How do you walk into work knowing there is no guarantee of a liveable wage? How do you allow complete strangers to decide on your worth? How do you navigate a field of complex and unstable emotions like a SWAT team of human behaviour? This is the reality of a lot of servers, asking stranger after stranger to put a monetary value on their service.
Fortunately this does not bother server and sommelier Mel Lapointe whatsoever. This is her art, her craft, her gift of reading people and tailoring her service to their needs. No one guest is the same and it is her job ensure that every table has a unique experience and their needs met. She thrives on the fact that she can get whatever the guest asked for in a professional and timely manner. If you want witty banter, she’s got it. If you want a traditional fine dining approach, done! Not being limited to your serving style is a key part to being a great server, but it is her love of wine that keeps her stimulated and coming back for more.
Hailing from Quebec City, Mel was walking a more conventional path, searching for a “real job”, studying law, art, anthropology, and history. Unable to find fulfilment in her studies, she took off to Asia, traveling for a six months to discover something more; experiencing what it means to be a human in this world. Not knowing what else to do upon her return to Canada she went back to only thing she knew, which was to serve. Taking advice from her boyfriend at the time to take some sommelier classes through her restaurant, Mel found her passion. Wine turned out to be the missing link in her life. Wine has a story, it connects cultures to their history. Everyone knows that wine has different characteristics and notes depending on the region where it was grown. The soil, the sun, and the elevation all give an insight into not only the wine but the people who made it – wine is history in a glass. The year a wine was bottled can tell you a lot about what was happening at the time from climate, to disease, to politics. There is a literal wealth of knowledge in every sip.
Taking an internship in Provence, Mel was introduced to the concept of Biodynamics, a method of winemaking of which I was previously unaware. According to the Biodynamic Association it is rooted in the work of philosopher and scientist Dr. Rudolf Steiner and was founded in 1924, making it a fairly new concept in terms of wine making.
“Each biodynamic farm or garden is an integrated, whole, living organism. This organism is made of many interdependent elements; fields, forests, plants, animals, soils, compost, people, and the spirit of the place. Biodynamic farmers and Gardeners work to nurture and harmonize these elements, managing them in a holistic and dynamic way to support the health and vitality of the whole.” – Biodynamic Association
Leaf days are ideal for watering, fruit days for planting, and root days for pruning and harvesting the vineyard based on moon cycles. Having farm animals to fertilize and rid the vineyards of weeds and using chemical-free solutions is all a part of biodynamic farming. This ensures the health and wellbeing of not only the vineyard but every living organism that contributes to its vitality and success of the crop cultivating a rich biodiversity and overall global health. Biodynamics is a way of farming and lifestyle that is gaining popularity in not only British Columbia but across Canada to provinces like Nova Scotia, which are starting to develop some spectacular wine.
This type of lifestyle and winemaking may seem like it’s just a bunch of hippies dicking around in a field; but just as we need to take care of ourselves we need to take care of our home and planet. I don’t mean to get preachy or try to turn everyone into sustainable biodynamic farmers, but if we can enjoy an amazing glass of wine that also helped in restoring the natural balance of its environment then that is truly something of value.
It is clear when talking to Mel that she takes great pride in her work, becoming a ninja of reading situations and knowing how to approach a table with only seconds of information given via body language. As chefs we work with tangible issues. When something is burnt, too salty, too firm, not whipped enough, we can see it and we generally know what has gone wrong and how to solve it. On the other hand, servers are dealing with people. They don’t know what dramas guests are bring into their restaurant when they sit down, not knowing nor what issues have been happening in the kitchen earlier that day. It can become a minefield of emotional baggage. Servers may not work as long as the chefs do, but they need to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, and making decisions and building relationships in the limited contact that a server has with each guest is a mission in itself.
“We are Merchants of dreams” – Miss Lapoint.
It’s all about connections. A connection between the server and guest; winemaker and grape; salt and Earth. Everything in our work and natural environment has an effect on everything else and will dictate the future of service and our lives. Mel being able to tell the story of the 20 year veteran of styling hair who then decided to move to the Okanagan to make wine using the principles of biodynamics allows her to to connect the bottle to the guest and therefore instills a greater appreciation.
Let us sit around a harvest table together drinking good wine, eating good food, with good people. Appreciating one another’s company and the good that they have brought to our lives and allowing our food and drink to connect us to the environment, history and culture around us.
Let us take time to be grateful.
Me- “Mel, what is the dream?”
Mel- “ The dream for me is; as much as I love this job, I want to open a small boutique hotel with a restaurant that is season sensitive, eco friendly, and provides organic wine. I don’t want my guests to drink bullshit, I want to be working with small producers and getting the best they have to offer.”
You can follow Mel who is currently stationed in Kelowna, British Columbia on Instagram at @lap_lapp_
To learn more about Biodynamics go to www.biodynamics.com