Julio Tauste

‘You need to wake up, study – and always be improving…’

After nearly seven years in the UK, Orrery’s Julio Tauste is dreaming of attaining his CMS Advanced qualification

Brought up around Alicante, where his family had several restaurants, Julio grew up literally surrounded by hospitality, making the move to the UK in 2015, where he joined the D&D group. After several years at Launceston Place, he has been head sommelier at Orrery since just before Covid in 2020.

What experience did you acquire in Spain?

I always worked in the family restaurants, but in 2007 I decided to move on and became Food and Beverage manager at Huerto de Ivancos in Valencia. I then joined Akellare in San Sebastian in 2009. It’s a very well-known restaurant with a high-profile chef – three-star Michelin. It was high pressure – tiny details on every single matter. But that didn’t bother me. When you have the skill – it’s like riding a bike – you know what you are doing.

The three-star food at Akellare – ‘Tiny details matter’ says Julio. Pic: Kent Wang, Flickr

Why did you leave Spain to come to the UK?

After two years at Akellare, I joined Metro group – they are a big company supplying the on-trade with thousands of wines to restaurants all over Spain. I got my WSET Level 3 in 2015, and I realised that if I wanted to go further I had to move countries, because it wasn’t possible to do the Diploma there. The sommelier profession isn’t so well known in Spain.

Who did you work with at Launceston Place?

At various times Gareth Ferreira MS, Agustin Trapero and Piotr Pietras MS. It was an amazing team! I became head sommelier at Orrery in January 2020.

Julio with some of the ‘amazing’ team at Launceston Place

So you’ve stayed within D&D…

You need to be a bit loyal to the company. Then they trust you when it comes to buying a wine or doing a pairing. I think I’ve become more skilled at F&B as well.

In what way?

D&D have a big list of suppliers, and we work very closely with them. We need to be able to trust them – that when a wine is put on by the glass they’ll have stock, for instance. Particularly with Brexit when there are problems with the borders, we have to play a lot with the wine list, with things going out of stock.

What about personal development?

We’re very involved with training – with new educational materials, with competitions. It’s important to be always learning. I’ve got my CMS Advanced exam in June.

It’s really tough because you need to pass all three parts at the same time.

Which is the toughest bit?

The blind tasting! Always! The hardest one for me to spot is Sancerre because to me it’s close to Chablis. I often get them mixed up on the nose. But I think Chablis has more cleanness and slightly different flavours on the palate. That’s how I pick it. Spanish styles are the easiest for me – Albarino and Rioja.

Tell us about the list at Orrery.

We’re a French restaurant, so we need to focus on French appellations. We’re very big in Bordeaux and Burgundy, red and white.

Fine dining and elegance at Orrery…
… where Julio is head sommelier
Hoping for a busy terrace this summer

Is it hard to sell alternatives?

Some guests do ask for different appellations than Bordeaux, so we have places like Marcillac or Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. And Cahors Malbec too is very good value wine. Full-bodied and rich, it does the same kind of job as cru classé Bordeaux, but much cheaper. They’re useful when people want to have two or three bottles of wine. We need to look after the guest.

How are you set for Burgundy, with the upcoming shortages?

We’re fine at the moment. They allowed a new appellation in 2017, Bourgogne Cote d’Or, which is pretty good value wine. Also places like Marsannay, Maranges and Rully red – these places are less well-known but are good value. We might not be able to get Vosne-Romanée without spending big money, but we should be able to find these.

Any substitutes from outside France?

Our customers are ok with Bordeaux-red substitutes – Napa, Australia, even Chile. For red Burgundy we have alternatives from Pisoni Estate (Sta Lucia Highlands), and Williams Selyem (Russian River) and Errazuriz or Montes from Chile. For white Burgundy, I’d look to Kumeu River (New Zealand), or Mayacamas on Mount Veeder in Napa.

Vineyards in the Hemel and Aarde Valley
And the dramatic coastline of Hermanus, Walker Bay – one of Julio’s favourite regions for Pinot

Where, for you, are the most exciting wine regions?

