Recently I had dinner in the Canlis yurt village—a mind-blowing, spirits-restoring reminder that this level of food still exists. But much of the evening’s magic stemmed from two bottles of wine, or more specifically the selection process with Nelson Daquip, the restaurant’s longtime wine and spirits director. On Friday, Canlis announced that Daquip is folding up his own proverbial yurt and leaving Seattle for Los Angeles.
Daquip doesn't have a plan just yet. He's recently married and making a life change that supports his wife's career and his own desire to try something new in the realm of wine and hospitality. "It's likely I'll step away from the dining room floor," he says, in exchange for more nights at home. Given his bona fides, it seems unlikely his future will stay nebulous for long. Daquip arrived in Canlis as a server assistant in 2002 from his native Hawaii; the restaurant touts him as the most rapidly promoted employee in its history. His last night of service will be Friday, May 28. This news also leaves the restaurant conducting another high-level search as they close in on a potential new chef.
The care and feeding of an 88-page wine list is a rarefied job, to be sure. But Daquip dispenses his ferocity of knowledge as if you were buddies who happened to be sitting around discussing the merits of Oregon pinot bottlings. It’s a talent very much aligned with the ethos third-generation owners Mark and Brian Canlis foster at their restaurant. It also earned the restaurant its first James Beard Award, for Outstanding Wine Program in 2017.
Wine is one of those things that legitimizes a certain caliber of restaurant, but also can create a minefield of uncertainty and intimidation—sensations diners probably aren't going for when they tap into their savings account to celebrate a special occasion. The night of my yurt dinner, we didn’t order anything approaching the upper end—probably even the upper 90 percent—of the Canlis cellar and he still made the process feel like the best kind of adventure. I’ve also watched Daquip debate the finer point of status cabernets, and he’s certainly game to discuss boxed wine.
Chronicling the whereabouts of a wine director might feel a little granular, but Daquip's approach reflects changes happening in the wine industry of late, and I hope he is representative of its future. To quote Canlis’s official word: “Los Angeles, you’re welcome."