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Vanya Filipovic
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Sommelier Q&A: Vanya Filipovic of Montreal’s Mon Lapin

December 5, 2023

As co-owner and wine program co-director of Montreal’s much celebrated upscale dining wine bar and restaurant, Mon Lapin, as well as founder and owner of wine import agency Vins Dame-Jeanne, Vanya Filipovic is known for her significant contributions to Quebec’s culinary and wine scene, particularly in Montreal.

Vanya’s journey in the culinary world started as a child growing up with a chef father and sommelier mother (her parents owned St-Sauveur restaurant Le Marie-Philip before moving the family to Vermont to open another restaurant) and continued to her time with the Joe Beef/Liverpool House groups and opening Vin Papillon, followed by her current projects: Vins Dame-Jeanne and Mon Lapin.

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Wine has always been part of her life, and her approach to it, marked by a passion for discovering unique, small-batch producers, has significantly shaped Mon Lapin’s wine program, making it a destination for wine (and food) enthusiasts from around the world.

Apart from her role at Mon Lapin, Vanya has gained recognition for her innovative approach to wine curation and storytelling, and for her advocacy for natural wines and sustainable practices in the wine industry, media and as a wine importer.

I recently sat down for a conversation with her to learn a little more about her path to, and vision for, Mon Lapin and Vins Dame-Jeanne, and her quest for intimacy and connection in every project that she takes on:

Alana Lapierre: Congratulations on Mon Lapin’s recent trajectory as one of Canada’s most celebrated restaurants. It’s a huge accomplishment and you must be extremely proud. Can you tell us what that means for you personally and for the Mon Lapin team?

Vanya Filipovic: Thank you! We’ve had an unbelievable year. It’s been a real treat to see Mon Lapin emerge in this landscape of restaurants as the little neighborhood restaurant that it is, and yet to also have a fun reach where we see people from all over Canada and beyond, and the whole team has been having so much fun. For me personally I have to say it’s not something that I ever dreamed would happen, very honestly. Some of the other projects that I’ve worked on in the past have had these sorts of trajectories, while Mon Lapin has always felt like a small little neighborhood project, but it’s been a fun ride to be on.

Vanya Filipovic

(Photo by: Dominique Lafond) From left to right, co-owners of Mon Lapin: Marc-Antoine Gélinas (front-of-house manager), Vanya Filipovic, and Alex Landry (co-sommelier who runs the wine program with Filipovic).

Alana: We’ve known each other for a long time, at Joe Beef and Liverpool House initially and then at Vin Papillon and now Mon Lapin and Vins Dame-Jeanne, so it has certainly been a fun ride to watch. Can you tell us a bit about your path and how it converged and came together to where you are today?

Vanya Filipovic: I just feel extremely fortunate because from the beginning, even being on the opening team of Joe Beef was an incredible experience to be a part of and one that grew so organically. I started in a tiny 28-seat restaurant where we were two people on the floor and taking reservations by hand. The intimate element of it was precious, and I’ve just been trying to recreate that sentiment of intimacy in every single project that I do ever since that first day.

In 2013 my now husband and I, Marco, were dreaming of opening a wine bar. We began Vin Papillon as a tiny 10 table restaurant/wine bar which then expanded and grew and turned into the eclectic and creative hub that it is today. In between all of that it became obvious to me that I wanted to defend the work of certain wine makers beyond restaurants and to be an ambassador for them in Quebec. Vins Dame-Jeanne was created in 2015 as a platform to reach the right audience and to make sure that these wines were showcased and understood.

Finally, Mon Lapin opened in 2018, which was from the beginning a personal project for both Marco (Marc-Olivier Frappier) and I and then for the rest of the team (co-owners Jessica Noël, Marc-Antoine Gélinas and Alex Landry) and again, we began extremely small before growing and expanding into where we are today. That quest for intimacy and for connection, that’s really what has led me to everything that I do.

Alana: It’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about Mon Lapin. It feels very intimate, warm, and cozy and that extends to the people who work here – you always feel that connection, as if you’re talking to your knowledgeable best friend about wine. Circling back to Vins Dame-Jeanne, your wine importing agency, where did the concept and name come from?

