Meditations

Artisanal Authenticity at Salt Tasting Room


The entrance to the cellar at Salt Tasting Room in Vancouver.

Last night I was pleased to attend the first Salt Cellar Tasting Series of 2010, featuring Oyama Sausage Company and Vista D’Oro Farms & Winery. John van der Leick, owner of Vancouver’s favourite provider of local artisanal charcuterie and sausage, regaled the crowded room with stories about the passion and care that goes into each product made by Oyama. Vista D’Oro owner, Patrick Murphy, was also present to explain the background and craft that goes into each of their unique, hand-crafted wines and spirits.

Patrick Murphy of Vista D’Oro explains their approach to wine making.

Patrick introduced Vista D’Oro to the group by expressing his family’s dedication to old world fruit growing and wine making techniques. Likewise, John told a story about how his family has been making ham and sausage for five generations and Oyama was started by his uncle. Both men expressed their dedication to artisanal practices, explaining that for them it essentially meant avoiding shortcuts and using ancient ways to produce the best results possible—often by hand, at greater expense, and resulting in products with shorter shelf lives than modern methods. John and Patrick both understood that their businesses would not likely ever become large, hyper-profitable corporations as a result, but as John’s uncle once said, “It is better to be a small boss, than a big slave.” I liked the magic combination of passion and humility both these craftsmen exuded.

The first round of wines by Vista D’Oro—Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Merlot.

The tastings began with with ’08 Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir ’07 paired with Tuscan Wild Boar Salami and Bayonne Ham respectfully. The gewürz was light and fresh, which complimented the sweet, gamey boar, and the pinot, aged in old French oak for 11 months, was surprisingly robust. The third pairing was a cocky little Merlot ’08 made by “a passionate Italian in Oliver” matched with a Lonzo, which melted in your mouth.

As the next round of tastings got under way, John told another story, this time about the quality and health benefits of old-world meat preservation, sharing his favourite Italian proverb: “It is better to spend your money at a good butchers than at the doctor’s.” Amen to that. I got the impression that I could sit for hours listening to his stories about and opinions about food, such as his claim that since Rob Feenie’s disappearance from the scene, Vancouver has no real star chefs, leaving room for others to move in. He also claims that no one in Vancouver has really mastered the ceviche!

Jeff Bahford of Farmstead Wines, who have recently added Vista D’Oro to their offering.

The second round of pairings included a brand new Syrah ’07, which had been siphoned off the barrels only six hours before we tasted it. He was quite literally sharing with us the experience of testing a wine before bottling, trying to determine whether it was ready yet. With notes of white pepper, citrus and a noticeable alcohol component, it matched nicely with the deep red sherry beef from Oyama. The next in this flight was completely different and shockingly original—something Vista D’Oro calls a Pinto Noix. Which is literally their pinot noir which has spent ten days on top of the green walnut husks used to make their D’Oro walnut wine. More like a sherry than a conventional wine, the Pinot Noix (noix is French for nuts) paired spectacularly with Oyama’s duck liver mousse. Oh my gosh, if you’ve never tried this duck liver mousse, you haven’t lived. Trust me. And finally, we all tried some of Patrick’s famous D’Oro fortified walnut wine, which drinks more like a port as it’s been aged in brandy casks for nine months and blended with frosch, merlot and cab franc. It was perfectly twinned by a sausage containing nuts. Delish.

A final surprise of the night came as Patrick poured a new product of his—a fortified plum wine called Cyprianna based on an old family recipe and made from the fruit trees planted along the driveway on their farm. In fact, as a young boy Patrick apparently learned to make this drink from his grandfather. Let me tell you friends, after a glorious night of wonderful complementary flavours, this drink stood alone. It’s combination of mildly strong alcohol matched with a wonderful plum flavour and the sexy burnt orange colour made it the perfect dessert drink. I longed for more and was pleased to learn it would soon be available in liquor stores.

A rather crowded cellar filled with patrons literally moaning with delight.

To summarize the evening I would use the word ‘authenticity’ to describe the company, the room, the service, and especially these two men who came together to bring us wonderful meats and wines to sample. To be fair, there were a selection of cheeses and condiments too, but these weren’t really the evening’s main acts. The atmosphere was jovial, with people introducing themselves to strangers beside or across from them, and if the moans (literally) issuing forth as people first tasted something is any indication, everyone had a good time indeed. The room itself was a bit too crowded for my liking, my friend and I feeling rather claustrophobic in the dimly lit cellar, but meeting Patrick and John, hearing their stories and tasting their pairings easily made up for it. It was a wonderful experience in artisanal authenticity, and a wonderful reminder of the minor renaissance we’re experiencing in the BC food industry. I’m grateful for dedicated companies like Vista D’Oro and Oyama for doing what they do and hope they never stop.

A portion of the cellar and curing room at Salt.
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