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The Thorn & Burrow ‘Lil Fizz’ 2021 is a collab with Bar Susu, brought to you by the mind (and hands) of Alex Thornley.
Local food and wine enthusiasts will likely know Alex Thornley from his many years on the floors of various acclaimed Vancouver restaurants, from Salt Tasting Room to Tableau Bar Bistro to Como Taperia. He eventually landed as the opening GM of Published on Main. While his Yorkshire accent and cheeky sense of humour immediately put patrons at ease, it’s his insight and enthusiasm when wearing his sommelier hat that make hospitality experiences with this lad memorable.
After his Published gig, Thornley did a bit of a professional swerve, harnessing his time spent over recent years learning the ropes of winemaking—through various vintages spent everywhere from Le Vieux Pin in the south Okanagan to further afield in Chablis, France, New Zealand and beyond. He eventually became a capital-W Winemaker for a small-batch, low-intervention wine brand he created and dubbed Thorn & Burrow (with investment from his colleagues at Boxset Collective, the team behind Mount Pleasant’s Published, Bar Susu and Novella Coffee Bar). If there was anyone who could craft a wine specially designed for this crew, it’s the guy who’s been immersed with them since day one.
Thornley’s tiny project has seen him scrambling to find grapes since day one, something even the big boys are doing nowadays, as demand can outweigh what comes in at harvest—particularly in current years where winter kill is a factor, wildfires take their toll and other viticultural challenges appear out of nowhere. Not too long ago, he came upon a 2.5-acre organic site in Abbotsford, planted with various hybrid varieties and Pinot Noir and is currently leasing and farming the property. If we were to paint things with a very broad brush, it’s fairly well-known that Fraser Valley wines aren’t generally as coveted as those from the Okanagan or Similkameen; however, the cool-climate setting can make for lively, approachable wines that aren’t subject to the environmental extremes of those more popular regions. That, and the hybrid grapes common in the region are, sure, what your grandparents were drinking back in the day, but in the palate-broadening modern world of natural wine, what the cool kids have now latched on to as well. In the right hands (like, say, those hailing from Yorkshire), they can be crafted into something charismatic and tasty, like the Lil Fizz we have here, tailor made for Bar Susu’s dishes.
Four of the juiciest, most aromatic varieties you’ve hardly heard of (Madeleine Angevine, Madeleine Sylvaner, Bacchus and Kerner) are a field blend of grapes Thornley harvested the same day at various levels of ripeness, assuring some natural acidity would be in play. They were then fermented on their skins for five days (texture!), then lightly pressed into neutral oak barrels for eight months, spending all that time on the spent yeast, or lees, from the ferment (something to bring more texture and a little richness to the eventual wine). Juice went into bottle with a little (just a wee bit) of a sweet dosage to get a secondary ferment going. That small amount of sugar gave it a light fizz, nothing too intense, hence the Lil Fizz moniker. This is a sparkling without airs of being serious; it’s easy-drinking right now, with Bartlett pear, lemon creamsicle, apricot pit and a touch of jasmine. While it’s already a bargain at 12 bucks for a glass and 60 for a bottle, you can head to Bar Susu, which can currently be found in the evenings at Novella Coffee Bar (2650 Main Street) due to a fire in its original location, you can also nab a glass for nine measly dollars every day during their 3 to 5 p.m. happy hour.
When the winemaker’s also a sommelier, you put him to work. When I reached out to Thornley, he immediately gave a shout-out to Susu’s scallop crudo with calamansi, coconut, ginger and lime leaf, which he describes as “beautifully light; delicate, fresh and chilled—not unlike the wine.” While he puts like with like there, he also employs a little contrast, matching the wine with grilled pork collar, which is accompanied by lobster mushroom sauce and shishitos.
“I always like a nice bit of fresh acid with a pork dish and I feel the Lil Fizz really lifts the pairing into a surprising place, cutting through richness and raising the stakes,” he says.
Want to raise a glass with the man himself? This Friday, September 22, starting at 5 p.m., Bar Susu is hosting a Thorn & Burrow release party for his 2022 releases, including his first ventures into red and rosé styles. The whole Susu team will be there, including wine director Brittany Horne, who not only helms a fun and dynamic wine program, but was also hands-on in assisting the 2022 Thorn & Burrow vintage. Head over to ThisIsBarSusu.com for more details.