honours, or rather, two systems that are friendly competitors. Both require their honourees to be tested in a years-long series of academic and practical ordeals which culminate in the right of successful candidates to suffix initials after their name. From Britain’s old guard wine trade is the Master of Wine (MW). From America’s shirtsleeve tradition is the Master Sommelier (MS).“The Court of Master Sommeliers was established to encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants. The first successful Master Sommelier examination was held in the United Kingdom in 1969. By April 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established as the premier international examining body. Though its members worldwide come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, they share a proven mastery of the art, science, and history that informs a sommelier’s work.” https://www.mastersommeliers.org/about#:~:text=How%20does%20someone%20become%20a,Master%20Sommelier%20diploma%20and%20title. This lunch would be presided by two of Canada’s resident MSs, Jennifer Huether and John Szabo, and so the invitation promised a “Master Class” in the wines of Germany.

I have written previously, and relatively recently, in this space on why I believe German wines are woefully under-appreciated by, and offer tremendous value to, the wine drinkers of Canada.Decoding Riesling labels is worth the trouble for a wine that ‘keeps its promise’ https://thehub.ca/2021-09-24/decoding-riesling-labels-is-worth-the-trouble-for-a-wine-that-keeps-its-promise/ The lunch did nothing to change my opinion. But in four courses, paired with four flights of sparkling (Sekt), rosé (Spätburgunder, aka Pinot Noir), white (Riesling and Grauburgunder, aka Pinot Gris) and red (more Spätburgunder), that lunch reaffirmed my faith in all things good and fun in wine, hospitality, and the pleasures of sitting down with other human beings at the table.

The tasting, or lunch, or whatever it was, really was fun in the sense that the MSs Huether and Szabo really played around with the pairings. Huether is an outspoken vegan and paired the sparkling wine with asparagus (usually considered unfriendly to wine) and a new wave plant-based product called The Future of Butter. Szabo is very much not a vegan, but as a provocateur paired Riesling with lamb chops grilled with lemon and thyme, on the suggestion of the Quebecois molecular gastronomist François Chartier. It was a success and their audience was happy to play along. We had come, it seemed a long way away from making your own sourdough and single sheet pan dinners in April 2020.

The other way the lunch was life-affirming, as they may say in yoga class, was how it was served. It was held in an event space in downtown Toronto run by the multi-restaurant concern, Oliver & Bonacini. The waitstaff was young, and by my reckoning not super experienced. There were screw-ups here and there, but they were acknowledged, apologized for, and then quickly rectified. There’s not a lot more one can ask these days. The pandemic was hard on restaurant staffing; many experienced professionals left the industry when work was uncertain at best and non-existent for months on end in lock-down.

Restaurant service everywhere is a bit spotty in the post-pandemic risorgimento, but that, along with maskless subway riders, is okay. The bums in the seats, like me, are happy to be out once more, and those working hard to provide hospitality seem happy to be engaged in the world once more. More than one old hand in the restaurant business has confided in me over the years that it’s easy to teach technique but pretty much impossible to teach attitude.


Speaking of a resurgence of the hospitality industry, which has always been the sharp end of the wine trade stick, I had a very interesting conversation recently with James Peden. Peden, the thirty-something sommelier is the Director of Operations for the Liberty Entertainment Group, another Toronto restaurant concern. When he’s not managing the century-old cellar at Casa Loma, Peden volunteers as the Chair of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers.

Newly elected, along with Vice-Chair Stephanie Guth, Portfolio Manager at the all-organic import agency The Living Vine, Peden is steering CAPS’ programming towards the further professionalization of the sommelier metier. An all-volunteer organization comprised of working sommeliers and “front of the house” industry professionals, CAPS Ontario has reenergized its sommelier certification program, in collaboration with George Brown College in Toronto and Niagara College in Ontario wine country.CAPS Professional Sommelier Certification Program http://sommelierscanada.com/ontario/programs/caps-professional-sommelier-certification-program

The professionalization of the restaurant trade and the wine trade was happening before the pandemic shut it down. Like so many trends it appears only to have been accelerated by the upheaval of the pandemic. As Peden told me, whereas traditional certification programs, like MS and MW mentioned above, have been heavy on academics or service practice, the CAPS program combines business theory and practice as well.

Things are definitely opening up.

Stephen Nagy: Canada has pressing interests in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s time we started acting like it

Commentary

The Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) initiative,Establishing the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP): joint statement https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-on-the-establishment-of-the-partners-in-the-blue-pacific-pbp the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue,Defining the Diamond: The Past, Present, and Future of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue https://www.csis.org/analysis/defining-diamond-past-present-and-future-quadrilateral-security-dialogue AUKUS,FACT SHEET: Implementation of the Australia – United Kingdom – United States Partnership (AUKUS) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/05/fact-sheet-implementation-of-the-australia-united-kingdom-united-states-partnership-aukus/ and the Indo-Pacific Framework (IPEF)The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework: What it is — and why it matters https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/26/ipef-what-is-the-indo-pacific-framework-whos-in-it-why-it-matters.html have two things in common. First, they are meant to contribute to sustainable institution building in the Indo-Pacific, and second, Canada is not part of any of these mini-lateral arrangements. 

Considering Canada is a G-7 country, is part of the Five Eyes Network, and is participating in maritime security operations in the Sea of Japan through the Neon Operations to ensure that North Korea does not evade sanctions, its absence is conspicuous. 