Walker Bay in South Africa [above]  – amazing Pinot Noirs. I also love Sherry. It’s very good value. Also Hawkes Bay Bordeaux blends. Whenever I recommend that the guests love it because they’re expecting a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc [from New Zealand] and this is something different. It’s a great substitute for Bordeaux.

What do you think is the most important thing in hospitality?

To be humble. You always need to live for the guest. Guests in the UK are very high profile. You need to wake up, study and always be improving.

What do you do in your time off, Julio?

My son is 13 now, which is a difficult age, so the most important thing when I have free time is to spend it with him. We play football, handball and basketball.

Julio with partner Nuria. Making the most of family in his time off is important to him
Francesco Gabriele

You should see my desk – it’s inundated with bottles!

Looking after the wines for the Iconic Luxury hotels group is a plum job. We talked to Chewton Glen’s Francesco Gabriele about his journey in hospitality, and why sometimes the best way to move forward is by taking a step back.

If you’re overseeing thousands of wines across five glamorous hotels, it probably helps if you’ve grown up surrounded by the stuff. Francesco Gabriele, Wine Director at Chewton Glen was raised on Sardinia, where his mum’s family ran a winery. In fact, one of his earliest memories is stepping into the damp, winey, earthy smell of the cellar with his grandfather.

Francesco in the vineyards of his Sardinian homeland

He was taking ‘a few drops’ of wine in his water from the age of six, and drinking small amounts with food on a daily basis from 14 onwards. And yet, it was nearly all very different…

Your family wanted a different career for you didn’t they?

My dad had an accountancy business in Rome. He thought I’d be a lawyer or solicitor or something in finance. So I studied economics at the university there. But then I went back to Sardinia and got a job as a bartender in a very ordinary kind of bar and that was where my hospitality passion started.

At a ‘food and cocktails’ competition
Making headlines as a young bartender in Sardinia

So not in wine at all, to begin with?

I did maybe five or six years cocktails and mixing, but there was always some crossover. Even if you are in the bar, if there’s a shortage in the restaurant you could find yourself working on the floor. It was a smooth transition.

Tell us about your early career

I spent most of my time in Sardinia on the Costa Smerelda with the Aga Khan’s group – probably the most luxurious group in Europe at the time. From there I went to Milan and did seasons back and forth between Milan and Sardinia until I moved to the UK 10 years ago.

Why the move?

I love to explore new places – I was an economic gipsy – not settled anywhere! But in Italy the season was starting to get very short. So I came to the UK looking for a bit more stability.

With the team at Tylney Hall in Basingstoke in 2012 – his first venue in the UK

Where did you start?

At Tylney Hall near Basingstoke in 2012. It was a four-star hotel and I was head sommelier, though there wasn’t a team – so I was just head sommelier of myself. Then suddenly Chewton Glen was looking for a sommelier.

You didn’t mind going down a level?

The head sommelier [at Chewton Glen] said ‘what’s wrong with you? You’re a head sommelier and your CV is brilliant, why do you want to come here as a sommelier?’ But for me Chewton Glen has always been the best of the best in terms of sommeliering and wine. Names like Gerard Basset and Alan Holmes have all worked there. For me it was like a dream.

I didn’t mind taking a step back. My wine knowledge massively increased when I went there.

We believe you’ve heavily reduced the wine list…?

We used to have 1,966 – I wanted the same number of wines as the date Chewton Glen started. But with lockdown the owners started to take a look at what was in the cellars and said we can’t keep this money locked away there. So we have 1300 wines on the list at the moment.

The elegant setting of Chewton Glen has massively helped Francesco increase his wine education

Do you still work on the floor?

I’d love to be on the floor engaging with people, but my role is a little bit more complicated because I look after the wines for the whole Iconic Luxury Hotels group which includes Cliveden, Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds, 11 Cadogan Gardens and the Mayfair Townhouse.

That’s quite a responsibility!

Even though I started as just a sommelier I was so determined. I said to my head sommelier ‘give me the chance and I will prove that I can do it.’ And I ended up as wine director for the whole group. It’s a huge number of wines. You should see my desk. It’s inundated with bottles.

