As a star in CBC’s new comedy series, Crawford, actor Chad Connell is adding to his impressive acting gig resume (he can count roles on Suits, Nikita, Good Witch, Mary Kills People, to name a few). While his career on the screen is most definitely on the rise (we caught up with him in between his many acting gigs), Chad’s passion for something that happens to be one of our favourite things… wine, is also growing leaps and bounds. And that’s what caught our attention. Chad has hopped around the globe, sampling and tasting some of the world’s best wines (he’s partial to natural wines… read on below to find out why). So we had to find out (no matter how envious we are of his travels and the fact that he’s been wine tasting all over the south of France and Italy), what some of his favourite places his travels has take him to… oh, and we wanted to know all about the wine too.
You’re a homegrown Canadian… what part of Canada do you love the most? What part have you not visited that you want to see?
My heart is in the East Coast. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time now to buy some land in Cape Breton and build a spot for myself. Being an actor my home can be many places at once and so I always have a desire for that one constant that I can return to and no matter where I am in my life it feels like home.
Fave food/wine spot in Ottawa?
I grew up in Ottawa and most of my family is still there, so I like to make it back as much as I can- I have a few regular spots I like to go to, but top among them is a place called Riviera. They do classic French cuisine but are still very accessible. It also has a fool-proof wine list. The sommelier there is Alex McMahon and he is a huge advocate for well-made, honest wines. He and another guy host an annual event called “Wines by Nature” that celebrates the best made natural wines from all over the world. I’ve made it the past couple years to pour some wines that are really close to my heart.
Explain to us what natural wine is…
There’s a saying that the more work that is done in the vines, the less work to be done in the cellar. That means that if you are using the best farming practices, which promote the healthiest possible vines, and grapes. There is no need to use added yeast, sugar and any other of the 300+ additives that can go in a conventional bottle of wine.
There is a lot of debate about the term ‘natural’. For me, it is a wine that has been farmed organically, fermented naturally with the least amount of human intervention. The result can be a living wine that tells the story of where it is from, and who made it.
How did you become so passionate about natural wine? What is it about wine that you love?
It’s about authenticity. I’ve always had a passion for things that are made by hand, whether it’s clothes, bread, or wine. To me real luxury isn’t about a high-end label with an expensive price-tag; it’s about the human touch. I like to know that each bottle of wine I’m drinking is unique and has been made for the love of the craft.
Can you remember the first time you sipped wine and it really had an impact on you?
I started tasting wine at family gatherings at a young age and tried to imitate the adults, who treated it with reverence and really took the time to smell and taste and discuss their wines. I obviously had no idea what I was doing, but being an actor, I played the part really well. A wine that stands out in recent memory Éric Texier’s Brézème. I think I first had it about a decade ago and I was so struck by how much character it had, and it helped hasten the love-affair with natural wines.
Where are your favourite wine locations in North America?
Racines NYC in Manhattan. It’s a French bistro in TriBeCa, and the wine programme is run by Arnaud Tronche and Pascaline Lepeltier who are two real rockstars in the world of natural wine.
In Toronto, it’s probably Woodlot. The whole restaurant is centred around a wood-burning oven, where they bake hundreds of loaves of sourdough a day, and fire most of their food. The wine list isn’t extensive but their offerings range from cider from Brittany to an orange wine from Georgia, to a Nero d’Avola from Sicily. The theme, of course, being as honest and low-intervention wines as possible.
Where are your favourite wine locations in the rest of the world?
In Venice, which is known more as a tourist trap than a food destination, there is a little place called CoVino. It’s run by a young man called Andrea Lorenzo, who is passionate about honest food and real wine, and hospitality. Last time I was there I left with a magnum of Prosecco made just for them, with is gaining a bit of age in my cellar.
What spot in the world really surprised you wine-wise?
Since wine and food go hand-in-hand, where was the most incredible meal you’ve had?
This is a very hard question to answer so I’ll round out to a top 2:
1. My family’s annual Christmas dinner. It is very traditional. The whole family gets involved in preparing and we do our best to source the best ingredients like heritage or wild turkeys. My mum uses only the best pork lard in her pastry, and my dad makes a proper butterscotch sauce boozed up with some Scottish Whisky for the Christmas pudding. Wines are often Alsace, Mosel and some Burgundies, with of course some port or px for dessert.
2. A large family-style midday dinner with winemaker Franck Peillot up in the Bugey, in the east of France. We ate in his kitchen where he prepared t-bone steaks from the local butcher. What really made it was tasting about a dozen different vintages of his wines with our meal.
Where was the most incredible wine you’ve had?
Wine is inextricably linked to the people who made it and the place it was grown. So I’d say I’ve never had a wine taste as good as it does in the cellar, with the wine-maker. One of my favourite tasting experiences is with a producer named Julien Guillot, who inherited and runs Clos des Vignes-du-Maynes, where he farms biodynamically and makes all of his wines with little to no sulphur. He used to be a performer before he took over the winemaking, and so when he tells the stories of the wine and history of the domain, (which dates back to 910 AD) he is so animated and brings it all to life as only a showman can.
Is there anything you won’t try food wise?
Kangaroo, they’re too weird and cute.
What is your ultimate dream destination and why?
Georgia is high on my list of places to go. It has a winemaking tradition stretching back more than seven thousand years, and because of the grip of the Soviet Union during a time when most of the world switching to methods of mass production and less than ideal wine-making techniques, Georgia was sort of left behind. As a result, much of their wine is still very traditional and has been influencing the way a lot of natural winemakers in France, Italy and even North America make wine. They’re known for their skin-contact whites (aka orange wine) and fermenting or ageing in clay vessels known as Qvevri.
How adventurous are you when it comes to trying new foods and wine while travelling? What is the most unique thing you’ve tried?
There is no wine I will not try, assuming we’re still talking natural wine ;). As for food— I’ll try most things. I grew up with grandparents who raised their own animals and loved to have us try all the offal. I know it upsets a lot of people to hear it- but horse is delicious. My sister-in-law loves it with fondue!
What would you say to someone to get them out of their comfort zone with food and wine when they’re travelling?
What other reason to travel is there, than to experience things the way other people do them. Eat the local foods, drink the local wines. When travelling, avoid anything you can find back home.
Three things you never travel without?
Eye drops are essential if you plan on having wine-fuelled late nights and still want to look good in photos the next day.
There’s a book by Phaidon called “Where Chefs Eat” which tells you all the best spots as selected by local and celebrity chefs. You can narrow your search for things like local favourites or great breakfast or budget friendly. I have the app version as well which is great for travel.
My John Varvatos leather duffel bag. I got it about 10 years ago as a Christmas present and the older it gets the better it looks. It comes with me everywhere.
What would you say your travel mantra is? What is your wine mantra?
Travel mantra: Pick culture over weather, and stay away from all-inclusives.
Wine mantra: Less is more. Less marketing, less branding, few ingredients. But of course, more is more in terms of quantity.