“I'm a true Newfoundlander,” says Dean Norris. “I live in Calgary and I love it here, but I will always be a Newfoundlander at the core.”
He graduated in Economics and Political Science from the University of Waterloo in the mid eighties, but had no interest in the corporate world, wanting a career with opportunities to travel and the flexibility to train and work as an actor. He waited on tables in Toronto, breaking to travel through Africa and around Europe, and when his closest friends from university all moved to Vancouver, he followed, studying theatre at Capilano University and continuing to waiter.
Over the next seven years his hospitality career grew, and still acting a little, he became a manager at Shaughnessy Restaurant in Vandusen Garden before moving to Calgary in 2002, and a job at Hy’s.
Training with other actors had kept his life balanced, and he was invited to star in a Volvo advertisement. “It paid an exorbitant amount of money, and I became a member of the actors union,” says Norris. “I was getting some work, but after a few years I needed to make a decision about my life.”
I had never thought this is where I was going to end up, but when I got here, I realized all the things that I needed to balance my life were present.
Intrigued with wine, Norris took the International Sommelier Guild courses. “And by the time I got to Level II, I was totally in love with it. It became the creative outlet that I was getting from acting,” he says. “But it wasn't just the wine, it was the academic side, the geography, the horticulture, and the history. There were so many elements to wine that I loved. I was hooked, and I did the diploma and then flew off to the States for the Court of Master Sommeliers certification”
Tasting groups with master sommeliers inspired him creatively, and he felt intellectually motivated. He’d read The Alchemist, and it had left a lasting impression of setting goals and not always achieving those goals, instead ending up somewhere else – and he embraced that. “My career took off. I joined Vintage [Chophouse] as Wine Director in ‘09 and then in 2014 a corporate position was created for me, and I took over all the restaurants. I had never thought this is where I was going to end up, but when I got here, I realized all the things that I needed to balance my life were present.”
So what wine does Norris have squirreled away for a special occasion?
Château d'Angludet 2006 has a special significance. “It’s the oldest [bottle] I have right now, but the irony is ‘06 is when this journey really started for me,” he says.
“My first really big trip to Europe for wine was to Bordeaux and I felt at home. People might laugh at this, but it reminded me of the old part of St. John's in a lot of ways, and I realized I was raised in a place that's part of the new world with very, very strong ties to the old world. And the trip was important because I made so many lifelong relationships; James Sichel is a very special winery owner for me, and he's become a friend. I've seen him many times when he comes to Calgary, and he represents the generosity, and integrity, and the intelligence of all the greatest things in the wine world,” Norris explains.
“Château Palmer's the big wine but I like the understated too, and Angludet represents two degrees of separation from everything in the wine world that I love - from my place of birth, to my best friends, to the relationships I built. And it's also a very fabulous wine. I had a ‘95, and took it to Kelowna and shared it with my niece and her friends, and it was amazing. It's one of those wines that evolves and gets better with age - just like moi,” he laughs.
“My first great niece was born in March. I'm dying to go home to Newfoundland this summer; this wine will come with me and be shared with my family at my first dinner party with my great niece – it will be a special occasion.”