Why is Canada being excluded from these emerging institutions in the Indo-Pacific region? Why is Canada not seen as a second or third choice for these emerging institutions that are providing the framework for institutional building within the Indo-Pacific?

There are possibly three explanations for Canada’s absence: 1) political leadership; 2) domestic literacy about the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and how that translates into Indo-Pacific policies; and 3) credibility. 

First, political leadership matters. This means the prime minister, vice premier, foreign minister, and defence minister should be crafting a foreign policy for the region that links Canada’s national interests to the evolution of the region. Here, Canada has an enduring interest in ensuring that the region is stable and open for trade. This means institutions and rules that are adopted in the region are in line with Canadian interests and provide Canadian businesses with open access to the region’s economy. 

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and Defence Minister Anita Anand received mandate letters to develop a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy in December 2021. In June 2022, Canada’s Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee was formed to contribute to formulating a strategy. This comes more than a year after the May 2021 Shared Canada-Japan Priorities for contributing to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

Others such as Mark Agnew, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President, Policy and Government Relations, have appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, stressing that in “an Indo-Pacific Strategy, the elements that pertain to China will be critical. It is important to be clear-eyed about the size of the market and of course the geopolitical challenges. How we engage with China needs to have intelligently balanced considerations and it must be anchored around cooperation with allies.”

Agnew’s comments stress that China should be part of an Indo-Pacific strategy, not the Indo-Pacific strategy, and echos Canadian Indo-Pacific thinkers such as Jonathan Berkshire Miller, Kenneth Holland, Maxandre Fortier, Marco Munier, and Justin Massie.

Aggregating Indo-Pacific writing, there seems to be consensus, in one way or another, around key pillars that include: 1) middle power diplomacy; 2) climate change; 3) inclusive development; 4) energy and critical minerals security; 5) economic security and resilience through infrastructure and connectivity; 6) maritime security.

Another important area that would be important is supporting Canadian businesses within the Indo-Pacific region through enlarging the CPTPP,Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cptpp-ptpgp/index.aspx?lang=eng deregulation, and being part of the standard-setting for key technologies that will shape the region’s economy, governance, the relationship between the state and citizens, privacy, AI, quantum computing, and cyberspace. 

Second, domestic literacy about the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and how that translates into Indo-Pacific policies. The MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI) and Asia Pacific Foundation (APF) have both conducted research on Canadian views of the Indo-Pacific (Asia-Pacific).

MLI’s findings suggest that “For countries that share Canadian interests, values, and systems of democratic governance, there are significant opportunities to strengthen ties and public perceptions of these alliances in East Asia.” Similarly, the APF National Poll found that Canadians were warming to like-minded democratic states, were significantly cooling on China, but, overall, recognized the importance of Asian economies to Canada.  

Neither poll investigates the Indo-Pacific/Asia-Pacific literacy amongst respondents, and this may be part of the crux of the absence of a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy. For the average Canadian and Canadian business, there is little if no difference in using the terms Indo-Pacific, Asia-Pacific, or simply Asia. 

They primarily see the region through trade opportunities and, importantly, Chinese belligerence after the hostage diplomacy incident following the arrests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. These negative perceptions have been worsened with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, substantiated reports on so-called Uyghur reeducation camps, and the crushing of the One-country/ Two-systems model for Hong Kong after the adoption of the 2020 National Security Law.      

This lack of literacy in regard to the entire region contributes to the lack of focus of Canadian politicians in crafting an Indo-Pacific Strategy.  

Third is credibility. The 2022 annual CFPJ Trudeau Report Card produced by David Carment and graduate students at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, in consultation with experts throughout Canada, highlights that the “government’s diplomatic performance is hampered by rhetorical overreach, squandered opportunities, failures to engage, hypocrisy, and irrelevance. The most recent example of Canada’s fall from grace is its glaring absence at the Oslo talks on Afghanistan.”

In a similar vein, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy spearheaded an open letter including the voices of 40 Canadian scholars, experts, and former diplomats stressing that “if Canada continues to marginalize the vital role of foreign policy discussions at home, it risks diminishing its ability to secure its way of life and prepare for an increasingly uncertain world.”

This credibility gap is not just at home. As a growing number of countries put forth their own Indo-Pacific strategy, the common refrain is where is Canada? What is Canada doing? How will it distinguish itself from the U.S. and be sustainable? 

These sentiments are exacerbated by past intransigences such as the last-minute walk-out from the original TPP signing in Danang in November 2017 or its penchant for advocating for a progressive agenda in trade deals, resulting in failures such as the Canada-China FTA. 

The way forward is clear. Political commitment to securing Canada’s proactive and sustained role in the Indo-Pacific through a clear articulation of Canadian interests in the region. 

Getting Canadian buy-in will require leaders to succinctly and simplistically explain why the region is important for Canadians. For example, outside of North America, the Indo-Pacific region presents the largest economic opportunity for Canadians. We have a direct interest in ensuring the region remains rules-based, open, and stable. 

Lastly, we have to rebuild credibility through a sustained diplomatic, economic, and security engagement in the region built around like-minded allies and institutions. The Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) initiative, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, AUKUS, and the Indo-Pacific Framework (IPEF) are excellent points of engagement to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to the region.