Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?
My grandfather once ended up with 20 cases of Alsace Riesling when the guy he sold his tractor to couldn't make the payment in cash. Since I was fourteen, we have been drinking the same wine for six years during Easters and Christmas dinners. I realised how the wine was changing after each year and with the different dishes. I have always been intrigued that the same wine from the same vintage could change from year to year, and varying across different dishes. I have never looked back since. And yes, we still have 10 bottles left to finish.
What do you think makes a great sommelier?
First a good sommelier is someone with a good wine knowledge and a great understanding of his wine list but a great sommelier is someone who can help his customer feel comfortable and ask the right questions without being condescending to respond to the customers need.
Describe your typical day at work.
On arrival I check the number of reservation on the floor, check the private dining room running order and make sure the wines ordered are ready. A quick look on the next few days parties in case I need to have a last min order. Check my email, after work with the team to finish the preparation for the evening service, check the stock in the fridge, sommelier station, a quick cleaning in the cellar, and ice bucket polished and filled with ice. I check that the staff has their dinner and is back at 6 o'clock for the staff briefing. After I may spend 30 minutes to place one or two delivery orders and tend to outstanding invoices. At 7pm I'm back to my section to welcome the first guests of the evening.
How does pricing affect the wine advice you give diners?
I usually try to sense if there is a special occasion and the range that the customer is looking to spend. There is always great wines to be had through the pricing ladder. It is rather the customer needs than the pricing that affects the advice I give to guests.
Have customers become more knowledgeable about wine?
Yes and this is great as the more knowledgeable they are, the more adventurous they are about their wine choices. They open up to me and they ask more about the grapes and the styles of the wine that they have selected. This makes it a more interesting interaction for both of us.
Describe a good sommelier's introduction or presentation of their list at a table.
I always identify the guest who is nominated to select the wine. As both the wine list and the restaurant menu can be rather overwhelming, I usually let them be for a few minutes. There is nothing worse than having a server or a sommelier hovering over you while you try to get a bearing on what you want to have for dinner. I return to the table once I see the guest have opened the wine list for a few minutes.
How often do you manage to touch base and re-taste your wines?
We taste our wine on a daily basis to make sure it is in a perfect condition for our customers. And the great thing for us is that we are quite a large volume restaurant so on one evening we may open about forty different wines for the guests which allows plenty of opportunity. New vintages are taste at 6 o'clock with the sommelier team to decide whether the new vintage of the wines make it to the list.
Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.
We are working with over forty suppliers so they always come at once or twice a year to introduce us to new wines added to their catalogue. We also get invited to wine tasting events. I personally go to ProWein every year to see what else is out there.
Selling wines by the glass. Your thoughts please.
Most consumers think that the more selection there is by the glass, the better it is for them. I believe the inverse is true as more selection by the glass means lower turnover per bottle. Not a great thing considering how easily most wines can be oxidised.
What are you really thinking when a customer sends a perfectly good wine back?
I am always trying to understand what was it about the wine that they did not like. Next thought is I hope that they will like the next one because there is only so much the staff can drink in an evening.
What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?
In the current economic climate, guests are more concerned about how much value they are getting for their money. They are also more conscious on the alcohol level although I beg to differ whether a half percent will make much of a difference between a happy buzz or a killer hangover.
You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?
Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon only if there are oak barrels readily available.
What's the key to developing staff to become well-trained to sell and serve wine?
It is about giving and sharing your passion with them, if you manage to get them there. If they have this passion they can only success the rest is wine tasting and in the book after it is up to them to see how far they want to get inside the wine industry. Push them to do as much wine tasting and encourage them to do competition or get more wine exam certification.
Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?
Impossible to have a favourite. A simple one for me will be a 2001 Domaine de Trevallon with grilled lambs with herbes de provence especially with summer just around the corner.
How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?
They need to tell me what kind of wine they drink at home and/or what was the best wine that they last had. They should be comfortable in describing the wine to me even though they can't remember the name and ask me which wine on the list. And if something on the list takes their fancy, they can always ask me to help describe it to them before making their decision.
Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?
Louis de Funes, the godfather of French comedy who had passed away in 1983. With his charisma, he could have been a great sommelier and sell ice to Eskimos.
How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Get together with some friends with similar interests and each bring a different wine of the same grape. Perhaps even vary the types of wine from time to time. The most fun you will get out of it is by doing the tasting blind and take notes of each wine you are tasting. Use a tasting wheel to guide you if possible.
What's the one thing you love most about your job?
I get paid to taste great wines.
Where do you see your future career path?
I am working to launch my own social website, Wine-Culture.org.uk, for sommeliers and wine lovers alike. I am certainly looking to make an impact on the wine industry by helping consumers out there to understand what they are eating and drinking.