Brad Royale: Today’s Notable Young Professional

For anyone out there who thinks wine isn’t interesting, we challenge you to spend one hour with Brad Royale, who has the nose of a bloodhound, a gentlemanly demeanour and a creative knack for describing wines that sound more like greeting cards than tasting notes.

Royale is a highly respected sommelier that carries two wine diplomas (ISG and WSET) and is working his way towards his designation as master sommelier, which is highly impressive considering there are only about 200 people in the world that hold that designation. He currently works as the Wine Director for Canadian Rocky Mountain and Resorts, where he is in charge of wine purchasing, menu design and staff training for eight properties. In his spare time, Royale has started his own negociant (wine merchant) company and entertains followers on Twitter with his very unique take on wines. Take for instance:

“1999 Dom Perignon; a little like being stuffed into a box and punched, ferocious. Copper, popcorn pot, twine, oats…”

“2000 Alban Lorraine Syrah; black olives, sneakers on hot asphalt, brown Tupperware filled with brown sugar, youthful…”

We met with Royale a Bar C recently to have a glass of wine and learn a bit more about how someone from smalltown Saskatchewan can become a prestigious wine director, his weirdest wine tasting experience, and just exactly what Kitten Swish is all about.

First of all, is ‘Royale’ your real last name?
Yes it is. It stems from three or four generations ago. My great, great, great grandfather was an Irish horse thief whose last name was ‘Macintosh’. When he was caught stealing horses he decided to move to France to avoid being drawn and quartered or serving whatever punishment people served for stealing horses back then. That’ s when he changed his name to ‘Royale’.

What’s your current favourite bottle of wine?
Pierre Peters Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru by the magnum.

Tell us briefly how someone who grew up in the small town prairies ends up being a prestigious wine director. Did your passion for wine start with the homemade stuff?
Well you have to drink a lot of wine to get into a role like this. I remember mom and dad used to drink Black Tower in the 1-liter bottles but my passion for wine started when working for the Chateau in Lake Louise. I moved out there to work, party and meet girls, but really ended up enjoying the wine thing. The Chateau had a huge wine list with all these different bottles from all these different places. You didn’t mix them with anything or shake them; you just popped and poured them, which seemed really interesting. The wines had an identity all to their own. There was a really nice bar called the Walliser Stube with a nice wine list where I’d go for tastings and that’s just when it clicked for me.

Can you tell me a little bit about Kitten Swish?
Kitten Swish was a wine label that I started last year and it’s what you would call a “negociant company.” I go in and buy barrels from wineries, blend them together and make an interpretation of the wine I purchased. Kitten Swish just had its second release, which is a Chardonnay called “Stitch.”  

To give you a bit more of an idea, the wine for Stitch came from a vineyard called Stuhlmuller in Alexander Valley, Sonoma. I went down and tasted through a warehouse of Chardonnay barrels (about 20 of them) and all these barrels are unique and have different personalities. They might come from different wood, different grains, or have different toast levels, so they all render the wine to be different. During the tasting we narrowed it down to about three barrels and blended a certain percentage of each of those barrels so that the wine felt, smelt and tasted a certain way.

Regarding Kitten Swish, I hope to work on an Okanagan project this year and start with a few rows of vines so they grow a certain way and age in a certain way.

I’m looking to work with the Cabernet Franc grape, which can be lovely in the Okanagan.

What do you do outside of work for downtime?
I like to cook. I made Raman from scratch this weekend. It took all day but it was worth it after five attempts. I also enjoy reading and I’m currently reading 1984, which is fantastic.

Where do you like to travel?
Wine regions for both work and pleasure. I like them because they are situated somewhere beautiful with nice scenery; reasonable climate (usually some place warm) and a lot of wine regions tend to have dramatic landscapes. Lots of wine regions have a culture that is intermixed with it, so when you go a wine area there is an identity tied to the food and the art as well. To get to wine regions you also have to head to some major city centers like Barcelona, Lyon, Santiago and Buenos Aires, which makes the trip an all-encompassing experience. First, you get to see the urban center, but then you get to see the rural area where there’s nothing but vines and fields. It’s the best of both worlds.

What’s the most obscure place you’ve ever visited for wine?
The one that was most out of the way for me was Morocco because not a lot of people go there for wine. Mostly people go there to smoke, eat oranges and drink mint tea, but Morocco actually has quite a history of wine production. It’s so hot there and it’s just an interesting culture. I was at a French-owned winery and we sat in a very small tasting room. I sat in at a tasting bar and the winemaker just constantly smoked Marlboros the whole time we tasted wine. Then we had this amazing meal of roast lamb. It was a very industrial winery but still a great experience.  

Favourite food and wine pairing?
Oysters and Sauternes. The Sauterne has to be quite cold, lots of ice preferably, in an ice bucket. It’s something you might start a meal with but Champagne and oysters is also very good.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I really like my life. I really enjoy where I am and I hope that continues. I’d like to take more certifications and work towards my Master Sommelier. Maybe live some place that is more viticultural.

Do you want to own your own winery?
If you would have asked me that a few years ago I would have said ‘no’, but Kitten Swish has really sparked that interest in me. I worked part of the harvest in California this year and I really enjoyed it. I love Sonoma and could see myself living in California.

What is one interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?
That’s a hard question. I collect word of the day emails and have for probably 10 years now. Each day you get words that are interesting or have a fun meaning. Actually, there was a word of the day that I received recently ago called ‘logophilia’ and it refers to someone that collects words.

Let’s talk about your tasting notes.
So when you learn how to taste wine in a professional manner, you are given an official aroma wheel, which gives you the profile on how to taste. Is it fruit? Is it orchard fruit? Citrus? There are lots of components to decipher. It’s basically the tools to figure out the nose and palate. So as you go through some of these things and become a little but more familiar, you start to pull out things. You start to become familiar with scents and then you start to dig a little deeper into things.

An apple is a great example. Are you smelling a Gala, a Macintosh or a Granny Smith? Early, mid or late season? Where is the apple? Are you eating it in your hot car or are you just taking it out of your crisper? Is the apple peeled, pureed or is it juice? Fresh, processed or concentrate? An apple pie or apple sauce? You start to become a bit more specific in what you’re looking for. 

Now, when smelling a wine, everything you’re able to smell and describe is a reference for you. Precisely you. If you’ve never had apple pie, you won’t give me that reference. The wine will give you everything it can and then you become a partner as to how you understand each other. So when it comes to writing notes on Twitter and you write apple pie or black currant, that’s not very interesting. We rarely think of memories in such a finite way. The apple pie you smell reminds you of the apple pie that your grandmother made you when you were five, which she served you with ice cream. Then you have all sorts of smells associated with your grandma, her kitchen, what her furniture smelt like. It’s all about scenarios. Like a beach ball covered in sprinkles. It creates a fun picture of what this wine is like. 

We decided to open a bottle to get a sample of Royale’s tasting notes and went with the 2011 Markus Molitor Pinot Blanc… 
“A children’s small plastic swimming pool, brand new and empty with the cardboard still attached, lemon seed, marshmallow squished between your fingers, lollipop when you get down to the end and blonde hair.”

Describe yourself as a wine.
A white wine because they are more versatile than red. The wine would be from France from an area called Jura and made form a grape called Savagnin. Made with a flor, the wines here develop over several years with notes of Elmers glue and bone marrow. It’s a very real wine. There is a process and culture that goes into making the wine the way it is but its very earthy and very much has a sense of coming from the earth. Honest, real and unique.

You can follow Royale on Twitter @bradroyale.

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