“It was ill-fated to open up a large restaurant in 2008,” says Adam Snelling. “It was a key defining experience in my life… so many hardships, but you become greater at what you do if you struggle.”

Growing up in Ottawa, Snelling was bussing in restaurants at fourteen years old, and while studying philosophy at university, worked at Chateau Laurier. “We had so many dignitaries come in, so many politicians, movie stars, musicians and artists, it was an amazing experience”, he says. Having worked the G7 and G20 summits, when asked to work the G8 in Kananaskis, he decided to move. “It was such a different experience for a city boy and I just loved it,” says Snelling. Here he met his wife, and after two years moved to Calgary, and a job serving at Murrieta’s.

He was invited to become a manager, but says he was having too much fun and making too much money, so turned the offer down until an accident threw his back out, and he was out of work for two months. He accepted a management position and quickly rose through the ranks, achieving his sommelier diploma too.

Shortly afterwards, he was tasked with opening up Parkerhouse, and did well despite the economy, but the recession had its challenges, so he jumped at the opportunity to open the Shore Club in Ottawa’s Westin Hotel for David Aisenstat. But after only three months, he was asked to move to Calgary. “I said absolutely not, I’ve just moved my family here, and I laughed!” he says. But on discovering it was to open up Canada’s second Ki Modern Japanese Restaurant and Bar, he knew it was an opportunity not to be missed.

“We’d been trying to start a family for years”, he says, “and were extremely unsuccessful, so we got pregnant in Ottawa and I had to make decisions that would be best for my family. We came back to Calgary in 2011, and opened up this beautiful restaurant, and I think I was the first in Alberta to become a sake sommelier.”

So what bottle is Snelling saving for a special occasion?

When he moved to Ottawa he shipped all his wine out, but seven months later when he moved back to Calgary, he came back with a pregnant wife and no wine. “The wine had all frozen in the move and cracked, and nobody would insure it, so we just had to take a risk and ship it,” explains Snelling.

“I was in Toronto when it arrived, and my wife called me and said “all the wine’s broken”, and I said “oh well, it’s just stuff”, but I had hundreds of bottles, verticals of Clos des Papes and Domaine du Pegau, Brunello, and houses in Napa and Bordeaux that I love… and I was sitting on this stuff aging it, and never drank it. So I get home and there’s just dead wine everywhere.”

Only a handful of bottles survived, luckily including his 2001 Gaia Sugarille Brunello di Montalcino, signed by Gaia Gaja.

And when will he open that bottle?

“I’m just going to let my wife decide because obviously I sit on things too long and I missed my opportunity to drink so many amazing wines. I want her to be the one to open it,” says Snelling. “It doesn’t need to be a special occasion, but it’s something that I’m really looking forward to.”

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

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