You seem to have had a very considered approach…

I never ever rush anything in my career. I consider myself a very slow person. I do one step at a time. But every time I move forward I like to feel it’s a solid step. I need to be very comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

Two regions to look out for: Greece (Assyrtiko pic via Jameson Fink, flickr)…
…and English sparkling wine

Wine-wise, what trends are you looking out for?

I don’t mind exploring new fashions, new wines, new styles. But it has to be really convincing. For me, I think the classic styles are still winners. There’s been a lot of talk about organic wines, biological wines, biodynamic wines. But for me there’s not enough to create a proper business. The one I can see working is English Sparkling wines. The 20 we have on are really good.

(To see the results of the Sommelier Collective’s English Sparkling Wine Awards tasting click here.)

Anywhere else?

I love Eastern Europe too. And Greece and Macedonia are really underestimated. As for Hungary – people don’t understand how good those wines are.

Any advice for young somms just starting out?

My advice would be ‘don’t be too ‘sommelier-y’ – too technical. We tend to be a little bit fancy – looking at what we want to explore rather than what is people’s tastes. Look after your guests in a genuine way. Be in hospitality!

With Bierzo legend Raul Perez…
…and on a Champagne trip with some of Iconic group’s somms. Trips are a big plus of the job.

Where do you stand on formal wine qualifications?

They are really important. I love the WSET, though for me it’s a bit too commercial. The Court of Master Sommeliers is the best. Unfortunately I only did the first two. I’m generally too busy to cope with any more.

What do you do in your time off?

I like to balance my family life. My daughter is four so we go to places where we can have fun like ski-ing or swimming or horse riding, but also close to a wine region where I can explore wine topics.

What do you think about working in the countryside rather than a big city?

I absolutely love it. In terms of work/life balance it’s the best. I have to go to London a few times a month. But big cities are more for young sommeliers to go to tastings and build up their network. But for someone like myself who’s quite settled the countryside is the best of the best!

The famous Treehouses at Chewton Glen – perfect for uber-VIPs to unwind
Diana Rollan

‘Believe in your dreams and never give up…’

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.

At D&D Diana is responsible for a group that includes 100 Wardour St…
…and the Butler’s Wharf Chop House. Pic Justine Trickett

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.

Picking up Group Wine Lists of the year for Hakkasan in Imbibe’s Wine List of the Year competition

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.

With the team opening Hakkasan at Abu Dhabi

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.

The famous brunch at Quaglinos – also a venue where Diana chooses the core wine range

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…

Family – and her partner’s support – have been crucial to Diana’s success
Shashi Prakash

‘I’d only ever drunk half a bottle of Kingfisher…’

Shashi Prakash had barely touched alcohol – and never wine – before he came to the UK. Now a serious wine geek, he has big ambitions for the places he works

One of the joys of the Sommelier Collective is the wide variety of our members. It’s the reason we run these Member Profiles – they’re a chance to celebrate the unique diversity of the hospitality industry. People who have come to the UK from all over the world – and each with their own unique story. But few are as remarkable as that of Shashi Prakash…

You’ve had quite a journey to get here…

I grew up in Jamshedpur – about four hours from Calcutta. I’d never planned to come and live in the UK or Scotland. But if you ask my mum I was always different from the rest of my family. My brothers and sisters all became teachers, engineers, doctors – but I wanted to be away from those things and do something that fulfilled me. My family haven’t come to see any of the places I’ve worked yet, but I’d love to bring them over so they can see where I work – and what wine is all about!

Shashi (here at Isle of Eriska) has worked at a wide variety of top class hotels and restaurants across the north of the UK

Had you tried wine before you came here?

Here alcohol is considered a part of your dining experience, but in India when you drink you’re considered not a good person. When I came here the only alcohol I’d had was half a bottle of Kingfisher when I left university and the students threw a party for us. I only drank out of respect for them. When I came here the first thing I tried was pear cider – I was amazed. It had such a sweet palate to it.

Why did you come to the UK?

I came back in 2009 to do my BA Hons in hospitality. I had no plans to stay here, but once you’ve got your degree you’re allowed to stay and work for a couple of years. The first job I got was in Gleneagles.

I stayed there for a bit then went to Seaham Hall near Sunderland where Kenny Atkinson was the chef – he had one Michelin star.

Christmas at Fonab Castle

When did your love of wine begin?

