somm spotlight

Explore our world-class wine program through the eyes of our talented team of experts


Posted by Canoe
on February 21, 2023

In our three-part ‘Somm Spotlight’ series, we continue to shine a light on the people behind our extensive, highly curated and ever-changing wine list, tapping into our experts to share what it takes to deliver one of the best wine programs in the country. 

In part one of the series, we introduced you to our Senior Sommelier Billy Woon, a Canoe veteran and master of his craft. In part two, we’re eager to acquaint you with James Cranfield, the newest member of our Sommelier staff, whose energy and enthusiasm is a welcome addition to our talented team of wine connoisseurs. Read on to hear more about James’ story. 

As the newest member of the sommelier team, how did you come to join Canoe?

I’ve been working in hospitality for about 10 years. I’m English, so I started working in restaurants in London around 2012. I then moved to Australia, where I spent time at two San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants. The first was Quay, Peter Gilmore’s Sydney restaurant where I worked for five years. It was my first exposure to the role of a sommelier, at which point I started taking CMS and WSET wine courses. Next, I worked at Ben Shewry’s Attica in Melbourne, which propelled my love of wine even further. After that, my wife and I had plans to move to the Netherlands, but both COVID and Brexit complicated things. We decided on Canada as our next top choice and as it happens, a previous employer of mine was good friends with Canoe’s Executive Chef Ron McKinlay. I was already a fan of Canoe and Chef Ron’s cuisine before I knew our mutual connection, so needless to say it was a happy coincidence. I started working with the team in the summer of 2022.

Canoe-Restaurant-Service 2022

What’s the best part about being a sommelier at Canoe?

Hands down it’s being on the restaurant floor during service. That’s the fun part: getting to meet people with varying knowledge about wine. When you get to chat with someone who loves wine, you can feel their passion and enthusiasm. On the other hand, you can have some great conversations with guests who may like a certain varietal or region but aren’t sure what direction to go. There’s something really exciting about introducing diners to something new and watching them enjoy it.

What’s different about Canoe’s wine program?

The first thing I noticed is that it’s substantial and definitely Canadian-focused. There’s an element of ‘we’re Canadian and proud, look at all this country has to offer!’. As a Brit, I wasn’t as familiar with the breadth of Canadian wine outside of ice wine and a few large scale producers. The range of diversity is amazing. There’s also longevity in the wines. Incredible, age-worthy Pinots and Cabernet blends from 2008, 2011 and beyond are looking absolutely fantastic.

New Year's Eve Champagne Glasses Clinking

What’s the process for selecting tasting menu wine pairings?

Initially, we get a very detailed breakdown of each dish on the tasting menu. Chef Ron meticulously notes the prominent flavours of each course, how items are cooked and every single ingredient. That is the genesis of how we get the ball rolling. From that point, we draw up around three to four pairing options per dish, which can be a mix of grape varieties. We think in terms of what might complement the dish best when it comes to fruit spectrum, acid profile and oak formatting. Once we have our options in place, our somm team sits down as a group along with members of the chef team and senior management for a tasting. We discuss the merits of each pairing until we get to a winner. And we do this for every dish.

Do you have a go-to favourite bottle of wine that you know to be a crowd-pleaser?

In fact, I do. It’s a dry, white wine blend with amazing minerality and slight saltiness. It’s a great option for guests who like aromatic white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris. It’s called Pretexto Blanco from the Dão wine region in central, Northern Portugal. I find consumers are usually not as familiar with Portuguese wines due to the complex names of the indigenous varietals and regions, so they tend to shy away. It’s an incredible value at around $85, so it’s one of those ‘if you know, you know’ finds.

James Cranfield


Stay tuned for the final instalment of our three-part series where we continue to uncover the faces behind our world-class wine program.