South Granville’s Farmer’s Apprentice has slowly become the sweetheart of the neighbourhood, and risen not only to great acclaim for their delicious menu but also for their food-conscious approach to dining out. At the helm are Dave Gunawan and partner Dara Young, who have pushed the parameters of their business, literally, to launch a next-door-neighbouring natural wine bar, Grapes & Soda.
This casual and petite wine bar gives a vibe akin to a mash-up of a familiar basement rec room and a pared-down speakeasy. It’s close and dimly lit, with an open kitchen like that of a studio apartment, where the cooking becomes the business of nearly everyone in the room.
In the kitchen, Gunawan has deputized Chef Ron Shaw (formerly of Bishop’s) to handle the stoves. Shaw’s workspace is fronted by shelves of colouful jarred goods with handwritten labels–culinary curiosities that inspire and enhance the flavours of his small plates.
At Grapes & Soda the drinks take centre stage, and the food is there to enliven the drinking, though both realms can be enjoyed on a mutually exclusive basis; it’s a win-win. At the forefront is the exciting natural wine program, directed by Farmer’s Apprentice General Manager and Sommelier Hao-Yang Wang, who brings his passion for wine to the table (literally, should you desire a side of learning with your vino).
Natural wines are rising in popularity, though still bear the stigma of being the proverbial step-children of the oenophile world. They are wines that are produced with minimal chemical intervention, and as Wang explains, the small but careful list of organic and biodynamic wines on the Grapes & Soda list represent some very unique products that are often overlooked in a category that is misunderstood.
“It’s the oldest way of producing wine, ” elaborates Wang, acknowledging that what Grapes and Soda’s guests will encounter may be familiar if they are regulars at Farmer’s Apprentice, but a new spectrum of options if they are new to natural wines.
Farmer’s Apprentice has become known for its locally-sourced food, and that is a carryover next door at Grapes and Soda. With this in mind, the wine list at the bar may seem shockingly packed with the names of far-away countries. Wang notes that there are not plentiful wine producers in British Columbia who have several years of natural wine-making under their belt. Instead, Grapes & Soda is excited to be importing wines that consumers won’t find at most wine shops, and will have an evolving list of such tastes. Wang and his staff regularly taste the wines to ensure their quality and consistency, and the wines are the starting point for Shaw’s menu.
Shaw describes a “free-association” style tasting process where he and Gunawan and others sip the wines and imagine flavour combinations. From this the menu of snacks and charcuterie is born. As Grapes & Soda settles into its early weeks, the menu has stunning early summer tastes like strawberries and radishes.
Each dish has an ideal wine pairing, but as anyone at Grapes & Soda attests, diners and drinkers can go their own way, and build their own meal or snack. The plates are stunningly beautiful, and offer dynamic bites with multi-layered flavours and textures that will easily spark admiration and conversation.
Those who prefer a cocktail over a glass or bottle of natural wine (i.e. the Soda part of the bar’s name) will relish the inventive and seasonal drinks created at the bar at the hands of Bar Manager Satoshi Yonemori (formerly of Wildebeest and The Diamond). Yanemori is concocting drinks based on classic cocktails but employing ingredients and inspiration from the bountiful pantry of Farmer’s Apprentice and the best of what’s in season (for example, a Clover Club made with beet and rhubarb juice).
Grapes & Soda is an ideal spot to enjoy a pre-dinner or post-work drink, or a lighter meal of share plates. With a mere 25 seats, this intimate room would be perfect for a date, or catch-up with a dear friend or relative (who happens to love food and drink). Missing is any of the pretension that may come loaded in the notion of a natural wine-focused wine bar; pretty much everyone at Grapes & Soda happily points to the collaborative nature of the endeavour, and that egos are checked at the door.
“I’m excited to be working in an environment without ego,” remarks Shaw.
“It’s not about ego-driven dishes,” says Gunawan. “It’s more now the respect for the wine.”
Address: 1541 West 6th Avenue