It’s hard to write about yourself

Many of you know me from Zambris restaurant. I came to Zambri’s sixteen years ago, they hired me straight out of Sommelier school, showing great confidence in me as I had not yet graduated and at that time there was an a very high failure rate in the course. But I graduated, scoring 100% in the blind tasting something that is my proudest accomplishment to date. But who was I before this?

Well, I am not going to bore you with a long bio but I will give you 5 interesting facts about myself that I think give you a little more than just a peek at who I am.

My first job was at a Husky Truck Stop in Pincher Creek Alberta. Yes, the town was actually named after a pair of pinchers lost in a creek. Ask me more about this the next time you see me at Zambris.

I have changed my name twice. I am now called Frances Bean von Aesch. Von Aesch is my married name. Can you guess where the Bean comes from?

I graduated with a degree from the University of Lethbridge one of the only liberal arts universities in Canada. Although it never resulted in a job it changed my life. I went from never reading a paper to joining the Communist Party. (Please note, I am no longer a member quitting just before my all expense paid trip to Russia!)

I have spoken to the United Nations about information I gathered about student rights violations in Chile in in the 80’s. At the time I was very active in the student movement in Canada and I was the compromise choice of rival factions who were fighting over which candidate to send. I won by default and the trip truly opened my eyes to a world outside of southern Alberta

I own a design/build woodworking business with my dutch born wife Dita von Aesch and I am passionate about art and architecture, particularly the paintings of Rembrandt and van Gogh. Although I am no longer a Communist, I believe the buildings we live (and work!) in and the beauty we surround ourselves with is a powerful force for change.


Is it the Wine or the Experience?

ristorante street view

This is the Ristorante Sant’Anna in Rome.  This was our favorite spot right around the corner from our apartment on Via Santa Anna.  We had many meals there and of course drank wine with those meals.  But I could not tell you what wine we drank, only that the overall experience was so perfect that it stays with me still.

This restaurant is in a very narrow alleyway.  We always sat outside and enjoyed the sensation as cars and scooters rushing by us within a few feet of our table.  We always felt welcomed there after a day of sightseeing.  It was shady and cool and the food and the wine always tasted delicious.

Yet I am not sure if I even remember the dishes we had let alone the wine.  I am sure I mostly ordered the house wine which was probably sangiovese if it was red and perhaps trebbiano if it was white.  In the “foodie” world and culture we live in it seems we must photograph and record or otherwise document everything we put in our mouth.  To me there is no better way to kill my enjoyment than to have to record what I am eating.

Of course the world of wine is interesting.  Analyzing wine is what I do for a living and I also enjoy teaching and talking about it.  Yet at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is the pleasure we take from a delicious meal served in an alleyway in the heart of one of the most amazing cities in the world.  I hope I never get to busy recording to stop enjoying. And I hope my customers remember their experience at Zambri’s in the same way.

The Art of Writing

StJohnCD-59FMy wife Dieuwertje is an artist.  Through her I have had my eyes opened to the world of art, architecture and design.  When we first met she was working as  Chef and I was a waitress.  Although I knew she was a creative person, this fact did not really hit home to me until she decided she had had enough of the restaurant business and wanted to retrain. She entered the Fine Furniture program at Camosun College  Upon graduation she took a six week intensive artisan course at the Inside Passage School of Woodworking on the Sunshine Coast.

We both took a business course and in 2007 we opened a business called Victoria Wood Studio.  She was to be the “creative” side to the business and I was to run the “business” side.  Our original idea was “Fine Gates and Passageways” where we designed and built gates, arbours and Pergolas using the beautiful western red cedar available on Vancouver Island.  Now we do a combination of custom work both indoors and out and we also sell product such as outdoor furniture, bird houses and laundry racks.

20101014_VWS_5Patio Set 2 SmallFrom its inception our business attracted attention probably as much for the uniqueness of our work as the uniqueness of our company.  It is very rare to have a design/build business owned and operated by women.  It is also rare to see such attention to design and detail in work that is made for the out of doors.  In 2009 we were selected as one of 10 businesses to watch by Douglas magazine.

Douglas article 001The last few years have seen many changes in both the work we do and our business model.  It is very interesting to me how we both have changed our idea of the division of labor.  For one thing, Dieuwertje has turned out to have a very good head for the “business” side of our business.  She has great intuition in dealing with customers, marketing and pricing and she is unafraid to follow her instincts. In turn, I have unleashed a much more “creative” side of myself.  I have always loved words both spoken and written.  Observing the creative process Dieuwertje goes through has shown me that I too am a very creative person.  In fact I am much happier writing this blog than dealing with customers, marketing or pricing.


