Fun in Canada: Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria, for Top Drop

A Harbour Air seaplane flies over the Lion’s Gate bridge, Vancouver

I’ve just been out to Canada to take part in an event called Top Drop, which was held in three cities in the west of the country: Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria.

One of Vancouver’s beaches, reached by walking around the Stanley Park sea wall

These are a series of wine tastings designed to showcase interesting wine producers, who might otherwise not get seen at the larger trade tastings. The first edition of Top Drop was held in Vancouver, which is the largest of the three events, including a series of seminars, a trade tasting, and a public tasting. This year’s Calgary event was the second edition, and had a similar format. The inaugural Victoria event was a pop-up in conjunction with the Vessel wine store, and was solely a tasting (trade and public). My job was to give a couple of talks and also generally hang around the events. This is the Top Drop mission statement:

We believe in the importance in farming one’s own fruit and/or being constantly engaged with grape-growers to ensure sustainability and a high standard of viticultural practices. We believe in wines that reflect their vintage, and wines that aren’t suffocated by vinicultural trickery. We believe in winemaking decisions that are made by a winemaker, and not by a board of directors or marketing team. We believe in those who take chances.

It was great fun to take part in these well-supported, buzzy shows. I also got to see some of the culinary and wine scene of each of the cities.

Proof Bar, Calgary

It was my first time in Calgary, and I enjoyed it. I arrived in the evening and went straight to a brilliant cocktail bar called Proof. My goal was to stay up late enough that I’d sleep all the way through: good sleep on the first night is the key to making jet lag slightly less of a killer. I succeeded in this goal, with the help of a cocktail, a mescal and a craft beer.

Metrovino, Calgary

The next day, as well as the event, I went over to see the folks at Metrovino. This is a really good wine shop with a diverse selection of interesting wine. Alberta (the province that Calgary is in) has liberal liquor laws compared with other Canadian provinces that all have monopoly systems, and so the selection of wine in stores is usually pretty good. It was great to meet a wide range of hospitality folk in Calgary, and they were very welcoming and engaging.

Nightingale

Vancouver is a lot of fun, and has a thriving food and drink scene. I’ve been there are few times now. On the first night, a group of us dined at Nightingale, and I went back there for some brunch the following day. It’s a sister restaurant to the famous Hawksworth, and as well as impeccable cooking it has a really good wine list, which we raided quite extensively, with some good assistance from their sommelier team.

Buttermilk chicken at Nightingale: next level

Xisto and oysters at Nightingale

In the afternoon, I went to see a private liquor store, Legacy. It’s a big place in the Olympic village, with a large selection covering a wide range of prices and styles. But there are some really good niche things here, too.

Legacy wine store

Craft, Vancouver

I also drank some beer at Craft Beer Market, which is a large beer hall with over 100 craft beers on tap. We ate pickles and fries, and it was quite lovely.

Beer at Chambar

After the trade tasting on Friday I went out exploring with some of my new chums. With Maude (who I’d met previously when she worked for the Lifford wine agency), I hit Chambar. It’s a really great restaurant that I’ve eaten at before, and we had epic Belgian beer by the bottle with moules frites.

Juice Bar

Juice Bar with Maude

Then we headed over to Juice Bar, which is a natural wine joint offering well-priced bottles and small plates. We were joined by Kelcie, the wine director at Chambar, and her partner Michael, and we drank well and ate some things.

L’Abbatoir

Maude had to go to dinner, but the three of us who remained decamped to l’Abbatoir, another of Vancouver’s best places to eat and drink. (I had a quick lunch at sister restaurant Coquille the previous day – it’s a really nice seafood place.)

Top Drop folk

Then it was time for the after party at the Vancouver Club, where I was (conveniently) staying. It was one of those excellent late and memorable nights with an incredible energy and positivity to it.

Harbour Air on a good day

Saturday morning came too soon, and with it horrible rainy weather and zero visibility. We were due to take Harbour Air (the world’s largest commercial float plane operation) over to Vancouver, but it was clear that these flights were going to be cancelled. This was a shame: I was looking forward to flying with them again.

Instead, I had to wait five long hours to catch the Helijet out at 1530, which meant I missed the Victoria pop-up. Still, I had a relaxing couple of days on the island, including a lovely brunch at Sherwood, where my friend Treve does the drinks list that she’s titled ‘all day drinking,’ focusing on a small, well chosen list of lighter cocktails and precise, bright wines, including a good local selection. We tried a few, and I also had a Caesar, a uniquely Canadian take on a bloody mary with clamato (clam and tomato) juice instead of just regular tomato.

Ross Bay, Victoria

Brunch at Sherwood

Caesar!

Looking forward to heading back to western Canada again in July, when I’m returning to the Okanagan. Can’t wait.

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