Michael Palij MW | A Canadian Master of Wine

By Michael Palij MW


I was the third Canadian Master of Wine, after David Lake and David Gleave. It would be fair to say that most Canadians like a drink. Perhaps not as much as we MWs do, but as someone who grew up in Creemore, Ontario, at least I have an excuse!


Notwithstanding a double major at the University of Toronto in English and Philosophy, gainful employment proved difficult and, as so many literary giants had turned to alcohol, it seemed rude not to. I enrolled in a wine course with Margaret Swaine and in 1989, armed with my budding love of wine and a dog-eared copy of my Let’s Go travel guide, I booked passage to England.


My first job was stacking shelves in Oddbins (at that time a legendary retailer) and I still remember that Damascene moment when I realised just how good wine could taste (Premier Cru Chablis – everyone asks). I was hooked and quickly rattled through all the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses. In 1992 the Institute of Masters of Wine accepted my application and in 1995, after tasting more than 25,000 wines, I was admitted as a member and became the world’s 196th Master of Wine.


By then I was working as a buyer and my first trip to Italy in 1993 sparked a passion for the country, as well as for its food and wine, that has remained utterly undimmed. Italy endlessly fascinates me. The history, the unique combination of grape varieties and terroir, and the native creativity of the Italian soul provides boundless opportunities to discover the genuinely captivating.


I established Winetraders in 1997 with a single aim: to bring to the market those men and women who were working tirelessly to champion often long-forgotten varieties and appellations. Our selection process is exceptionally rigorous. In normal times I visit Italy up to 20 times a year, torturing hire cars and visiting those cellars that remain firmly under the radar.


It’s easy to manufacture a story at a trade fair but much harder to fake the vineyards or the winery when your client is on your doorstep. After a full audit, everything is tasted blind and in peer. Then, and only then, does a wine make it onto our list. We’ve worked with some growers for more than 30 years. I’ve watched their kids grow (some have worked with us in the UK for an internship) and together we’ve built our reputations. When asked, I offer technical advice, but this is usually in the winery rather than in the vineyard. I’m often asked to help blend or to comment on different ferments.


Today we work with more than 50 estates who all share these values. Our primary market is the UK but we also help clients in more than a dozen countries around the world. In Canada my association with Opimian has strengthened over the past four years as Members have responded overwhelmingly to the simple message that little can guarantee a good glass of wine more effectively than a passionate winemaker.


This year I am delighted to introduce Opimian Members to my own range, Terra Firma, comprising three Sicilians – two varietals and a Nero d’Avola-dominated rosé. I work with a local coop to assemble parcels from different vineyards and often from different altitudes. I’m looking for balance above all and sufficient depth of flavour to create something that really over-delivers at that price point. I hope you enjoy my wines and I thank you for your continued support!

Order Michael’s wines from Sicily through July 12, 2021



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