“I look at different vintages, and there are some more special ones than others, but I liken it to our lives,” says Tannis Baker, executive director of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance.
“There’s great years and then there are those other years… but there’s something unique about every year, so it’s about celebrating each vintage we have as human beings,” she explains.
Born in Winnipeg, Baker has spent most of her life in Calgary. As a child, she imagined she’d be a doctor or lawyer, but with a degree in Canadian studies from the University of Calgary, she wanted to work with new immigrants.
“When I graduated there was a cutback in those programs, so I couldn’t even find a volunteer position,” Baker says. “I thought, what does a person with no skills and a degree in Canadian Studies do in Canada?”
Interviewing for a summer job selling Mr. Christie’s cookies, Baker was worrying about her lack of marketing experience until her interviewer said, “If you can sell yourself to me, you can sell our products.”
That kickstarted her venture into sales. After school, she sold university textbooks to professors, but it didn’t resonate with her. Enjoying making wine at home from kits, she jumped when she saw a job for a wine rep.
“I had no idea such a thing existed,” she says with a laugh.
Her first wine job was with Vincor in on-premise sales.
“It started me on a path that was personally interesting,” Baker says. “You work hard during the days, but what’s wonderful is at night you’re reading wine books and going to wine tastings, and hosting your own wine tastings – that line between where work stops and personal life begins becomes blurred.”
For Baker, it was the start of a 20-year career in beverage alcohol.
A move to Winspear expanded her wine and marketing knowledge, leading to a position with Brown Forman managing their Western Canada wine division. From there, an opportunity arose to consult for Alberta Culinary Tourism, and Baker came in as interim director.
“It was an exciting blend of the beverage and culinary industry. Again, there’s no stop and start of work into life,” she says. “What’s so interesting is to have a unique and challenging job in an industry that’s about life and living, and food and culture. I feel vey privileged to be here.”
So what bottle is Baker saving for a special occasion?
A dusty magnum of 1998 Bolla Amarone is sitting on the table.
“There are a number of things that are special about this bottle for me,” says Baker. “But it’s not just about Bolla, it’s about many wineries that you’d find in Italy or France. I love the long history, and that they are able to withstand so many generations through so many years.”
“The great thing is there’s no impulse to drink it. I know when I drink this bottle, I’m going to open it in the morning and decant it for the day,” she says fondly. “What’s kept me from drinking it is it has to be with the right food, and the right people.”
And when will Baker open the bottle?
“For an Italian wine, it has to be that celebration of family and friends,” Baker explains. “There’s a couple of events coming up that are landmarks. My sister is turning 50, my parents have an anniversary – it has to be the right one. And you pray that it’s not corked, right?”