Maybe it’s something in the water.
(No — not lead!)
But Manitoba Liquor Control Commission product consultants in the Wheat City have some of the finest wine-tasting abilities in the province.
Ever since PCs from outside Winnipeg were (finally) allowed to take part in the annual competition — the first time was 2008 — Brandon has kicked butt.
Debbie Luke took second place in the rural PCs inaugural showing. Then, in 2009, former product consultant Kathy Boultbee, who’s moved up the ladder to become a product ambassador and now divides her time between Winnipeg and Brandon, took first place, and Cindy Rousseau placed third. Boultbee held onto the Wine Taster of the Year title for the next two years — 2010 and 2011. Since the contest is for product consultants only, she was unable to compete in the 2012 event due to her promotion.
So last year, first place went to Stephanie Mills from the Grant Park Liquor Mart.
But just days ago, Kevin Kotyk, who’s been the product consultant at the Shoppers Mall Brandon location for the past seven-and-a-half years, secured MLCC’s Wine Taster of the Year title and brought it home to Brandon. (Dare I add ‘where it belongs!’)
Kotyk was one of 39 product consultants in the competition this year. And while he’s placed second and has tied for third during other installments of the event over the past six years, he was delighted to take the top spot in 2013.
"It was quite a thrill to win the MLCC Wine Taster of the Year Competition in my sixth attempt," Kotyk said. "I had a nice strong showing in the whites — that was the third time I’ve had the lead after the whites. And I just seemed to do well in the reds, too, this year. I was able to guess the second wine was a Rioja from Spain, which I love, and the third one was a Cabernet Sauvignon from the United States, which was the J. Lohr Cab ($20.22), which I’ve had before, and it’s an excellent wine."
Kotyk said being detail-oriented helped him snag first place, and that trait worked well, too, for 10th and Victoria Liquor Mart product consultant Adrian Swain, who was awarded third place in his first-ever Wine Taster of the Year competition.
"Adrian is really into sports and statistics," Kotyk said of his colleague. "And it helps to be a wine geek or a learning geek. If you like following the news, you know who’s who. If you like watching golf on TV, you know the golfers. It’s details. So if you’re into wine to the same degree, that gives you different wines and regions you can just sort of think of because you like knowledge in general.
"Like one of the questions for the first wine was, ‘What is the county, the producer and the region?’ So I guessed it was it was Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($15.55), and the region, Alto Atige, which is a northern region of Italy where they make Pinot Grigio. So if you know those regions, it gets you a few additional points. But if you’re not sort of keen on picking up those kinds of details, then you might miss a few points."
According to Kotyk, the competitors make educated guesses based on experience and instinct, but he was quick to add there’s an element of luck involved, too. He enthusiastically credited the three-decades-old Brandon Wine Society as instrumental in helping him and the other Brandon product consultants expand and hone their wine-tasting abilities.
"Tasting wines blind really gives us a skill that we’re able to develop," he said. "In Winnipeg, they get to try more wines from the producers — different reps would maybe have like two tastings per week, for instance — and they have the winemakers coming in, so they get a lot of opportunities in that respect. But they KNOW what they’re tasting. I don’t think they do a lot of blind tasting.
"And here in Brandon, with the Brandon Wine Society, we get to work a little bit harder to try and determine what tastes and flavours and scents we can pick out in the wines, and then guessing where they’re from."
Marcel Roberge, manager of the 10th and Vic Liquor Mart for the past 13 years, concurred with Kotyk’s hearty endorsement of the Wine Society’s contribution.
"I totally agree," Roberge said. "I think it gives them so much. And I think what the Wine Society does, and the fact that our local product consultants do so well in this competition, speaks volumes about the nurturing that happens here in the Wheat City. We have the greatest collection of wine aficionados in Manitoba, if not Canada."
In addition to his title of MLCC Wine Taster of the Year, Kotyk will be treated to a trip to the 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival as part of the winner’s bounty. And although he has the utmost respect for his counterparts across the province, he confessed his victory is a just little bit sweeter since he’s from outside the provincial capital.
"It shows that the rural community is fond of wine, too, and we’re able to compete with Winnipeg," Kotyk said. "It’s just nice to be held in the same regard. And yeah — it’s nice to show them up. It’s fun!"