Calgary Wine Life: Meet Brian Greenslade @ The Ferocious Grape

30 03 2012

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

Brian Greenslade isn’t much for titles.  Though he has full command over the ordering and inventory direction of the Ferocious Grape, a prestigious position for which others may have taken the label “Wine Director” or “Sommelier”, FG’s website simply anoints him as their resident “Wine Lover”.  Brian’s business card is even more nondescript; below his name, where most people broadcast their employment station, it simply reads “[Insert Title Here]”.  If I had to name one thing that separates the Ferocious Grape from the rest of the pack of Calgary wine boutiques, it would be this kind of laid-back, utterly pretension-free attitude, an approach that remembers that wine is just a drink to be shared among friends, not one that should make you feel like you have to keep an eye on your credentials.

My experience with Ferocious Grape goes back almost to its opening in 2008.  I used to live in the Beltline, a few blocks from FG’s storefront at 8th Street and 10th Avenue SW, so they ended up becoming my friendly neighbourhood wine shop.  I was just starting to get interested in wine at that point, yearning to know more but still totally uncomfortable at the thought of venturing alone into a wine store and being peppered with questions to which I had no answers by some wine-snob-in-training.  Upon noticing this brand new shop a stone’s throw away from my place, however, I couldn’t help but stop in, and I was amazed to walk into a funky, relaxed, pressure-free atmosphere where there was always a full glass waiting for me and never any intimidation factor associated with the products being sold.

The polished concrete floors, industrial-style high ceilings and bold colour scheme make the store feel both modern and welcoming, and the staff, Greenslade foremost among them, are equally as content to let you browse without looming or engage you in whatever conversation you want to have about wine.  “The overarching goal of the shop is to be a fun easy place to come into and find a great bottle for whatever it is that you are doing,” says Greenslade.  “I am always looking for wines that will be truly amazing for you on a particular day and for a specific purpose, based on the mood you are in rather than on the points the bottle has scored.  The one word that I would use to sum up the wine selection in the store is:  fun.”

It was a single drinking event that changed Greenslade’s career path and turned wine from a passing interest to a lifelong pursuit.  Back in 2003, he opened a bottle of 1993 Vosne-Romanee village wine, a red from France’s Burgundy region, which parted the clouds for him and “transformed wine from being a mere beverage to an unending search for a transcendent aesthetic experience.”  Caught by the vinous bug, he went on to attain formal certifications from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (International Higher Certificate), the International Sommelier’s Guild (Level 2) and California’s most renowned wine institute, UC Davis (Descriptive Analysis of Table Wines) on top of his bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary, and he gained industry experience at Bonterra Trattoria, working his way up to assistant manager and becoming heavily involved in the restaurant’s wine program, before moving literally next door into his current position.  After almost three years at the Ferocious Grape, he has become its primary vinicultural resource and has started to mould FG’s lineup of wines in his own unique image:  part intellectual, part off-the-wall, always engaging.

Now that Ferocious Grape is a fixture in the local neighbourhood, Greenslade and store owner Kim Chernow are upping their efforts to increase the store’s reach and presence, recently totally overhauling FG’s website (www.ferociousgrape.com), reactivating a previously-dormant Twitter account (@ferocious_grape) and introducing a Wine Club (that delivers!) which offers a varying selection of wines and accompanying background information to members on a monthly basis.  “The revamped website is part of our effort to really rebrand ourselves online and to put a great deal more focus on our online presence,” explains Greenslade.  “The wine club is a natural evolution for the store, a fabulous way for us to keep in touch with customers who used to be local to the area but have now moved away from downtown [author’s note:  like me].  It’s also a convenient way for people who come across our blog or website to get to try some of the great wines they are watching us talk about.”  FG is also more than happy to help guide your own personal or office wine group.  My old workplace downtown has a weekly wine club that sees Greenslade provide a trio of bottle suggestions to a growing number of participants every Friday; once orders are gathered, they’re submitted to Brian by e-mail and the wine is delivered right to the office a couple hours later.  Downtown office denizens, take note!  That weekly Friday bottle of wine is one of the things I miss most about that job.

