IN THE KITCHEN: Jennifer Vipond and Shaun Edmonstone
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Bruce Wine Bar is an off-the-beaten-path gem. Located in a back parking lot (next to the TD Bank) in downtown Thornbury, the 48-seat venue is “a quirky, West Coast inspired kind of place,” says Jennifer Vipond, who owns and operates Bruce Wine Bar with both her husband, Steven, and locavore chef, Shaun Edmonstone.

Eager to learn more about this curious one-of-a-kind wine bar that serves up quality vintages, tasty local fare and a hip relaxed atmosphere, this GoodLife reporter sat down with Jennifer and Shaun in the upstairs dining room of the wine bar that locals refer to simply as ‘Bruce.' Here's how the conversation unfolded.
Once in Thornbury, I had trouble spotting the wine bar and ended up asking a local resident for directions. After pointing out your somewhat hidden whereabouts, the Good Samaritan added an unsolicited endorsement. ‘It's a bit hard to find, but the place has great food and fabulous wine. It's worth checking out.' Pat yourself on the back for the recommendation.

Let's begin with the story behind your offbeat location.      
 
Jennifer: Long before the wine bar, Steven (a builder by trade), along with a business partner, bought this building and renovated it. When the lease on the back space fell apart, we decided to open up that little wine bar we had always talked about. I had the wine experience, Steven had the construction and design part covered, the only missing link was the food. That's when Shaun came into the picture as a partner. We opened up Bruce Wine Bar in 2011 and the rest is history.

Why a wine bar? 
Jennifer: After working in the veterinary pharmaceutical business for 20 years, I developed a real passion for grapes and became a sommelier. I've always loved wine, but after touring various BC wineries and discovering the fabulous wine bars of Tofino with friends, we decided to make a life shift. Opening up a wine bar made perfect sense.

The decor is quite fun and eclectic. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Jennifer: Steven (who owns Thornbury-based Kingpost Builders) has a real flair for design, carpentry and renovation and he's the mastermind behind the interior. It's earthy, organic and full of reclaimed materials including barn tin accents, hemlock tables and whimsical ironwork. Even our green sectional couch is reclaimed. It's from The Fly movie set. Steven's friend was the set designer for that movie and we got it from him. How cool is that!  »

I also like the A-framed ceiling, funky lighting, the forest mural and the various shelves lined with homemade preserves.

Jennifer: The space is sort of quirky [laughs]. It's an upstairs/downstairs kind of place with plenty of character and an open kitchen. The building is over 125 years old and has had many lives over the years. It was an apple storage facility at one point. 

Bruce Wine Bar regularly wins Wine Spectator Awards. How is your passion for wine reflected in your wine list and/or guest experience?
Jennifer: I always say to guests, ‘if you have any questions about the wine let me know'. My goal is to hit all price points (from $44 to $200 per bottle) with as many varietals as possible.  Our wines by the glass change constantly but our bottles (over 140 different wines) are more standard. We also serve wine in beautiful glassware enhancing the tasting experience. A lot of care, thought and education goes into choosing our wines. For example, if the product is from Ontario or BC, I have either been to that vineyard or have met the winemaker. That personal connection is extremely important to me.

With respect to the menu, looks like you can come in and relax over a glass of wine and munch on a cheese and charcuterie board, enjoy a full three-course meal, nibble on a gourmet wood fired pizza or stop by for Sunday brunch. Does that about sum it up? 
Shaun: That's a pretty good rundown of what we offer. Our menu changes with the seasons, and we offer weekly specials.

What's popular?
Shaun: Our mixed charcuterie boards (pate, terrine, salami and preserves) have always been a hot seller. Our seasonal salads are also fantastic and just fly out of the kitchen. And I can't forget about our wood fired pizza.

Shaun, I understand you are a Thornbury native, a Red Seal graduate of the School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts at George Brown College, and that your cooking skills were honed at Toronto's acclaimed Pangaea Restaurant, and at the historic Windsor Arms Hotel. Did you start in a local kitchen?
Shaun: I grew up about five blocks from here and got my first job dishwashing at a nearby restaurant (the current site of Bridges) as soon as I was able to crawl into a sink [laughs]. Back then it was called Carriages, and by the time I was 19-years-old I was in charge of that kitchen. After cooking on a line for about 20 years at different kitchens in the Toronto-area, my wife and I decided to move back to Thornbury. Shortly after, I connected with Jennifer and Steve and we partnered up to open the wine bar. 

What's your food philosophy?
Shaun: Simple, local and technique driven – I'm all about the basics. I make everything from scratch except for our cheeses, dairy products and mustard.
Jennifer: Shaun is the real deal. He even makes his own ketchup!