Vanya: It’s an ode to that historical container, the dame-jeanne, and a little wink to the old way of doing things in general, to ancestral practices and artisanal methods.

Mon Lapin

A look inside Mon Lapin.

Alana: Did you ever think, when you were first dreaming up the concept for Mon Lapin, that it would grow to what it is now, where you worked with renowned designer Zébulon Perron and expanded into the space beside you, more than doubling the initial seating and raking in accolades and rave review after review?

Vanya: The initial spirit was a no reservations, everybody crammed in, line out the door wine bar with a very Paris inspired ‘one-and-a-half-inches-between-tables’ kind of spirit. The pandemic was, oddly, a year of silver linings for us. We had the opportunity to take the space next door and took the time to reflect, to listen to the space and to imagine what it could look like. It almost felt as if Mon Lapin was an extra seat at the table and it just became more of a restaurant after that. That was really the space telling us that that’s what it needed, and we just went with that.

Alana: When you look back at your career what do you consider one of your proudest moments or proudest accomplishments?

Vanya: One of the reasons that I really love having the playground that is Mon Lapin as a continuity of the work that I do at Dame-Jeanne is that they’re obviously very complementary and the joy of opening these bottles and sharing them with people, as silly and maybe clichéd as it sounds, is to me the best accomplishment. To share the wine that you’ve spent so long talking about and so long dealing with all the import logistics with the team and our customers.

Homing in on those moments brings a lot of energy and we’re so often, by chance or not, surrounded by exceptional people. I get home every day and think that I’m living moments that I wish everyone who loves wine could be there to experience. Whether it’s in travels or in occasions that I’ve had throughout these various experiences to today, I have those moments so often and to me that’s really all that I can ask for, I don’t know that I need a bigger accomplishment. There were moments like winning Canada’s Best Sommelier in 2018 and the acclaim for Mon Lapin that were wonderful recognitions, but just opening these bottles and sharing them is really what makes me happy.

Alana: You surround yourself and work with people whose passion for service or for their work, produce, cooking, food, or wines comes through and that draws people in. It doesn’t come across as a job, it comes across as a passion and people connect with that.

Vanya: It is such a passion driven line of work and as soon as you stop being connected to that it’s a slippery slope. We’re just trying to capture that energy and stay really connected with people who share in our passion.

Vanya Filipovic

(Photo by: Dominique Lafond) From left to right: Marc-Antoine Gélinas, Alex Landry, Vanya Filipovic, Marc-Olivier Frappier (chef), and Jessica Noël (co-chef).

Alana: Hindsight is 20/20, looking back over your career, what would you have done differently?

Vanya: You can’t help but look back and have better insight as you get older and my hope is that with time, I have become a better professional, a better manager, a more diversified leader.

Alana: Natural wine. It is and has been a big focus of yours from the start and certainly now with Mon Lapin and Dame Jeanne. There has been a trend cycle from being a bit ‘out there’ and marginal to becoming the ‘it’ wine and all the hype around it to today where there’s a bit of a counter current with some saying that it might even be over its peak and on the way ‘out’. What is your vision of the future or the next years for natural wine?

Vanya: I’m happy you’re asking me that. It’s the danger that we all face when throwing catch phrases around or creating these buzz words or buzz concepts, that they move in and out of fashion. One thing that I feel will never be out of fashion is quality. Alex (Landry, co-owner, who runs the wine program alongside Vanya at Mon Lapin) and I have purposefully created a wine list that is not dogmatic and that has something for everyone, while also having some of the greatest names in wine in the cellar and an incredible array of vintages that are sleeping for release at a later date.

That is so fun to elaborate, and I feel the same about Dame-Jeanne. We have a lot of creative and eclectic wineries, but we also have incredibly traditional and terroir focused ones that are working in very artisanal ways and that, yes, fit into the natural wine catch phrase, but also fit into the ‘best wines of the world’ category.

