It’s one of the most anticipated openings in town. This Saturday, May 21, Benoit’s Wine Bar will open to the public after years of work – not to mention some controversy along the way.
“It feels great. It feels exciting,” said owner Benoit Doucet, who shaved his goatee for the occasion. “The real challenge is to fulfill everyone’s expectations.”
Doucet knows wine. Growing up in France, first in the southern Alps and then near Paris, he would uncork his father’s wine as a child and started drinking it when he was 16 – the legal drinking age in his homeland.
“I think I know quite a bit,” he said without any arrogance. “I know how to build a wine list, I know how to describe it and analyze it.”
He travelled around France sampling different wines, worked at the Cannery, one of Vancouver’s premier fine dining establishments and received his formal training from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, the foremost institute of its kind in the world. It’s basically the equivalent of getting a degree in wine, said Doucet.
Doucet would not reveal what wine’s he will be serving but did say he list will consist of 11 reds, eight whites, one rosé and two sparkling wines. There will be a mix of flavours and styles to suit all tastes, he said, chosen after lots of taste testing with his girlfriend.
As well, there will be several fine scotches, vodka and old rum for sale.
“I really like Burgundy wine and wine from the Loire Valley,” he said, when asked about his favourites. “There’s no common taste of what people like so I won’t try to push anything.”
Benoit’s Wine Bar has been in the works since Doucet bought the building in 2007, he said. At the time, it was still occupied by Spice O’Life Emporium. When the sex shop moved out, Doucet went to work renovating the space, doing much of it himself with help from some friends.
Then came the well-documented controversy over his liquor licence application last Spring, when city council, responding to a 100-signature petition, said they would not support the application.
That start a furor and Doucet launched his own counter-petition, garnering about 1,000 signatures and resulting in council revisiting their decision. In the end, 220 letters of support were sent to city hall and council reversed their earlier decision.
Since then, the most frequent question Doucet has heard is, “When’s it opening?” It’s at the point where Doucet said he will answer people before they even get a chance to ask.
“If I made a dollar every time someone asked, I would have the building paid for,” he said.
The look of Benoit’s was derived mostly by Doucet but he said Areaworx helped with the lighting and colours.
“I would like to reproduce the ambience you would find in a French bistro,” he said. “I don’t want it to be uptight but I want it to be classy.”
The bar is located in the middle of the room, with tables placed sparsely about. Rows of wine glasses hang above the zinc counter of the bar.
Big, tin light fixtures hang from the ceiling, removed from his former work place The Cannery when it closed. The chairs, stools and back of the bar cabinet also came from there while the tables were milled locally using local spruce.
Benoit’s Wine Bar will open to special guests on May 19 and the grand-opening for the public is on May 21. He acknowledged he’s nervous.
“It’s a big adventure for me,” he said. “It’s like a pregnant woman about to give birth. I’m super happy but excited at the same time.”
Benoit’s Wine Bar is located at 107 Second St. East. It will be open daily from 3 p.m. to midnight and until 1 a.m. on Saturdays.