According to Greenslade, the shop’s new focus on electronic and social engagement is “just the beginning.  We are really looking forward to putting out a bunch of great content in several different media, with particular emphasis on our written blog and video posts.”  While my fondness for the written blog should go without saying, it is the mention of video that really perked my interest.  Online video wine talk?  From a Calgary wine shop?  Believe it.  The first example of this new endeavour, and Greenslade’s inaugural on-camera star turn, came out this past week, in a discussion of FG’s “Ferocious Friday” weekly feature wine:

I can only hope that this kind of interaction with the wider Calgary community will take the Ferocious Grape to greater heights, because they have long represented everything that I enjoy about a wine store.  Led by owner Kim’s devotion and Brian’s expert curiosity, they offer serious wines without taking themselves too seriously.  They are willing to move to the edges of the more well-known wine regions in order to bring their customers a bargain that offers more than its label might suggest.  And they provide a more personal kind of wine-buying experience than anywhere else I’ve been to, focusing more on matching the right person with the right bottle than on simply moving product.  For awhile I have thought that FG was the best-kept wine secret in the city of Calgary; hopefully now the secret is getting out.

Once you have a chance to discover firsthand what FG has to offer, what should you make sure to walk out with?  I made sure to get the Ferocious Grape Buying Guide right from the [insert title here]’s mouth:

Q.  How do you pick the weekly Ferocious Friday wine?  What was the most successful FF bottle in recent memory?

Brian Greenslade:  The wine has to speak to me.  The two things that I look for most in a Friday selection are (1) being stupendously easy to love and (2) having lots of personality.  At times those two things can be directly at odds, so really it is about finding the right balance.  Balance is one of my favourite words when talking about wine — if it’s not balanced, I rarely care what else it is.  One of our favourite FF bottles is Argentina’s Alma Negra (which means “dark soul”), which is a mystery blend but made up mainly of Malbec and Bonarda.  It’s just a wonderful dark rich wine that is dangerously easy to drink and never disappoints [Author’s note: and that has an appropriately creepy label whose eyes follow you when you move].

Q.  What’s your favourite “Wine For An Occasion” in the store — one that’s $50 or more and turns any get-together into something instantly special?

Brian Greenslade:  It would have to be the Sori Paitin Langhe Rosso 2001 from the Piedmont region of Italy, in a magnum (1.5L bottle) for $75.  This Nebbiolo-based wine is still amazingly youthful, showing lots of red fruit, rose petals and tobacco…it’s just drinking spectacularly well right now.

Q.  What’s the last FG wine that you drank that really made you sit up and take notice?

Brian Greenslade:  The last bottle that made me really take notice was a 1990 Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire red Burgundy from Maison Roche de Bellene.  What struck me as truly incredible was how youthful this still is at 22 years old; if the colour didn’t give it away you could easily think this wine was only five years old.  Simply amazing.  [Author’s note:  I have one of these bottles at home, so this answer makes me very happy.  Roche de Bellene has recently been releasing a bunch of back-vintage wine, giving people the chance to try older Burgundy without having to age it themselves for decades…if you ever see one, grab it!]

Q.  What’s the best value wine in the whole shop?

Brian Greenslade:  It has got to be the “Le Devoy” from Domaine Andre Aubert, coming from the lesser-known French wine region of Grignan-les-Adhemar in the Southern Rhone Valley.  This bottle is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan and is only $18, but it punches way above its weight class, showing wonderful black pepper over top of ripe berry fruit with a nice streak of minerality.  The obscure regions of France have long been my favoured hunting grounds for amazingly good wine that costs very little…this is an awesome wine and lots of fun, although I am disappointed that my super powers have yet to manifest.  [Author’s note: I own many bottles of this.  It was recently the featured red at my friend’s wedding reception and is a total knockout.  It will soon be the focus of its very own Pop & Pour review, at which point I will explain the “super powers” reference…in the free blog world, they call that “the hook”.]

If you happen to find yourself across the tracks from downtown in Connaught, I’ve found that a visit to FG is never a wasted trip.  Until next month, CIAers!

The Ferocious Grape is located at 833 – 10th Avenue SW.  In addition to his title-free responsibilities at FG, Brian is known for wearing a burgundy velour Hugo Boss suit and somehow pulling it off.

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