Long-time patrons of Joe Beef know that, in many respects, the straw that stirs the drink at the Little Burgundy restaurant is Vanya Filipovic. The floor manager at Allison Cunningham, Fred Morin, and Dave McMillan's restaurant, and principal in the group's new buvette, Le Vin Papillon, along with Joe Beef chef de cuisine Marc-Olivier Frappier, is also one of the most knowledgeable wine people in Montreal.
To quote McMillan, from The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts:
At Joe Beef, I work the wine list with the mysterious Vanya Filipovic, a true Burgundy fanatic and the best waitress I've had the pleasure of working with. Her exuberance and her pinpoint accuracy of what people want to drink astound me. She is the only person who can sell Morgon to Cabernet-drinking alpha-male golfers and make them love it. In fact, she is loved by all.
Lesley Trites, who blogs at Girl on Wine, recently sat down with Filipovic.
What was the inspiration behind Le Vin Papillon's wine program?
We really wanted to compliment the Joe Beef wine program with a fresher approach. The wine list at Joe Beef has always had a freshness criteria that had to be met, especially since what we [the owners] like to drink is mostly Burgundy, Beaujolais, et cetera. But, also just in general, to give people energy as they're eating those decadent, rich meals. So here we wanted it to be even fresher, especially since the food is lighter. That was really the idea. It made sense to go in a natural wine direction. Not every wine on the list is natural, but every wine on the list is well-made, with freshness as the goal. Low alcohol, fresh wines.
Do you have a working definition you go with when it comes to natural wines?
It's a question that's become really political to me, so I tread with trepidation. I think the technical term for natural wine equals sulphur-free or largely sulphur-free wine. But that's a really double-edged sword, because there can be a sulphur-free wine that isn't worked properly in other aspects. So in terms of what I look for in natural wine, it really has to be the complete package. I don't know if I can say that that's the definition of a natural wine, but for us, that's what we look for.
Is there a printed wine list at Vin Papillon, or only a chalkboard menu?
Chalkboard. It's really designed to create a conversation. It changes all the time. People ask questions, read the chalkboard, and talk about what they might like, or not.
In terms of the overall concept, did you have the bars à vins of Paris in mind?
Yeah. I think we're all obsessed with Paris wine bars, so of course that's the ultimate ideal (and also the ultimate compliment to be compared to), because that's what we love. Maybe a more North American version of the Paris wine bar, but yeah, absolutely.
Do the wines at Le Vin Papillon change often?
I never buy more than 24 bottles of the same wine, so it's flipping all the time. Sometimes it's because I want it to stay super fresh, but also sometimes because I'm not allowed to buy more than 24. It's a lot of small allocated wines that we work here.
These days, are there any wines in particular that you're especially excited to introduce to customers?
I've been working a lot with Slovenia. That's exciting because it's also new for me, so I'm geeking out a lot and reading a ton about it. I also have Eastern European roots (my family is from Serbia), so there's a history link there for me. So those wines I find super exciting, but at the same time I wouldn't recommend them to everyone.
How did you first get into wine?
My mom was a sommelière. When I was little, we would go to vineyards all the time. We never went to Disney World; we went to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Burgundy and all that. At the time, I found it hopelessly boring. But it just kind of stayed with me. Throughout my younger days, I tried to do it on the side, as a compliment to other things, and I just found that I loved it too much.
Was your mother working in restaurants as well?
She had her own restaurant with my father as the chef. The whole wine program was her.
Were there any regions in particular that she would take you to?
My parents are big Rhône people, so that was a huge focus. It was during the 70s and 80s when California wine was really starting, so they were really fascinated with that. We actually went to California quite a bit. It was interesting. I feel like I have a great perspective as a result, of wine through time.
So did they let you taste wine?
Oh, my God, they made me. I never really wanted to, but they forced me.
Do you feel like their tastes and where they were taking you have influenced your taste and direction today?
Yes and no. I think that it was an amazing place to start. After that, everyone has their own interpretation and develops their tastes differently. I think it also has to do my experiences too. I went, for example, and did a harvest in the Jura, and I spent four months in Burgundy. These kinds of things really shaped my taste as a result. But I think definitely it was a really good place to start. I remember also going to Champagne with my parents, and that's never gone away in terms of an obsession of mine.
Did you ever take formal wine courses?
I took a few. They made me really mad, really angry. Honestly, I tried to stay away from that. What was fun was developing tasting groups with peers. That's how I learned. And just going on the premises. But yeah, I have no pin, no degree, no initials after my name.
What do you hope to achieve with Le Vin Papillon's wine program over time?
I feel like our wine list is exciting, but also has a very modest and simple side to it, which is how I want it to stay. I don't want to have any sort of dictatorship or absolutes on the wine list, ever. Sometimes I look around the room and I see seven tables drinking different German Rieslings or people having orange wine with the crazy raw milk cheeses we have, and that is what makes me really happy. If we can do that, and do it well, and have people leave here happy, that's it. That's all that I care about.