It’s a big move from a village in Spain to head of drinks at restaurant group D&D. Collective member Diana Rollan tells us how she did it
When we catch up with Diana, she is in the process of shifting over to a new procurement system. ‘A massive piece of work’ that has been occupying her for three months. Plenty of glamour still in the drinks world, it seems. Moreover, this, it turns out, is the second time she’s had to do it in her professional career.
This, perhaps, is the downside of being the head of beverage for D&D – one of the UK’s best restaurant groups. The upside is obvious: a position of real influence that allows her to shape the drinking habits of diners across the UK, across more than 30 venues.
How did you get into wine and hospitality?
By pure chance. I wasn’t interested in wine, and certainly didn’t think I could develop a career in it. At the age of 19 I moved from a small town in the middle of nowhere to study political science at university in Madrid. I got a job at a small restaurant with a really good wine list and the sommelier there was eager to share his knowledge with me. From there I joined another restaurant where I got the chance to do a sommelier course at a hospitality school.
What was that like?
It was quite intensive – full time from nine to five for four months. You had to have experience in a restaurant beforehand – and a practical paper where you had to decant, serve guests, talk about a wine and spot mistakes on a wine list. This was when I realised that I wanted to make a career out of wine and lost my interest in studying politics!
What attracted you to it?
I liked the fact that wine was in constant motion. There was always something new. And I loved that you can share wine and knowledge with people and also be learning yourself.
From there were you back into hospitality?
No. I started work in one of the biggest wine shops in Europe, Lavinia in Madrid. They had tonnes of wines from Spain but also all around the world. I was there six years, but I wanted to keep developing my career and gain an international qualification, which I didn’t have access to in Spain. I only moved back into hospitality when I decided to come to London.
When was that?
In 2007. I started as an Assistant Sommelier at La Trompette. I hardly spoke any English, and a Spanish friend, Bruno Murciano MS, lined me up with the sommelier there, Mathieu Longueure MS because he spoke Spanish. After eight months I joined Hakkasan.
What was Hakkasan like?
It was so different. It was really busy, and it pushed boundaries. It really helped me to see wine in a different way. And when I first saw the wine list I fell in love with the approach that [head of wine] Christine Parkinson was taking. I thought ‘wow she’s a visionary – I want to be part of this and learn from it’. My wine knowledge increased a lot, but it also helped me to see wines in a non-classical way.
Most of my current base of knowledge is down to Hakkasan…
Did you get any formal qualifications while there?
I went through the Introductory Court of Master Sommelier and also all the WSET qualifications up to WSET Diploma. I’m also a WSET Certified Educator for Wine, Sake and Spirits up to Level 3. The Diploma was the hardest. It was very academic and in English. I had to invest a lots of hours of study after working late shifts at Hakkasan so I struggled for a period of time.
Could you move upwards as your knowledge increased?
In fact, I wasn’t fully confident of my skills. I remember the first time Christine [Parkinson] asked me whether I’d like to come to head office and help her for a few hours a few days a week I said no. She said ‘all of your colleagues are waiting for this opportunity – and you’re turning this down?’ I didn’t think I was ready. I lacked a lot of confidence.
Did you get a second chance?
She waited a few months and tried again. There was an opening at Abu Dhabi, and I went there for a couple of months to help set up the restaurant. From there I joined Christine in head office, eventually becoming a wine buyer. But it’s a good example of the difference between the male and female attitude. Men would never think twice about their capabilities, but as a woman we tend to over-think. Are we good enough? Am I the right person? Over the years I’ve learned that you need to be confident, believe in yourself and go for it!
What’s your role at D&D?
I’m Head of Beverage. I oversee beer, wines, soft drinks, spirits water… you name it. With 34 venues and so much variety it’s hard to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. But we have to keep innovating and bringing in ranges that attract the customers.
Do you do the wine list for each one?
No. We have a great team of sommeliers and they maintain their own wine lists. But I do work on the concept of new sites, create the first lists and then work with the head sommelier to ensure that the range is fitting for that venue. I’m also in charge of the core range: 25 wines, 20 sparkling wines, 70 spirits and 15 beers, plus soft drinks. I need to develop those relationships and agree the contracts. We just did a collaboration with [London winery] London Cru for our own Bacchus. It’s been aged in Burgundy barrels to give it a bit more texture – more gastronomic.
Any advice for young somms – particularly young women?
Believe in your dreams and do what you want. Whatever position you’re in, keep going and never give up. I learned over the years that hard work and persistence pay off. It isn’t easy. As a woman, the lack of flexibility in our industry and having to go against some cultural stereotypes don’t help us. But my other half has been incredibly supportive of me and my dream and I’m incredibly thankful.
At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your dreams your passion will pay off…