At Martin Wishart in Edinburgh. They had two sommeliers and I loved the way they used to talk to the guests. It was something amazing to me to see how one wine could go with the food and another one wouldn’t. The sommelier used to give me glasses of wine to taste after service. I’ve moved around quite a lot, but Martin Wishart had the biggest influence on me in terms of understanding the elements of fine dining service.

Have there been any big influences on your wine journey?

After Martin Wishart I went to the Horseshoe Inn, a three-rosette restaurant in Peebles [south of Edinburgh] in 2012. There I was lucky to find a gentleman called David Downey who was a bit of a mentor to me. I started my WSET qualifications and a couple of times a year we’d go out to restaurants and he’d let me pick the wine. I started to learn about wine from here onwards and it allowed me to see my restaurant career beyond food.

Have you done any wine qualifications?

A sabrage course could be next for Shashi… Pic: Andreas Nilsson, Flickr

I’ve done WSET Level 2 but I want to do Level 3 and get into a sommelier course. I’m very intrigued by sake, too. Next month I’m hoping to do a sabrage course as well.

What are your favourite wine styles?

Pinot Noir is my go-to wine. I’ve drunk it from all around the world. My taste is probably for fruitier wines rather than rustic ones. My favourites are Felton Road Block 5 – it has astonishing length. I also like some Austrian versions. Not many people know it very well, but I think it’s remarkable. When I speak to customers in the restaurant they have no idea how good Germany is for Pinot Noir.  White wise I’m a big fan of Burgundy – good Chardonnay and Chablis. Some of my GMs say I have very expensive tastes.

A Pinot lover, Burgundy is Shashi’s favourite wine region. Pic: Olivier Colas, WikiCommons

Tell us about your list at Fonab Castle

I’ve been here seven months – I was at Inverlochy Castle before that. We used to have 150 bins here but I’ve added a further 50-60 bins – mostly wines that are a bit quirkier, a bit different. Things like the Blank Bottle from South Africa. I think they are breaking the rules and just doing something they’re passionate about. It’s very food-driven wine as well.

Are the customers open to those kind of wines?

Our customers tend to be more adventurous in the summer. For the more hesitant ones, if they’ve never had a New Zealand Pinot Noir, they won’t spend £90 on it all of a sudden. Our job is to read the guest, rather than influence them into buying what we want to sell.

How do you balance your family life with the demands of work?

Our son was born in June and I wasn’t seeing much of him – I was working 15 hours a day at Inverlochy Castle. Fonab Castle is a bit more relaxed – it’s allowed me to get a better work/life balance. I’m lucky to have a very understanding wife. She was a chef before she got pregnant, so she understands that this is a job where you sometimes have to work six or seven days a week. My GM at Fonab is very understanding too. They don’t expect me to be here 24/7.

Shashi with his wife and their new arrival in Dubai 2021
Time off has been rare – but it helps that is wife is an ex-chef

You obviously love it, though…

I love being in this industry – I’m passionate about hospitality. I have so much respect for the people who do what they do – and I’m still in contact with a lot of the chefs I’ve worked with. One of our chefs at Isle of Eriska, Graeme Cheevers, got a Michelin star last month – he’s only been open eight months. There’s a guy who was with me at the Samling Hotel [Windermere], Tom Shepherd, who opened his restaurant – Upstairs – in Lichfield five months ago and he got a star, too.

Does their success spur you on?

I’m working with a chef who was with me at Martin Wishart. We are pushing for a fourth rosette and then eventually we’re hoping to get a Michelin star. If a restaurant is good, forward thinking and innovative, those are the kind of places I like to stay. If it has a one-star Michelin, what’s the next step? It’s important to keep moving and pushing ourselves.

With the team at Fonab Castle – next stop Michelin Star, perhaps?
Beatrice Bessi

‘This isn’t just a profession – it’s something I love…’

Chiltern Firehouse’s head sommelier Beatrice Bessi tells us about her varied career, studying while pregnant and the need to think long term

We feel slightly guilty about talking to Beatrice Bessi. The Chiltern Firehouse head sommelier is on her first extended time off for a year, and instead of chilling by the pool or catching up on her sleep, she’s talking to us. Still, she has a lot of super-interesting stuff to say and we’re very happy to listen!

