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The Sooke Harbour House champions Canada, embraces the world

Harvey Steiman
Posted: September 21, 2000

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Local Hero

The Sooke Harbour House champions Canada, embraces the world

Sinclair Philip grew up on Vancouver Island. He learned to love food and wine when he lived in France for 10 years. And when, in 1979, he and his French wife, Frédérique, bought a run-down bed-and-breakfast near his boyhood home, he brought that sensibility back with him. Today, the restaurant in their 30-room luxury hotel consistently rates among the top 10 restaurants in Canada and boasts a remarkably eclectic 14,450-bottle wine cellar.

Except for a few staples, all the food served at Sooke Harbour House comes from Vancouver Island or the surrounding waters. Dinner on my visit included sashimi of halibut caught that morning. It was served with wild sea asparagus harvested from the spit of land that extends from the hotel into the harbor. Every dish on an eight-course menu featured rare and unusual plants and herbs. Local crabmeat was wrapped in nasturtium leaves with sweet cicely pods in a light but intensely flavorful crab broth.

Philip and his team of four sommeliers, including his son, Benjamin, relish introducing visitors to Canadian wines. Although the impressive wine list covers all the important wine regions of the world, Philip says that about half the wines he sells are Canadian. "It goes with our emphasis on local products," he explains.

The Bordeaux section is strong through the 1980s, with verticals of big-name châteaus going back the 1960s and even a few gems such as Léoville-Las Cases 1928 ($1,333) and Haut-Brion 1934 ($1,481) available. Red Burgundies include good vintages from Grivot, Leroy, Rion and Rousseau, and white Burgundies include Comtes Lafon, Leflaive and Étienne Sauzet. The Washington and Oregon selections are especially wide and deep. There are also more than 40 wines by the glass. The wines are stored in three cellars cut into the earth underneath the restaurant. And there's room to expand.

"We're trying to focus more on the best wines and reduce the size of the wine list to make it more efficient," Philip says. "But our enthusiasm for wine makes it difficult to reconcile the two."

--Harvey Steiman

Sooke Harbour House
Sooke Harbour House Inn, 1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke, British Columbia V0S 1N0
Telephone (250) 642-3421
Wine selections 2,350
Number of bottles 14,450

For the complete article, please see the Sept. 30, 2000, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 75.

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