10 Minutes With Jake Skakun Of L’Abattoir And Cherries & Clay

May 2, 2011.

Jake Skakun is the sommelier at Gastown’s L’Abattoir and shares editorial duties with our friend Kurtis Kolt over at our favourite wine blog, Cherries & Clay.

Three things about Mt. Pleasant that make you want to live there: I love that it’s a neighbourhood that actually has community and feels like a neighbourhood. A lot of my great friends are close by. There are restaurants and bars that I truly enjoy visiting.

Default drink/cocktail of choice? Cru Beaujolais or anything from the Jura. Lapierre, Foillard, Breton, Puffeney and Tissot are a few French surnames that make me happy.

Drink/cocktail you’ll never have again? I wont write anything off completely, but you’ll never see me order Vodka/soda or a watery Pinot Grigio. I’m long over the phase of drinking drinks with no flavour.

Fashion turn-off? Too much perfume – something that’s taken seriously in the wine community. Tone down the high school-strength doses.

Fashion turn-on? I’m more of a style-class-elegance kind-of-guy than a short-skirt kind-of-guy.

The Vancouverite that you admire most? Currently Daniel Sedin. Ask me again in a few weeks.

What trend have you followed that you now regret? I stand by all of my past trend decisions. Even the era of very spiky hair.

What are the three things you’d like to change about Vancouver? This is a poignant issue in BC, but most who know me are already aware of how critical I am of how our government monopoly handles the sale of wine. I believe the BCLDB should be drastically reformed and that the government shouldn’t be involved in the retail side of wine. Most of the laws we’re forced to work within are remnants of our province’s brief 3-year stint with prohibition. It’s time we reform these 90+ year-old laws. We have an industry with so many spirited and knowledgeable people; if we weren’t stifled, we could have a truly great wine culture. That’s a topic for a whole separate article. I also wish that Vancouver had better solutions for supporting people with mental illness and addictions. And finally, more bike lanes.

Is there a local bartender who could sell you anything? Shaun Layton and David Greig are two of the most talented barmen I’ve known and it’s not just because I work with them at L’Abattoir. Any variation on a Last Word by those boys is absurdly good…the latest is a Mezcal Last Word and it may change your life – or at the very least, the way you think about cocktails.

Your go to, no-frills place for dinner? Toshi Sushi, Pho Linh or Phnom Penh. That being said, more often than not I’m eating at the Diamond and it’s 1:00am.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you? I love Northern Spain – San Sebastian and Rioja country. Also, Porto in Portugal is a favourite. Your plane can just drop me off on the Iberian Peninsula and I’ll get myself around just fine.

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years? Vino Italiano by David Lynch & Joseph Bastianich is essential wine reading and a book that isn’t overly dry (a common flaw in wine literature). I packed a copy while traveling through Italy and I also got a chance to briefly stage with David at Quince in San Francisco. F. Scott Fitzgerald is my favourite classic author. He is a master at depicting the rise and fall of his characters. Besides the obvious choice with The Great Gatsby, I really appreciate Tender is the Night. Recently, Joan Didion’s non-fiction books have encouraged me to write more and have shown me a style and voice I love to read and can associate with. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is Didion at her absolute best.

Where was the last place you traveled to for work or pleasure? We closed the restaurant for the first week in January and I rode the train to Seattle and Portland as a solo getaway, meeting up with friends along the way. I love the excitement and adventure and romantic sentimentalism of train travel. It’s a style of travel that we as North Americans should put an effort into reviving.

What makes you the most nervous? A single shot of espresso will give me more anxiety than you could possibly imagine.

Where did you go to school? Castlegar. I bet I can guess your next question…

The cliché that you overuse? William Zinsser said that clichés are the enemy of taste. I’ve made a conscious effort to talk and write using fewer cliches, yet they are hard to quit.

Shoe of choice? I have no shoe brand allegiances, although I usually go through a couple pairs of Vans over the course of a summer.

The different career path that you could have gone on? I went to school for multimedia design and worked for a few years as a web designer. I would make it through some days without leaving the house and without wearing anything other than sweatpants and that’s probably when I realized that it wasn’t necessarily my calling.

Your ancestry? Ukrainian and German.

Your three favourite films? I’m a big fan of The Departed from Scorsese (see). I’m not sure I could get tired of it. I’ve also gotten into Michelangelo Antonioni recently; my two favourites of his are L’Avventura (see) and Blow-Up (see).

Under what circumstances would you join the army? I’m not sure I’d do very well in the army. In fact, I’ve had someone in the army tell me that.

Your most regrettable purchase ever? Didn’t I ever tell you about the time I bought a _____?? I seriously can’t think of anything I’ve regretted buying enough to write in that blank.

What are you the most proud of? My family. My parents were always working hard and managed to raise us in a supportive household. Being a parent must be fucking hard. A totemic challenge and sacrifice when done properly.

What are you the least proud of? I’ve travelled all over the world, but I’ve never been east of Saskatoon in my own country.

The talent that you wish you possessed? Public speaking. More of a skill really, but one I’d like to have eventually.

What sport did you give up and why? I worked hard in elementary school on the basketball B squad to get an opportunity to play in a real game. During my first game, I caught a missed shot from the opposing team in our end. Everything shifted to slow motion as my teammates were calling for the ball. In the ultimate act of confusion, I turned and sunk a shot on my own net. I still remember it vividly and I’m still not a fan of basketball.

What is the game that you’re best at? I like to think I’m pretty good at Scrabble and also Cranium. I’m a double threat from opposite ends of the board game spectrum.

Have you ever fired a gun? If so, what were the circumstances? I’ve fired lots of guns. Didn’t you read the part where I said I was from Castlegar?

Tattoos? None. When I was 17 or 18, I was definitely getting a tattoo. I spent time describing my concepts to a tattoo artist and he sketched a number of designs for me, but I just never ended up going through with it. I’m thankful, as some things I thought were really cool then, I no longer think are so cool. Especially dragon arm bands.

The wildest place you’ve ever been to? Either Beijing pre-Olympics as a 20-year-old or Tangier alone as a backpacker. Probably Tangier.

Your first memory? I have many from the first house I ever lived in when I was two or three years old. I had a toy that was a red plastic television with a black handle and I smashed my childhood playmate on the head with it. I was never allowed plastic toy guns and my first G.I. Joe was long after all the other kids had them. Coincidence?

The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? I wish it was something clever, but it would likely be whatever rap song I’m obsessed with at the moment. Maybe All of the Lights by Kanye (listen) or Black and Yellow by Wiz Khalifa (listen). Rappers and I share a deep appreciation of Champagne.


  • Khristian

    You go Jake!

    I raise a glass of Armand de Brignac to your legend!

  • Leeann

    Such a nice insight into the man that is Jake!

  • Miguel

    we ride together die together

  • Maureen

    NIce article Jake! Here all these years I thought you gave up baseball after Shawn’s ball went thru the fireplace glass!

  • Bernadette

    A well-respected Canadian sommelier who’s never visited the Ontario wine regions. Kind of another comment on our messed-up liquour distribution system. Why bother visiting those vinyards when importing their wine is just as difficult as bringing in cases from Europe?

    P.S. Did you all see this article in the Van Sun?

    B.C. man to protest ‘stupid’ law by illegally transporting wine to Calgary

  • Debbie Wandler

    Well spoken young man! You make us proud!

  • Ed

    Great interview. Felt like a fun conversation.

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