Véronique Rivest: ”We Quebecois, we love eating and drinking well”

Marie Pâris
Published 16-September-2019
Interview / Canada

Best Sommelier of Canada 2006 and 2012. Woman of wine 2007 in Paris. Best sommelier of Americas 2012 and runner up at the Best Sommelier of the World in 2013. Véronique is a well-known figure in the top sommelier circles of the world. Today she runs Soif, the wine bar she has opened in Gatineau, in western Quebec.

Quebec sommeliers have gained more and more on the international scene after your success, for example Pier-Alexis Soulière (Americas Best Sommelier 2018) or Carl Villeneuve-Lepage (Canada's Best Sommelier 2017). How do you explain the expertise in sommellerie that we see in Quebec?
”We are in a market that allows it. I often compare us to places like London or New York, as a restauratrice here I can get what I want. For example, I had some Californians in my bar and they were surprised to see wines on my list that they could not find at home. And if they did find them, they would be three times the price.”

”Quebec has a long relationship with wine. It's not new to us, like in the English speaking Canada or the US, where wine culture has arrived later. We have a strong European and French influence. The wines that are fashionable all over the world now because you see them on Instagram and that people talk about, we have been buying them for 40 years. That's why we continue to get the allocations of these wines.”

”But it's not only about the sommeliers, it's about the consumer too. If we compare to 20 or 40 years ago, they have evolved a lot. The Quebecois is more and more interested in wine and super curious. If you look at a map of wine consumption in the world, North America is still a growing market while Europe has lost a lot in the last 40 years.”

How does the situation in Quebec differ from the rest of Canada?
”You only have to look at how the restaurant industry and the sommelier profession has developed in Quebec compared to the rest of Canada. The Canadian sommelier association was started here, and for 40 years it only existed here. I can remember 30 years ago when I was going to Toronto for a weekend, I could not find good restaurants. Now Toronto has become as exciting as Montreal, but it came later.”

”I have grown up and gone to school in Ottawa and Gatineau, in both provinces (Ontario and Quebec). When I decided to open a wine bar I did not hesitate two seconds on the location. Business-wise it would have been more logical to open in Ottawa because the population is larger and there are tourists. But it was clear that I would open in Quebec due to the selection of wine. It has become much better in English-speaking Canada, but it's not at the same level yet.”

There are great addresses for wine in Montreal. Can you drink as well in Quebec City or in Ottawa?
”Absolutely. That is one of the advantages of the SAQ [the Quebec monopoly]. There are plenty of inconveniences with a state monopoly but there are advantages too. The market for private imports represents double what SAQ brings to market (8000 to 9000 wines per year) so it's a huge choice. In Ontario it's much less decentralised - outside of Toronto, it's harder to find some bottles. For me, in Outaouais [the region] I have no problem finding the wine I need. Yes you can drink as well in Quebec City and in Gatineau as in Montreal but that is also true for smaller municipalities.”

How would you describe the wine scene in Quebec, in a few words?
”Super dynamic. Really exciting. Very cool. It's a bit like we describe ourselves as Quebecois: it's both "bon-vivant" and "bon enfant". We don't take ourselves too seriously, we are curious, we love exploring, learning and sharing, but we are not condescending. That is perhaps why we have such an interest from the consumers: we have lots of professionals who make it approachable and fun.”

”I like the English word "hospitality" a lot, it has to be at the core of what we do in the restaurant industry. Our job is to give people a good time. Any arrogant or snobbish attitude has no place there, and that is why we have a good reputation for our restaurants. There are so many who work in them without having big egos and who are real pros and who try to improve.”

Which are your favourite addresses for drinking well in Montreal and Quebec City?
”The problem is that I work all the time so I have don't have time to go the new places! I have not even been to Mon Lapin... Every time I go out I have a long list of places I would love to visit, and it keeps getting longer. Of the classics, I am a big fan of Pullman, Vin Papillon, La Buvette chez Simone, Rouge-Gorge and Majestic in Montreal. In Quebec City there is Clocher Penché and Moine Echanson.”

”These days, a restaurant where you cannot drink well in Montreal has become unacceptable. There is no reason not to find things you'd like to drink, even in a small list with a dozen wines.”

What are the trends in Quebec at the moment?
”Natural, of course. And local. The wines of Quebec have developed a lot over the last five years. It's almost the same phenomenon we have seen with natural wines. There has been like a gap between what people eat and what they drink. The movement towards organic and local has come to wine a bit later. I have told people for years: You read the labels when you shop groceries but you continue to drink rubbish. For me, wine is like food.”

How will wine in Quebec evolve in the coming years, do you think?
”When I started out there were not many schools. I was self-taught, always learning but by myself. The competitions were a bit like exams I forced myself to take to know where I stood. Today, there are networks of sommeliers in all corners of Quebec and you don't need to go elsewhere to study as there are many experts here. It's a super dynamic network and still growing. We, the Quebecois, we love eating and drinking well. It's in our culture and our genes, we will therefore continue to exercise that and create places which allows us to live life to the fullest.”

Check out Véronique's wine bar Soif and its wine list through the link below!

Do like the Pros - search 2500+ wine lists


Did you know?
You can search for tens of thousands of wines and see where they are listed in restaurants and wine bars.
Search for wine lists on Star Wine List