We live in an age of information and people are more than ever informed about what wine is, what goes into it, what stories are behind it, and what techniques or methods speak to them. That’s a positive thing that we’re seeing people have this knowledge and have an opinion on what type of wine they’re looking for and that’s not trend driven.

Natural wine has become synonymous with flawed wine in some circles but there are also so many wineries that are making wine completely naturally and that won’t compromise on quality or commercialize wines that have flaws. It really has become a bit of a minefield, and our job is to clear the fog and make sure that we’re focusing on quality and on delivering what we promised.

Alana: Quality and the stories behind the wine, would you say that they are the criteria in how you choose wines for the Vin Dame-Jeanne portfolio as well?

Vanya: 100 percent. My unofficial slogan for Dame-Jeanne, and I don’t think that I’ve ever told anyone this or published it anywhere, is ‘de l’émotion sous chaque bouchon’ (emotion under each cork), it’s my modus operandi. That’s how I see it, as choosing high quality, evocative wines. Something is going on as soon as you taste the wine that really makes you want to want to learn more about it.

Alana: Can you share what’s coming next for you and your various projects?

Vanya: 2024 is going to be an exciting year and I’m working on a lot of different things. I’m part of the Table Ronde collective (a collective of chefs and restaurateurs with a common goal of contributing to the growth and influence of Quebec gastronomy) and we’re working on a lot of incredible projects that will hopefully come to fruition in 2024. For Dame-Jeanne there are a lot of exciting new wineries and collaborations that will be coming to market and at Mon Lapin we will be opening for some special holiday lunches. There is also something exciting coming in 2024 but I can’t share more on that one yet.

Alana: I want to finish off with some rapid-fire questions. What’s the first wine that you fell in love with?

Vanya: I don’t know if I’m legally allowed to say this because I was probably 12 years old: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It’s the first wine that had an impact and that I specifically remember what it tasted like.

Best or most memorable meal?

One of the things that I look forward to the most every year is winery visits in the wintertime. Often after a cold cellar tasting that can last for a few hours they serve something simple like roast chicken or a pot of soup and those can easily be the best meal, just because of the context. I also had the most spectacular time in the Basque Country last year in San Sebastian and it was mind blowing. The other thing that I look forward to every year and that is hard to beat is going to my husband’s Italian family’s home in Emilia Romagna and having home cooked, very traditional Italian classics made to perfection.

Favourite wine on the Mon Lapin wine list currently?

I love that Mon Lapin is like a little nursery for showcasing certain wines. Right now, we are receiving the very first wines from Jean-Francois Ganevat’s wife Maylis Bernard in the Jura, an amazing woman. It’s a project that I’ve been following since the start and if you ask me what bottle we should open tonight that’s the one that I would say because I’m so ecstatic that we finally have the wines here and they’re extraordinary. But my answer will change if you ask me that question again next week.

What would you have done if you had chosen a path that had nothing to do with wine?

I’ve always been really interested in medicine so I probably would have pursued a path in a holistic part of medicine, like osteopathy or something of the sort.

Favourite restaurant in Montreal?

By far, L’Express.

And in Toronto?

By far, Bernhardt’s.

What wine do you reach for at home?

Very usually champagne or white wine (that we opened to use in what we’re cooking that evening).

Must-order item on a menu?

There are certain things that I have a hard time not ordering if I see them. Sweetbreads are one of those for sure and I am a huge fan of homemade fresh pasta.

What are you over and wish would disappear from menus?

White chocolate and truffle oil. Amongst other things.

In your downtime when you’re not working where can we find you, what are you doing?

I love spending time with my friends, my family, my dog. I’m a major fan of tennis, so when there’s a tournament happening, I’m probably watching it somewhere.

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Alana LapierreA wine writer, content creator and magazine & publication contributor, Alana is certified in Wine (WSET Levels 2 & 3), Champagne (Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) and a Le Cordon Bleu trained food & wine writer. She has written for various publications (including Forbes and Natalie MacLean), wineries and agents. She has lived, written, worked, and sipped her way across five continents and is happiest with a glass of wine in hand at one of her favourite wine bars or at home (currently Montreal, Qc.). You can find her on Instagram @alanaloveswine.


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