You’ve been in hospitality a long time…

I started more than 20 years ago to earn money in secondary school, in Parma, [north-east Italy]. I started in bars and never stopped  – even when I was studying computer science at university. I just realized that I preferred hospitality.

So you didn’t begin in restaurants?

I was a bartender for 20 years between bars, night clubs and so on. After a while I realized I needed a way to show people this wasn’t just a profession I was doing for the moment but was something I loved – a career, and something I could grow up with. I began to think will I still be making cocktails at four in the morning when I’m 50 years old? So sommeliering became the best option. In some places I was a bartender, in others a sommelier, in others a waitress. It’s been a strength to work in so many different places, from bars to nightclubs to top restaurants, old school and modern.

You came relatively late to wine then…

I started to study as a somm 12 years ago. I wanted to know more – to have power in my hands and be 100% confident and comfortable; to be the person in charge of my career, my floor. I had my first courses while I was pregnant!

Beatrice has thrown herself into the search for wine expertise and knowledge

How did you end up in the UK?

I was working as a restaurant manager for the Alajmo family, who own a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants. One of my co-workers had just returned from London, working with Ronan Sayburn and he bombarded me with his ideas. I knew that Italy wasn’t enough for me and as soon as Ronan mentioned they were looking for a sommelier at 67 Pall Mall I applied for it. I moved to London in 2016.

Did that involve a step down?

I had been a senior supervisor in Italy, and I started as a junior sommelier at 67 Pall Mall. But it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I’d do it now if I thought the opportunity was worth it. I don’t have a lot of ego. If I can see a situation that gives me growth long-term I’d always change the position I am in for the sake of learning.

Lots of nice old-vine wines at 67!

I guess you learned plenty at 67 Pall Mall…

I was very lucky to taste the best wines in the world, the best vintages, unicorn wines. I learned how to deal with Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, winemakers, wine collectors.

Did you start the CMS qualifications?

I moved for this reason. I didn’t understand the full extent of what they offer. But once you’ve studied the Advanced, you want to try for the Master Sommelier. I wanted to be internationally certified, and it helped to be in that environment. The Best Sommelier of Greece, Best Sommelier of UK, Best Sommelier of South Africa – they were all [at 67 Pall Mall].

Any advice for people who are studying?

You need to be mentally balanced. You have a lot of pressure to manage the work hours and the studying. The MS is the hardest challenge of your life; the hardest exam in the world.

Decanting during the Practical paper in the Advanced exam…
A ‘well done’ from MSs Matt Wilkin (left) and Brian Julyan

What challenges did you face moving from 67 to head sommelier at Chiltern Firehouse?

The biggest challenge was to change your style of service, and make it your own, and make all the experience of 67 worth it and applicable in Chiltern. You make your own style. We’ve doubled the wine list to 800 references, and my assistant and I have the freedom to select the wines that we want, from small producers to classics to expensive to traditional. It’s very rewarding.

What changes did you make?

I found some gaps that I wanted to fill. Some regions weren’t represented how I wanted, some producers were missing and there were others I didn’t like. So slowly, slowly we adapted. Can we only have a big modern producer in Burgundy, or do we want wines in a different style  too – oxidative, new oak, old oak? I just went through the wine list and I wanted top iconic wines to be there – but different wines, less pricey. I didn’t try to massively increase the wine list. I just wanted to create something that would please everybody.

Any favourite regions or styles?

I love Burgundy and Piedmont. Our Burgundy list is three times bigger than before, while Piedmont has doubled. After that Australia and California are my strengths. I’d always be a big supporter of those regions – and Riesling is my favourite white wine, so I expanded Austria and Germany because of that.

Piemonte – one of Beatrice’s favourite wine regions. What’s not to like?

How do you balance being a mother with the hospitality hours?

I don’t know how I do it. Honestly! I’ve always been someone who does too many things at once, and being a mum it’s natural that you have to do lots of different things at the same time. But it’s a big challenge. If I sleep six hours a night I feel lucky, but it’s the only way for the moment.

With such wide experience, do you have a final take on the profession?

