Mixing It Up

How Sommelier Lisa Haley Is Shaking Up Vancouver’s Wine Scene

Sommelier Lisa Haley pours from her extensive wine list at L’Abbatoir. (All Photos: Nikki Bayley)

As Wine Director at Vancouver’s 70-seat L’Abattoir restaurant in Gastown, sommelier Lisa Haley is in charge of one of the city’s most decorated wine lists.

“I love the challenge of running a small wine program. Every wine on the list has to play multiple roles: It has to satisfy a style demand, a budget demand, a regional demand — and it has to be the best-tasting wine at the best price in that category — so much work for one wine!”

Lisa began her career in the hospitality industry working at resorts in Muskoka, Ontario, every summer — Dirty Dancing–style. “You live at the resort; it’s just ridiculous fun. It’s camp for grown-ups,” she recalls.

lisa haley

A stint in the resort’s fine-dining restaurant gave Lisa an opportunity to learn about wine, and that was that: She was bitten by the bug.

Following a period working in the arts (“fun, but making zero money”), Lisa began thinking about hospitality as a career and enrolled in a wine program. “[The class] dispelled the misconception that we sit around talking and tasting wine all day at the first class,” she says. “This is really a job of heavy lifting and counting bottles, but every day I got deeper into it and loved it.”

After working at some of Montreal’s prestigious restaurants, Lisa made the move to Canada’s west coast in 2013 and has been making a name for herself shaping wine lists across Vancouver.

Now part of L’Abattoir’s award-winning team, Lisa shared with Marriott TRAVELER her tips on visiting Vancouver and what newbies can expect from British Columbia wines.

lisa haley

L’Abattoir’s menu focuses on French-inspired Canadian West Coast cuisine; how do you create a wine list to pair perfectly?

France is where my heart lies in wine; I recently overhauled the French white section of [L’Abattoir’s] list to make sure the entire country was represented.

Finding Southwest [of France] whites to serve in British Columbia was a bit of a challenge, but that research — the treasure hunt — is the exciting part of the job for me. I also look for New-World wines made with an Old-World philosophy with minimal intervention that show the grape and place before the style.

What’s the wine scene like in Vancouver ?

It’s young and evolving; everyone is working really hard and trying to grow their program. It’s exciting to be in the backyard of a wine-producing region, and whether they be locals or tourists, when I tell people, “Oh, I had a glass of wine with the winemaker last night … ,” that’s a big part of how we sell our wines and how we understand them.

What should visitors know about British Columbia wine?

Our cool climate means that we produce wines with some high acid: I think our wines are food wines, so make sure you’re eating!

My favorites include fresh aromatic whites such as Sea Star’s Salish Sea/Siegerrebe/Ortega blend from Pender Island, wonderful sparkling wines such as Bella’s Westbank Sparkling Gamay from the Okanagan Valley, and light-bodied reds — I love Orofino’s Gamay from the Similkameen Valley.

What wine trend do you think we’ll see in the next year?

I think we’re going to shift away from our obsession with natural wine. I love the idea of wines made without chemicals, but I think how they taste is going to start to rule.

People will not want to sacrifice flavor for philosophy. I love great natural wines, but I also love wines that are preserved in a moment of greatness by sulfur dioxide, and I’m not scared of that.

lisa haley

One of my favorites, Jean Bourdy’s Côtes du Jura Red, doesn’t use very much sulfur at all, just enough to protect it from the indignities of travel and poor storage.

These wines are so fresh and savory and thirst-quenching. The winemaker lets them see lots of oxygen during élevage [(breeding)], so they are pretty resistant to abuse (and survive being open for days).

What are your three Vancouver must-dos?

Walk. You have to get outside; bring some shoes that you can make the whole day in, and just get out there. We forget when we live here, and get to smell the ocean and look at the mountains every day, how breathtaking that is. So get out of the car and go for a walk.

Check out our neighborhoods. Vancouver might not be thought of as so much of a “neighborhood city,” but just this morning I woke up in the West End, went to Mount Pleasant, and now I’m in Gastown. Those neighborhoods each have unique feels to them, and it’s great to get out there and experience what Vancouverites do. The city is so small that they’re easy to get to.

And, of course: Eat and drink!

What should people eat?

I don’t know how you can come from anywhere else in North America and not feel duty-bound to eat sushi in Vancouver! I love to go to my local spot, Miko on Robson; it’s simple, but everything is great. The family who runs it is so beautiful; it’s been there for 20 years, and you’ll always be well taken care of at Miko.

Hawksworth restaurant is very conscious of creating a West Coast cuisine, and I love to see how their menu evolves and how they use the ingredients. There’s a reason why it consistently ranks at the top of what we’re doing here in the city.

Go eat Chinese food. We have an amazing population of Chinese chefs here with access to amazing suppliers. I like Dynasty Seafood on Broadway. They have excellent food and a great corkage policy — it’s about $10 a bottle — trust me, Peking duck and a good red Burgundy and you’re set.

But bring your own glassware — I’m not drinking grand cru Burgundy out of a beaker!

Rainy-day Vancouver plans?

Do like the Vancouverites: Put on a raincoat and a pair of boots and get outside! Rain doesn’t stop us here.