Soif: A testament to passion and commitment
After shining on the international stage, star sommelier Véronique Rivest realized her long-held dream of opening a wine bar. With her reputation, she could have opened it in Montréal, Toronto or New York City. Instead, she opted to return to her hometown of Gatineau, where she’s created an experience that’s true to her nature and focused on discovery, simplicity and enjoyment. Let’s take a closer look at Soif, where authenticity is the name of the game, from the wine to the food.
Véronique Rivest has a deep love for Gatineau and the Outaouais region. It’s where she grew up and cut her teeth in the restaurant business, starting at the age of 16. It’s also the place she came back to after every trip she took for 15 years, either for training or competitions, with the support and encouragement of Outaouais residents.
So, after taking part in the World’s Best Sommelier Competition in 2013, where she placed second and became the first woman in history to make it to the podium, it was only natural for her to put down roots in Gatineau, where no one expected her to.
“This is home to me,” she said. “Though my decision to open Soif here surprised a lot of people, I’ve proven that I can make it work and help revitalize a neighbourhood that’s suffered a fair bit since several tall federal office towers went up. I wanted to give something back to the people from this region, who’ve always believed in me.”
This was no small feat. However, seven years later, Soir is clearly a destination for Outaouais residents, as well as for visitors from across Québec, and has garnered international attention. Even the big foreign winemakers, who previously only stopped in Montréal and Toronto, now make their way to Gatineau to present their products.
This success has been a thrill for the sommelier-turned-entrepreneur: “I love the fact that people are coming to try out my wine bar, as well as explore Gatineau, which has all the advantages of a big city without most of its downsides. It’s impossible to get stuck in traffic here! There are farms about five minutes from my house where I can get supplies every day. And I’m surrounded by nature, small businesses and a close-knit community.” Such a rave review dispels the myth that there isn’t anything interesting in Gatineau.
Authenticity through and through
Véronique Rivest has just as much love for her region as she does for wine. The milieu has been a good fit for her intense curiosity and thirst for knowledge in many areas. “Wine has sustained me and taught me so much, from agronomics to geology, biology, chemistry, history, economics, geography and marketing.” What’s more, Véronique has a bachelor’s degree in foreign literature, boasts an international MBA and speaks four languages.
However, contrary to what some may think, Soif is anything but an elitist, stuffy wine bar. “There’s still far too much snobbery attached to wine and sommeliers,” she said with her signature candour. It’s crazy how much time we spend debunking myths, such as the need to change glasses between bottles, when they’re much more suitable after being rinsed with wine.
Véronique Rivest is known for her inclusive vision of wine, which she has shared for years through any forum available to her. Without lowering the bar, she approaches it with simplicity and authenticity, backed by a team that shares her values. “Soif is first and foremost a welcoming place of discovery. Our number-one priority is for people to have a good time.”
Soif is not only geared to wine aficionados, but to novices looking to learn more as well. “We even cater to people who don’t like wine at all,” she added. “There aren’t any prerequisites for coming to see us. We treat non-drinkers as well as all our other customers. Our food and non-alcoholic drink pairings are just as good as those that include wine.”
A bar with tasty small plates
Since it’s called a “wine bar,” people might assume that Soif only serves drinks. However, it also serves a selection of refined dishes, which snagged it a spot on the enRoute magazine’s 2015 Top Ten list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants.
What gourmet experience can you expect at Soif? Well, the choice is yours. You can stop in just for a glass of wine, enjoy an informative workshop or savour a full meal. “You can spend $20 or $200. And we don’t rush anyone,” said the restaurant owner, reassuringly.
In addition, the menu at Soif is very flexible, featuring small plates that showcase Québec cheeses and housemade charcuterie, as well as more daring offerings, such as quail with beets, tomatillos and mushrooms or sablefish with potatoes, plums and pearl onions. The menu changes according to the seasons, latest finds and local produce availability, and you’re sure to enjoy an equally interesting selection of wine and food options.
Soif’s motto is “Real Wine. Real Food. Real People.” If that resonates with you, it’s time for a jaunt to downtown Gatineau. Something tells us that you’ll have a great time.
By Sophie Ginoux