INTERVIEW WITH A MASTER OF WINE
THE FOURTH OF JUST TEN CANADIAN MASTERS OF WINE
Eugene Mlynczyk is one of Canada’s most celebrated professionals. He has held the hard-earned MW qualification since 2015 and is a Diploma Instructor at the Independent Wine Education Guild, where he was Diploma Program Coordinator for 5 years. He has also won several prestigious awards, including the Robert Mondavi Winery award issued by the Institute of Masters of Wine.
Tell us a little about your background – how did you first become interested in wine?
Well, it certainly was NOT part of my family’s Eastern European heritage, unless it was vodka or sweet cherry wine. I was a Canadian off to university in California, and in my sophomore year I moved into an international themed co-op called Hammarskjold House. We shared a lot of duties and started a fun Friday night movie and speaker get-together series. These seemed to call for “wine & cheese” and I raised my hand to be responsible for the wines. So with literally a $20 budget, I found myself biking with my trusty backpack to a Safeway supermarket and shopping a theme — Chilean wines one week, maybe local Californian the next. Believe it or not, $20 could go around quite a bit back in those days (the 1980s!). When I returned home to Canada afterwards, I started to explore the local Niagara wine scene, which was then just hitting its teenage stride, and it has been a passion ever since.
When did you first think, “I want to become a Master of Wine”?
In order to enter the wine industry (and also because of my love of learning), I studied many wine courses by correspondence and in person before completing the WSET Diploma back around 2001/2 (I should recall the exact year, but it’s been a while!). This all happened in a breakneck span of about three years, and I thought I was done after that. However, sometimes the student never leaves the room, and with the strong support and prodding of my then VP of Sales at Vincor Canada (then Canada’s largest wine producer and marketer) I decided the pinnacle of wine education, namely the Master of Wine qualification, made sense. I had the support of work, family, and the passion to do it. I was confident I could succeed, and with much effort and a “community” of study mates and friends, I did — becoming the fourth Canadian MW in 2015. There are now ten in Canada, as of mid-2021. I am also very proud of being awarded the Robert Mondavi Winery Award for the best overall performance in the Theory papers in my year. (I sell these fine wines too, so I am doubly proud with this award!
What’s the best thing about your job?
My current role is leading the small fine wine team within Arterra Canada called Principle Fine Wines. This is an extension of my 20 years in wine sales and a logical place to be. However, if you called me a “salesman” I might be offended. I think of what I do as working with a close group of friends, and that includes the customers we sell to, whether private clients or restaurateurs or others. The old adage is that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and though that is a bit of an exaggeration, there is a deep kernel of truth to it. Wine is the core which fuels all else for me, and I don’t know if I could (or would) do this if it wasn’t wine I was selling. And finally, every day is a bit different than every other day and (soon, once again) I will be able to continue to travel and learn even more about the makers, places and experiences in the global wine world.
The next time you’re tasting wine with your friends, think about how the wine feels in your mouth texturally. Is it super crisp, is it mouth-filling or is it really soft and silky?
What wine do you think people should appreciate but don’t?
If I can be so bold as to say it, I think the wine people should appreciate is the one that is right in front of them. In other words, leave your biases behind as much as possible, and savour the moment. In many cases the experience and setting in which you are tasting wine, however humble, cannot be fully separated from what’s in the glass itself. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and my wife and I shared a simple patio bite with an inexpensive, light, chilled local Niagara Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was wonderful! My only proviso would be that since we all taste things differently (as we see, smell, feel differently as well), you should trust your own taste. Just try to avoid jumping to early or preconceived conclusions, whether “I’m going to love that!” or perhaps worse, “I’m going to hate this.” We shape our own destinies.
What is your favourite expensive wine, and your favourite affordable wine?
There is such a broad range of definitions when you consider “expensive” and “affordable,” but understanding that, I might say that my favourite luxury wine is sparkling, and more often than not, it is Champagne, with the caveat that this can also include some rising traditional method contenders from other origins as well. Louis Roederer Cristal Rose 1996 was a recent (anniversary) highlight, once again tying wine to occasion inseparably. For my choice of affordable wine, I’ll read “inexpensive” into the equation here, and I might stay local and choose a Niagara Peninsula Riesling (drier the better) or Pinot Noir (the more savoury the better). At the lower price end there can be plenty of variability, so I like to try before I buy (and commit to a case or more!).
What wine fact can you share with our readers so they can impress their friends?
Honestly, it is so easy to impress people in this regard because wine is about enjoyment and the consequent knowledge bar seems to be set pretty low. Recently I mentioned often preferring lower priced wines sealed with screwcap closures so that they weren’t subject to cork taint, and the person across from me immediately said, “Hey, you really know your stuff!” More seriously, I offer this tidbit to share with your friends: next time you are tasting wine together, think about how the wine feels in your mouth texturally. Is it super crisp, is it mouth-filling or is it really soft and silky? Think about building materials or fabric (stones, clay or silk, velvet, denim) and which of these are most like the wine in your mouth. Then you can truly discuss “mouth feel” or the wine’s texture. This goes beyond just talking about the flavours you are tasting, which of course are important, but is sometimes where we stop.
If you were hosting a dinner party, who would you invite (from anytime, anywhere)?
Ha! This sounds like a question which deserves a traditional Gandhi, Linus Pauling or Rembrandt type answer. Since I don’t know the drinking habits of many famous folks, I will draw on my background in the fine arts (I hold a BA in Painting & Drawing from Stanford University and a Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University) and suggest a mixed set of abstract art “heroes”: Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Gerhard Richter and Joan Mitchell. Plus I’d love to talk again to my beloved Stanford art teachers, Frank Lobdell and Nathan Oliveira, who both passed away in the last decade or so, RIP.
What is your wine guilty pleasure?
Probably the fact that I drink wine almost every day! There are so many wines, and so many meals to match them with, that I can’t conceive of ever not wanting wine to complement our daily meals. 1 + 1 = 3 and though there are many fine waters out there (and even water sommeliers), water just doesn’t cut it for me. And also try to drink wines from the place you’re in with the food from the place you’re in. Another popular (but true) adage.
MEET EUGENE AT AN UPCOMING EVENT
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