My House Wine

Gruner VeltlinerMy customers at Zambri’s often ask me what is my favorite wine and what is my personal house wine.  There are often two different answers to these questions.  Due to the ridiculously high rate of taxation on alcohol in British Columbia I can not always drink my favourite wine on a daily basis.  Wine costs in this province are often too high for this.  But this Gruner Veltliner , (Count Karolyi), that I am drinking right now is truly both.  At $9.49 a bottle (before tax), it is really great value.  Yet it is a well made medium bodied white which works really well with the spicier food that I like to eat.  Tonight I am going to have it with Chicken Everest, a roast chicken served in a ginger, garlic, garam masala marinade.

szekszardiThis red wine by Szekszardi would also work with this dish.  Medium bodied with good acidity and not tannic so you can pair it with spicy foods and with chicken or even fish.  I had it last night with some farmers cheese and concord grapes and although you would think it might be too light for this pairing the bright acidity really held its own with the cheese.  The grape in this wine is Kekfrankos which is a typical red grape from Hungary.  I have written before about the incredible value in Hungarian Wines and this is a great example.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire still rules in my house!


Both these wines are available at Fort and Foul Bay Liquor Store.

“Live in the layers not on the litter”

Joop sm jpeg

This is Joop.  He died on July 2 from an aggressive form of cancer.  He was only five.  The week that Joop was diagnosed I read a poem by Stanley Kunitz (1905 – 2006) called “The Layers“. For some reason the line from this poem, “Live in the layers not on the litter” has been in my head and heart all summer.

The Layers

                                              I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Kunitz wrote this poem in 1978 after the death of several of his friends including the suicide of painter Mark Rothko. The famous line came to Kunitz in a dream and while even he says he is unable to decipher it,to me  there is something consoling about it.  It seems to offer a guideline if not an explanation.  How do we weather life’s great losses? How is it that we are not consumed by grief at the many tragedies we endure as we get older?

I don’t really have any answers to these questions.  Neither did Kunitz.  The closest I can come is this.  We know that we are drowning in litter both literally and figuratively.  Every day my trash bin is full of deleted e-mails and my recycling container is stuffed with wasted pieces of paper.  Inside my brain there is a non stop conversation going on, most of it irrelevant.  We are all drowning in litter.

When I looked in the beautiful eyes of my Joop, when I leaned down to kiss him and we shared a moment, I felt a part of the complexity and the beauty of being alive.  My heart broke when he died. Yet that is still preferable to living in the litter. We can live in the layers if we chose to, as heartbreaking as it is.  If we must drown let us drown in the layers.

Stanley Kunitz wrote this poem in 1978 out of despair at so many losses. Yet he continued to write for nearly thirty more years and lived until he was 100.  Maybe the consolation in poems and in paintings like this one by Rothko is how we survive.

Rothko 1

Summertime and Prosecco

Fourteen years ago we at Zambri’s helped to put Prosecco on the map in Victoria.  At that time there was only one dusty bottle sitting on the shelves at the local liquor store.  We started offering a five course tasting menu every Saturday night and we included a glass of Prosecco.  Many people had never even heard of this light sparkling wine from the north of Italy.  It became an instant hit to the point that the Manager of the local liquor store demanded to know what we were doing over at Zambri’s because he had never seen somany customers asking for Prosecco.  Now you can easily find ten different types of Prosecco on the shelves.

Riondo Prosecco-500x500Prosecco is actually the name of the wine and it’s legal designation.  So, just like Champagne, no one can call a wine Prosecco unless it is made in a specific way in a specific region called the Veneto in the North East of Italy.It differs from Champagne in that it is made in the Charmat or Tank method where the secondary fermentation (where the bubbles come from) happens in a tank rather than in the bottle itself.  This makes the wine somewhat lighter both in body and taste but also on the pocketbook.

My favorite Prosecco this summer is the Riondo Prosecco which is currently on sale at many government liquor stores for just $11.99 before tax. It is great just by itself and we had it for lunch with a fresh tomato and bocconcini salad. Light and crisp and slightly off dry, a perfect summer sipper.

We’re Open

photoToday we are open.  What does it mean?  Although we sell product we are not a store.  Our studio is in our home and our product is mostly displayed in our back yard.  Sometimes it feels odd to have people, potential customers, in a space that is so intimately ours.  Last weekend this yard was the site of our annual Summer Solstice party. It was full of all our friends wearing wreaths and making toasts.

5-730-3429.flowerwreath.mThis week the same space is where we chose to showcase our products and talk to people about our work.  Although sometimes it is hard to invite strangers into your space, there is a definite upside to this. Most of the work we do is custom and the process we enter into with people must be based on mutual trust.  What better way to start this process than to meet in our studio space surrounded by examples of past work.

photo of store

Air Plant artLast week we sold this insect house to a customer who decided it was the perfect frame for an air plant.  We love this look!

Creature Houses Need Not be Rustic

Little creatures need homes but why do they all have to be so rustic?  My partner Dita has tackled this problem head on with a range of creature houses that are anything but.  Birdhouse Stacked 2First she designed bird houses that are so unique and functional they are a pleasure to view but provide a safe and happy home for a nest of baby birds in our back yard.  So what is different about our design? Well first, she uses clear cedar and adds design details like square holes and a cantilevered roof.  The front door swings open for ease of cleaning and the houses come stained in two different finishes, clear and either green or red.