Being a sommelier and a manager and a wine buyer are three completely different things. Being a good sommelier doesn’t make you a good manager, and sometimes you have amazing managers who are not good sommeliers and vice versa. You have to keep practising and training yourself in all these roles.

Beatrice with her daughter. Juggling work and domestic responsibilities is still a challenge
Adam Michocki

‘I Had Literally Zero Exposure to Wine When I Was Growing Up…’

You don’t need to grow up surrounded by wine to develop a passion for it. Collective member Adam Michocki tells us about his journey to Michelin star status, the pressure of becoming a head sommelier, and how he hopes to make Polish wine the next big thing

You grew up in Poland – did you drink much wine when you were younger?

I had zero exposure to wine when I was growing up. Literally zero. At that time there was no culture for wine at all [in Poland]. So when I started working in hospitality it was all completely new. Burgundy and Bordeaux were colours rather than wine styles!

So how did you get into wine?

I worked for a year at an independent fine dining restaurant in Lodz and they did wine tastings and training. The first training we had, I was so amazed by the wine. Weirdly it was aromatic varieties that I loved at first – Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurz, Pinot Gris.

A proud moment: winning the Best Young Sommelier competition in Poland in 2018

Where did your wine journey take you next?

I moved to Alsace, in Colmar. I didn’t know anything about Michelin starred service at that time, but it was full service – everything was served under a cloche. I was there for two months. I was just exploring – nothing serious. But then when I went back to Poland it was to a very good restaurant, Likus. They had 250 wines on the list, all from France, Italy and Spain. For French wines, especially, it was very good. 

Is that what really sparked your interest?

I was very curious about the wines, regions and grapes, and I wanted to learn new things. I did WSET level 3, but i wanted to do the Diploma, which meant going to either Austria or London. I hate speaking German, so I decided to come to the UK in 2016.

Where did you start?

At Chez Bruce. I didn’t care what the food style was. I just wanted to work under a head sommelier – Sara Bachiorri – who was happy to share their knowledge and experience. Eleven months later I moved to our sister restaurant, The Glasshouse, to be a head sommelier for the first time.

Adam’s 11 months at Chez Bruce saw him pick up 3rd place in the International Young Sommelier Competition

How did that feel? Was it intimidating?

I always wanted to be a head sommelier, and the Glasshouse was good. I could do what I believed in. I had a free hand, and it had 700 bins. But when it happened I wondered whether I was good enough. I was 27 and it’s a big responsibility. I was very afraid that I wasn’t ready, that I wouldn’t be good enough. So I started studying a lot and doing competitions.

So at that stage was education key for you?

Qualifications are important – they help you to grow. But personality is also very important. You shouldn’t show off in front of the guests. You need to be humble and kind. Some people pass WSET Level 3 and they think they know everything, when they don’t. People need more time to relax into the responsibility and understand that customers don’t come to a venue for the sommelier – they come there to enjoy themselves.

Are you still taking qualifications?

My Advanced has been postponed seven times over the last two years. I went for Advanced in February 2019, but I got sick and lost it on the blind tasting. Theory I had 85% and I passed the practical, but you can’t taste with a blocked nose… There’s nothing you can do. It’s your day and you need to be ready. I always felt like I needed the papers – the pins. But now I’m much more relaxed about it. I have a family, and dogs – so many other things I need to do with my time.

With his ‘three kids’ Adam has a lot in his life beyond studying now

Any tips for studying?

It’s very helpful to taste with someone else. It gives you someone else’s perspective. It’s something I like about judging with other people. But WSET Diploma and CMS are both totally different in their approach to theory and the tasting. You need to connect with people who are doing the same thing.

And where are you now?

Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall. It’s a big operation. A really great hotel and very impressive. When they opened they were named second best newcomer in the world. The restaurant is one Michelin star, and the plan is to get up to two or three-star. We have the inspector coming tomorrow! I’m doing about 55 hours a week. In the Glasshouse I was doing 44 hours. So it’s a big commitment.

Do you have any tips for putting a list together?