We've heard you also cure your own bacon.
Is that true?
Shaun: Absolutely! We make about 60 to 100 pounds of bacon per week. We do a brown sugar and salt cure for 10 days, dry it for a day and then smoke it for six hours. We also make our own prosciutto, pates, terrines, pickles, preserves, sausages, pepperoni, sauces, dressings, pizza dough, desserts and the list goes on. 

Bruce Wine Bar is a FeastOn member. Explain your commitment to using local farmers and producers, and why it's important to develop these strong relationships.
Shaun: The local food chain matters. Along with supporting the local economy and farming community, I think it's important to know where your food comes from. We currently work with about 12 farmers and have our own plots with four of them. We also have our own 4,000-square-foot garden a block away from here where we grow tomatoes, beans, swiss chard, kale, squash, herbs, beets, carrots, walking stick kale, raspberries, wild garlic, edible flowers and more.

What three-course dinner would you order for me? 
Shaun: I'd start you off with one of our delicious seasonal salads. After that, I'd suggest our fish of the day. We are really well known for our fresh fish. Along with Ontario fish, we exclusively use Ocean Wise approved products from the East and West coasts. If you aren't in the mood for fish, I'd suggest the beast which is a rotating meat special ranging from pork to duck. For dessert, I'd go for the caramel apple waffle with an almond brittle.

You also offer weekly specials with wine pairings. Please expand.

Shaun: That's right, as soon as I come up with the specials, Jennifer pairs all of the wines.

What's your wine philosophy?
Jennifer: Drink what you love, and pair when you can. In terms of pairing, certain wines can make the food taste better, and certain foods can make the wine taste better when married. But for someone enjoying a variety of dishes at one sitting, they should just drink the wines they love.

What's your favourite wine?
Jennifer: There are too many to mention [laughs]. In terms of varietals, I'm particularly fond of chardonnay, Viognier and Syrah. I love all wines, really.    

How do you cater to diners with special dietary needs?
Jennifer: We're pretty flexible because everything is made to order. We do have gluten-friendly and vegetarian options on the menu, and we can also cater to lactose free or vegan. We do not offer a gluten-free pizza because all of our dough is made in house. For severe allergies, or strict dietary restrictions we always recommend calling ahead.

What about special events?
Jennifer: We've got plenty going on including $2 Corkage Tuesdays, Open Mike Wednesdays, and Live Music Fridays. Throughout the year, we also host wine tastings, visiting chef events, cooking classes and more.
What about take-out and catering?
Shaun: We offer takeout pizza and offsite catering from six to 200. We also do catering pick-ups and drop-offs. 

Beyond Bruce Wine Bar, what is your favourite foodie destination?
Shaun: I've had great experiences at the Woodlot Restaurant – woodlottoronto.com – and at the Farmhouse Tavern (on Facebook). Both are located in Toronto. 
Jennifer: Two of my favourite places are SoBo (sobo.ca) and the Wolf in the Fog (wolfinthefog.com.) Both are located in Tofino, BC. I love them because all of the boxes are checked – great wine, fantastic food and an amazing atmosphere.

What's your favourite meal to make at home?
Shaun: Either a roasted chicken or a really good chopped salad bowl steak dinner. I have two little kids at home and they ask for pasta six nights a week [laughs]. 

You've got the ear of thousands of local diners and wine lovers.  Anything you like to add?

Jennifer: We are having such a great time with this place! A whole lot of love and care goes into everything we serve – be it wine, food or live music. I honestly think that our guests appreciate that kind of passion and enthusiasm. 
   

CURED ONTARIO TROUT
with honey, thyme and wild juniper berries
(Recipe courtesy of Shaun Edmonstone, chef/co-owner of Bruce Wine Bar)

INGREDIENTS:
2 lbs fresh Ontario rainbow trout (ask your fish monger to fillet, pin bone and belly 2 medium fillets) 
3/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup dark Ontario honey, or maple syrup or brown sugar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp coarse black pepper
5 crushed juniper berries

PREPARATION:
In large bowl mix together salt, honey, thyme, black pepper and juniper berries. In a glass or stainless steel non-corrosive dish, place one quarter of this mixture.
Place both fillets skin down, add remaining mixture to the top of fillets. Cover with a contact layer of plastic wrap, pressing it down directly onto the fish. You don't want any air touching the fillets.  Let rest in the refrigerator for 12 hours, or overnight.
Remove from refrigerator and flip fillets, so they rest in the rub meat side down. Re-wrap in plastic wrap and place back in refrigerator for about eight hours. Remove trout, rinse with cold water and pat dry. Slice thin on an angle. Serve with crème fraiche, sour cream and pickles or preserves.


This recipe is great for parties and

gatherings. Cured trout can be made days in advance, and will keep for five to seven days in the refrigerator. 
As an appetizer, this recipe will serve 20 to 30 people
.



BRUCE WINE BAR

8 Bruce St S, Thornbury,
(519) 599-1112
www.brucewinebar.ca

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