The story

My first captivating wine experience happened in 1981 when I was 14 years old. It’s a day forever etched in my mind, an epiphany that would lead me to a life long passion for the nectar of the gods. 

As the child of an Italian immigrant father I quickly grew to appreciate the importance placed on food in our family. I loved watching my mother cook and enjoyed the beautiful aromas of great Italian food and home baked bread that filled the air. My father, who travelled often to the US for work, regularly brought back wines. But my story is not about being exposed to great, expensive wines by my parents, but rather humble wines to accompany meals, simple wines to have with dinners on holidays and with friends.

On that day there were two different red wines at the table, one Spanish and one Portuguese, both with a $2.99 price tag.  As I looked at the two glasses in front of me, I saw something in the wines. They were different: they looked different, smelled different and tasted different.  From that day on, I wanted to understand why. Unfortunately, in those years, especially because of my age, nobody I knew shared my interest.  Wine was definitely not commonplace like it is today.  I eagerly wanted to taste more but was only sporadically exposed.  

I received my first wine book as a gift from my sister for my 17th birthday. It was an introductory book, but it was the first of many in my collection that rapidly grew. That year I also started making wine in my garage. I would read about the magical wines of the great wine regions and spend summer job money for an opportunity to taste them. At the age of 18 I had amassed a 100-bottle collection that would be the envy of many today.

In the summer of 1990 I decided to travel to Europe to visit the famous wine regions and producers I had been reading about and tasting.  With the second edition of Hugh Johnson’s Encyclopedia of Wine in hand, the route was chartered with Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Rhône and Bordeaux all on the agenda.

As fate would have it, while visiting Bordeaux, I befriended a guy as passionate about wine as me who had just graduated from an oenology and wine marketing school. It sounded perfect; I would live and work with wine! A year later I was back in Bordeaux to complete that same program. It was the trampoline to my career in the wine world that would lead me to work in wine production and marketing across Canada and abroad.

My early experiences tasting great classic wines from the 40s, 60s, 70s and 80s were formative and helped shape my youth and my palate. Words like balance, elegance and depth were keys words in the readings; they would also become my mantra on life and wine. 

The ever-changing wine world challenges wine professionals to constantly think about the noble drink in its socio-demographic context. Whether it’s the evolution of traditional wines to the modern ones of the late 80s and 90s, or the “natural” wines of the last decade, wine is a snapshot of time and the ideology of a generation. The impact of the post-war grape growers’ earth destroying practices is clearly understood today and is no longer accepted by many thoughtful wine consumers and producers.  

In 2011, I started Bambara Selection to bring my simple vision of wine to the market: authentic, fine and elegant wines, made by small growers committed to environmentally friendly grape growing and non-interventionist wine making practices. My philosophy is that wine should be democratic, naturally made, speak of the place it comes from, be fairly priced and not trendy or elitist. Wine trends come and go, but I believe that thoughtful grape growing and precision work in the transformation from grape to wine are simple notions that will always stand the test of time. 

John Bambara