Every place is different. The Man Behind the Curtain [one-star Michelin in Leeds] was tasting menus, so it was all about the pairings rather than the wine list – which was very short. Just 30 whites and 30 reds. Here it’s a tasting menu too, but there are 500 bins – top Bordeaux and Burgundy: DRC, Petrus and so on – and people are buying them. But building a small wine list is a lot more  difficult. You need to do really smart buying to accommodate different countries and different styles in the price ranges. You’re never going to put five Burgundies on the list if you only have 30 available spaces.

What’s your approach to wine pairings?

I like to put unusual wines and styles which people wouldn’t normally choose like Brachetto d’Acqui, Bugey Cerdon St. Joseph Blanc, Yuzu Sake, fortified Malbec, Czech Pinot Noir. Nothing too funky – but just enough so people can get out of their comfort zone in a very enjoyable way.

In the Michelin-starred surroundings of Grantley Hall

Are any wine styles exciting you at the moment?

My palate is constantly evolving. Initially it was aromatic whites, then full-bodied reds. Then I fell into Champagne and oaked Chardonnay. Now I’m really excited by Polish wines. I tasted over 100 during lockdown. I tried a Pinot from the Czech Republic, from Moravia – the same latitude as Burgundy, only the climate is a bit more continental. It was so stunning, when I tasted it I thought it was a Chambolle-Musigny premier cru, at least. But a fraction of the price.

Is it possible to find wines like this in the UK?

Suppliers don’t know about them. But I’m working to import some of these wines. They’re in London City Bond and should be ready any day now. There are a lot of hybrid PiWi varieties, like Solaris and Johanniter. But there’s a move to vitis vinifera – especially Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, plus some Austrian varieties like Zweigelt.

The Sommelier Collective will be running an article by Adam about Polish wines shortly. But if somms want more information on the subject, or to enquire about tastings, they can contact Adam via Instagram on adam.somm or email on orders@centralwines.co.uk

‘I’ve been in hospitality since the age of twelve…’

Having been introduced to wine through his father’s cellar – nosing wines and trying to guess the vintages – Jan van Heesvelde knew from an early age that hospitality was the career for him. And he has pursued that goal with single-minded dedication ever since – as the surprised winemaker at Chateau Rayas found out!

You actually started to study hospitality at secondary school didn’t you?

When I was 12-18 years old I went to the Culinary Arts School in Bruges. I wanted to be a chef at first, and in the first three years you do chef, bakery and butchery. Then I did chef and restaurant manager for three years. After that I specialised as a sommelier. So I’ve been in hospitality since the age of 12.

But you weren’t instantly attracted to service…

In the fourth year of school – aged 16 – I hated waiting on people. Especially at school where it’s for your friends and it’s like a big performance, which you obviously don’t like because they’re trying to play jokes on you. But after a while wine just took over from the chef side – it just felt more interesting, and I had a bit of a vibe for it. I’m very lucky. I’m determined, and I knew where I wanted to go from an early age.

Have you always taken drink seriously?

When I was going out with my friends [as a student] we would all have a 10 Euro allowance for the night. They would buy 24 beers for E0.50; I would buy four for E2.50 apiece because I’d rather have four good beers than 20 lesser ones. My dad always told me, if you can buy smaller quantities but good value, then do it. That’s something I always live by.

You seem incredibly focused. Have you made any wrong decisions?

I graduated from school winning ‘best junior sommelier of Belgium’ in 2014. It’s a competition held between the hospitality schools in Belgium. I thought ‘well, I have a plan B, so let’s try university’, and went to study Business Management, which was very fashionable at that time. It was the worst decision of my life. The first six months were amazing – I passed all my courses. The second part – disaster. I had to resit everything. I did one more term, and then said ‘that’s enough’. It did teach me one thing, though. ‘Don’t do anything you don’t like…’

So you went back into hospitality?

I worked for two years at Tafeltje Rond in Belgium, then decided to work abroad. I was talking to restaurants in Scotland, Portland and LA before Hide offered me a job. I came to London in September 2018.

Hide. That’s quite some wine list…

I tasted things there that I would never have tasted in a lifetime in Belgium, opening a bottle, having a small taste and sharing it with the team. I don’t think anywhere has a list as crazy as Hide.

So what was the attraction of L’Enclume?

