Restaurant Awards 2023: Sommelier of the Year, Franco Michienzi

Our 2023 Sommelier of the Year worked under no fewer than five of this award’s alumni on his way up.

2023 Sommelier of the Year: Franco Michienzi, Elisa

An industry mentor can make or break the nascent somm. Our 2023 Sommelier of the Year proves it: he worked under no fewer than five of this award’s alumni on his way up. In the early 1990s, Franco Michienzi was a young B.Sc grad from Western who found his way to Whistler for the season. He heard you could make more money serving if you knew about wine, so he started spending his off-hours studying all things vino.

Franco Michienzi. Illustration by Chantal Bennet Illustration.

But Michienzi happened to be working at Araxi. Back then, the restaurant’s deep cellar was directed by Chris van Nus (SOTY 2007), who started Michienzi’s tutelage in the intricacies of fine wine. After relocating back to Vancouver, Michienzi found work at C Restaurant, where Tom Doughty (SOTY 2005) took the apprenticeship reins. Then it was Owen Knowlton (SOTY 2011) at West. Then there was a lengthy stint at Hawksworth, where he worked first under Terry Threlfall (SOTY 2012) and then Brant Mao (SOTY 2015)—and beside Roger Maniwa (SOTY 2016). 

It was Mao who recognized that Michienzi was poised to take the next step, resulting in him becoming the opening sommelier at Elisa in 2019.

It’s here that Michienzi’s dedication and focus really shines: Elisa has a stunning list in several respects. For starters, it throws many of the tired conventions of a steakhouse list out the window—sure, there are big Cali cabs and Super Tuscans, but they’re not the focus. Nor are the prices the usual gougefest that beef houses love to engage in. It does have the depth of a steakhouse list (6,000 bottles and counting), but those selections are spread out over Michienzi’s passions: Burgundy, local growers, oddities from unheralded regions.

And it’s not just the bottles: it’s the manner in which they’re delivered that causes those who interact with Michienzi to come away with a smile. He’s seemingly allergic to upsells (breaking another classic steakhouse hallmark) and he stocks more bottles under $80 than most casual bistros. He also has a dedicated staff that embraces the glory of this un-steakhouse list. And, like Michienzi before them, each can now say they learned from a Sommelier of the Year.

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