So, the Godfather of Zin and Canada's Barbecue Evangelist walked into a bar... beque.
What sounds like the start of a joke really isn't. It's serious stuff plus a whole lot of fun. It involves Joel Peterson, the found of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, Calif., whose mission is to have Zinfandel take over the world, and Rockin' Ronnie Shewchuk, author of "Barbecue Secrets DELUXE" and the first actual Canadian winner of the Canadian National Barbecue Championships.
The bar in question is Dusty's Bar & Grill in Creekside and the occasion for this particular pairing is this year's Canadian National Barbecue Championships, which took place at Creekside from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4
The competition pit local grilling talent against legends and these two are firmly in the latter category. For one thing, Ravenswood is one of the sponsors of the weekend, part of an involvement north of the border that has gone back years now.
Peterson and Shewchuk became friends after first working together at the championships in Whistler four years ago. Both talk up a storm while explaining their areas of expertise: Shewchuk on how to set meat and other foods off to perfection on the barbecue and Peterson on what wine goes well with such delicious offerings.
They hosted an afternoon for local sommeliers on Aug. 2, kicking off a busy weekend for both.
Shewchuk came to barbecue, a "prairie boy from Edmonton genetically predisposed to eat meat," via watching as a child the Galloping Gourmet cooking a London Broil. Shewchuk feverishly wrote down the recipe and made it for his family. He also took charge at teenager barbecues.
Shewchuk took the professional plunge over 20 years ago, getting involved "as a weekend hobbyist" with a friend who had just bought a cheap smoker from Costco. They entered a contest in Calgary under the Kansas City Barbecue Society rules.
"They weren't getting any Canadian teams. A bunch of American teams would come up, compete... all these ringers from the U.S. would come up and it would be easy pickings. It was an international contest and if you won it, you'd automatically get invited to the Jack Daniels and American Royal (invitational barbecue championships)," Shewchuk recalled.
The organizers of the Calgary competition brought in a champion from Washington State named Bob Lyon to teach competitive barbecuing and "from that seed barbecue culture in Western Canada was born... We competed in the next BBQ on the Bow in Calgary and fell in love with it."
Then Shewchuk and his team won the Oregon State Open national championship and they were on the map, the first non-U.S. team to win.
"When we got called up there was a kind of weird silence. They were really gracious but it was like 'those Canadians won?'" he said above Peterson's laughter.
"That catapulted us to a new level and we were more inspired. I ended up writing a cookbook..."
Shewchuk and his partner Denzel Sandberg have also started their own line of barbecue sauces called Ronnie & Denzils. The three of us sipped two reds and tried a new maple sauce on our finger, to see how the flavours blended. Joel said that taste-wise it turned two glasses of wine into four and he's not far off.
These days, almost all the teams in Calgary are Canadian. Shewchuk has paid his experiences forward in Whistler, holding workshops that have trained up-and-comers here, the first class taught around 15 years ago.
"Some of the competitors here are my students and it's very gratifying. I'm not going to take all the credit, but I have been part of a movement, as Joel was in California, and I was early in on it. We have a lot in common."
Ravenswood Wines could have been tailor-made for barbecued meat, something Shewchuk understood straight away, he said.
Peterson came to his vintner career with a scientist's mind, which would be an easy enough thing to develop with a nuclear chemist mother who told her son that scrambling eggs was "denaturing protein." His father was a chemist, too, who started a wine club and got his son involved at the age of 10.
"And from then on it was all downhill!" Peterson laughed.
That fascination has carried through to Ravenswood's growth. Peterson was part of the first wave of promoting Zinfandel and other deep-bodied reds, which he considers the most authentic wines in California, thanks in part to the quality of vines, some a hundred years old or more.
"It's a cultural thing, it's a story, it's the multiple levels in which food and wine work, Peterson said."