Birdhouse Closing

But she did not stop here.  What about Owls? What about Insects?  Why should they suffer with unattractive housing?

owl house

Insect houseNot only are these designs safe and functional but they provide a delightful piece of art to view in your garden.  The insect houses above are awaiting their stuffing.  That is the pine cones, moss and underbrush that make them desirable to insects.  Once ready they will be on sale Saturdays from 11-3 in our Studio located at 2221 Fernwood Rd. in Victoria B.C. We will be opening Studio Hours on Saturdays starting on June 20, 2015.  Entrance is on Denman St. You will know you are in the right place when you see this sign.

Insect house

Which Wine to Chose


I spent the last two weeks tasting probably 80 bottles of Italian Wine. I attended a Tre Bichierri tasting in Vancouver where only the very elite of Italian wines were presented.  In addition I attended several focused tastings and dinners as so many amazing Italian winemakers were in town for this event. Now I know some of you think of this as your dream job.  But really any of you who do this for a living know that it really is exhausting work.  For one thing, it is not like you are sitting down having dinner and a glass of wine with your friends.  You are often in a very large and noisy room full of people who want to sell you something. Tasting and spitting, tasting and spitting, and trying to separate one wine from the other, thinking of food pairings and price and how this could work in your restaurant.

Wine tasting

Yet of course there are those magical moments, often really seconds when a wine really reaches out and grabs you. Here are my best three picks of the last week.

I had the great honor to attend a dinner hosted by Dream Wines at Cinara Restaurant in Vancouver.  The guest of honor was Sylvia Franco from Nino Franco Winery in the Veneto and the food was to be paired only with Prosecco.  I love Prosecco and I was excited to see how an entire seven course meal could be paired with this Italian sparkling wine. Some of the pairings were a bit risky but the one that was truly outstanding was the Brut Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superiore paired with Spot Prawns topped with herb bread crumbs.  Nino Franco Brut

I always tell my staff that a truly good wine pairing is when the combination of the food and the wine elevates them both to greater heights.  This truly happened here.  This is not their most expensive prosecco but it’s deceptive softness with a backbone of bracing acidity was a perfect foil for the richness of the prawns and the crunch of the crust.  Fantastic!

My next pick would have to be the Aglianico del Vulture Il Repertorio, 2012 from Cantine del Notaio. It was one of the wines I tasted at the Tre Bichierri tasting itself and I always say if I have a taste memory of any wine after such a big tasting it must be something special.  This wine stuck with me even though it is not even in the British Columbia market as yet so there is no possibility of it being sold at Zambri’s.  This wine is from Basilicata which is a lesser known region of Italy.  The grape is Aglianico and I was curious to taste this expression of it called Aglianico del Vulture.  It completely impressed me with it’s meaty characteristics well balanced with  fruit and acidity.  One of the best examples of this grape I have tasted.Il Reperterio

Finally, back home in Victoria I had the opportunity to taste a spectacular example of a traditional Chianti Classico Reserva, the Il Grigio from San Felice Winery in Tuscany.  Some Chianti to me smells just like Cabernet Sauvignon as this grape is often added.  This Il Grigio is 100% Sangiovese and I immediately recognized the herbaceous bouquet as being from a wine made in a more traditional style. A Chianti Classico made in a traditional style is the best food wine in the world. It has good weight without being overwhelming and is well balanced with enough tannic structure and acidity to work well with many different dishes. An exceptional way to end my week.

Il Grigio

Seriously Good Sangiovese

Di-Majo-Norante-Sangiovese........._thumbThis is my favourite Sangiovese right now.  It is produced by Di Majo Norante which is a winery in Molise in the Center South of Italy.  Those of you who have read this blog before know that I have mentioned several of their other wines.  Wines from this region are of high quality and fairly inexpensive in the British Columbia market. So no wonder I love them.

Sangiovese is the most commonly planted red grape varietal in Italy.  There is great variation in climate from North to South Italy so most grapes only do well in certain regions.  Sangiovese is a more adaptable variety and so can thrive in different climates.  It is most commonly known as the grape of Tuscany being predominant in Chianti and many Super Tuscans.

Molise is quite a bit farther south and here the wine takes on a lushness not typical in an entry level wine from Tuscany.  On Tuesday at Zambris where I work as a Sommelier we are featuring this and four other wines from Molise and the neighboring region of Abruzzo.  Our guest for this evening will be Carmen d’ Onofrio Jr. who owns Stile wine company that imports this and many other fantastic Italian Wines.


Carmen’s father came from Molise and his mother came from Abruzzo.  They immigrated to Canada as many other southern Italians did to find a better life.  Stile wines was one of the first wine agencies in British Columbia to recognize the quality and value of wines from the south of Italy.  In fact the two wineries represented at our dinner, Di Majo Norante and Cantina Tollo from Abruzzo were the first two wineries represented by Stile.  And they are still represented twenty four years later!

You can buy this Sangiovese at many of the Government Liquor Stores in Victoria.  I buy mine at Fort and Foul Bay.  It sells for $13,99 before tax.