- Story by Angela Cowan Photography by Don Denton
Currently holding the titles of marketing director and sommelier at Unsworth Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley, Chris Turyk has been involved with the family-run business since its inception. Tim and Colleen Turyk (Chris’s parents) bought the land and a sweet old farmhouse in 2009 with the idea of trying their hand at winemaking. It quickly grew into a much larger enterprise than they’d anticipated.
“We had no idea or thoughts to creating this size of business,” says Chris. “It wasn’t the grand plan, but it took on a life of its own, and there was no going back.”
A food lover from an early age, Chris always envisioned working in the industry, and initially thought he’d end up in the kitchen of his own restaurant.
He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, but made the shift to wine after a short time.
“I wanted to become a chef, and then I realized my ability to taste things exceeded my ability to create them,” he says, laughing. “I think the wine aspect came from the food. I realized they were complementary.”
It was in 2014 that wine as a career really took off after Chris decided to enter into the inaugural Best Sommelier in BC competition, organized by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. After an impressive showing—in which he placed third for the province—he was promptly offered a sommelier job at Hawksworth, four-time winner of Best Upscale Restaurant in Vancouver.
It was an opportunity that was supposed to last a year, and ended up being two and a half.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” says Chris, who formally left the restaurant in 2017, but continued to help out occasionally when hands were needed for another year.
Shortly thereafter, he found himself in a practicum at the UBC farm.
“I remember thinking, ‘who else gets to do this?’”
Going between a “small-scale, very socially aware, very liberal” environment like the farm, and a top-end eatery like Hawksworth, “gives you a wide perspective,” says Chris.
Being exposed to the incredible variety of extremely high-end wines while also learning about grape agriculture and growing practices gave him an invaluable education that’s served him well.
“You get a bit of everything, and you can speak to what’s important to different people,” he says. Whether that’s explaining the sustainable farming practices Unsworth employs to younger generations of environmentally aware wine drinkers, or being able to talk about the specific notes in each wine with people who have been enjoying a glass of vino for decades, Chris is able to connect with everyone across the board.
And now that he’s stepped into the marketing role, he’s added another piece to the puzzle.
“Even 18 months ago, I wasn’t expecting to be in a marketing role,” says Chris. “But I like chatting to people. I’ve wanted to teach wine classes for a while, and marketing is basically education on what we do, and why it’s important.”
I’ve wanted to teach wine classes for a while, and marketing is basically education on what we do, and why it’s important.”
The 7 Sins
Whose shoes would you like to walk in?
Since I already walk in John Fluevog’s shoes, that question really forces me to think. Purely for the experience of such a high-consequence environment, being in the work boots of a cellar hand at a hyper premium winery has always interested me. Moving or dealing with wine that retails at $5,000 per bottle means every ounce is roughly $200, so, no mistakes.
What is the food you could eat over and over again?
Pork. The humble and noble pig has a very special place in my diet. To sum it all up in one word: bacon.
You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?
I would get one million $1 USD bills, then fill a kids’ pool and swim around Scrooge McDuck style.
Socks with sandals. I thought, as a civilization, we were better than that.
Where would you spend a long time doing nothing?
Does work count?
What is the one thing you’re secretly proud of?
I can recite all the chemical elements of the periodic table to the tune of a recognizable song from The Pirates of Penzance.
What makes your heart beat faster?
What is adrenaline? As a relatively excitable person, often I focus on the opposite. Taking little moments throughout the day to observe and enjoy where I am and who I’m with pays dividends not only for me, but mostly for those around me.