At L’Enclume [in Cumbria] we’re about breaking the rules for service. Everyone does everything. Everyone is in at ten in the morning, from commis to the restaurant manager, and everyone leaves at the same time. Everyone works together, and no-one is afraid of doing any job: folding napkins, mopping the floor, cleaning things – there are ranks without there being ranks. I’d never have expected it for a two-star Michelin. It’s an amazing vibe. We’re like a nest of ants running all together, but moving gracefully like swans. I definitely got more attracted to service there.

Have you managed to keep your wine education going?

I passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced level in February just before lockdown. I always knew I wanted to become a MS, and it’s something I’ve been pursuing for quite a few years now.

How do you fit studying around the work?

We’re four days on, three days off – and Monday is always free – so there’s plenty of time to study. You can put time in after and before service, too. When my friend Davide Dall’Amico and I were going for the Advanced, we both had flash cards on us, and we’d test each other before service. You need to be creative with your time.

Which do you think will be the toughest bit of the MS – theory or tasting?

It’s a comprehensive exam and everything is hard! Right now I’m taking a break from studying after the Advanced, to go for the Best Belgian Sommelier competition in October. It’s not about lines on the CV, it’s about representing your country and showing your best at the highest level.

Do you have a favourite wine style?

As long as it’s good and drinkable, I’m fine. I like everything from old Shiraz from Australia to the most natural wines from Friuli. Lately, though, I’m most into Chenin Blanc. There’s plenty of young producers in Swartland making amazing old-vine Chenins. From the Loire, the one I still love the most is Le Clos de la Meslerie Vouvray, made by Peter Hahn. The 2014 is my go-to Chenin at the moment.

Do you have a favourite visit?

Chateau Rayas in Chateauneuf du Pape. I didn’t even really know what it was. I know now, but I didn’t then, that it’s one of the best producers in the appellation, at a very high price point – and very difficult to get in. I just knocked on the winemaker’s door and he said ‘come back on Friday, there’s some Germans coming in’. I think it was the most epic tasting because I had literally no clue – I’d never tried a Rayas. And it was incredible.

What are you hoping to gain from being part of the Sommelier Collective?

To become a better sommelier, in terms of knowledge, building a network and – the most important part – help each other to make a strong sommelier profession.

Find the wines

Clos de la Meslerie is imported by Dynamic Vines

Chateau Rayas is imported by O W Loeb

‘You have to have passion…’

The professional journey in hospitality is rarely straightforward. You can begin as a sommelier and end up running a hotel, or start by pulling corks and polishing glasses, and end up as a world-beating bartender.

Take Giovanni Ferlito.

It might be hard to believe, but the current head of wine and beverages at the Ritz Hotel began as a bartender at the Hard Rock Café in his home town of Catania. His main influence was not Gerard Basset or Paolo Basso, but Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

The Sommelier Collective caught up with him to find out how he got to where he is now, and who and what has inspired him on his amazing journey.

You said you came into wine ‘sideways’ – tell us a bit about your journey

After Hard Rock Café I worked for a big Italian resort company, Valtur. That job took me all over the world and I made my way up to Bar Manager, then F&B Manager. It was an opportunity to understand the whole hospitality operation, to know a bit of everything about costs and leadership.

When did you come to the UK?

In 2010. I planned to continue as an F&B Manager, but the problem was that my English at the time meant that I wasn’t even able to do an interview! It was really, really poor.

So you started to study, I guess?

Yes. I would have taken any job just to pay my studies. I knew a lot about hospitality, spirits and cocktails, and I’d taken a few wine courses, but I wasn’t a real professional sommelier. I sent out a few applications, and got a call from Locanda Locatelli. Virgilio Gennaro was the head sommelier, but it was really funny. He did the interview in English, even though we were from the same part of Italy. He really wanted to put some pressure on me, to see my potential.

And was that what lit the wine spark for you?

It was my first experience as a sommelier, but I wasn’t yet sure that it was going to be my new career. I was just learning something new. It’s Virgilio’s fault that I’m in wine. He was so passionate about it, and he transferred that passion into me.

Where did you go from there?

To Hélène Darroze at the Connaught. I found another passionate wine lover with great charisma as my boss: Hugues Lepin. And I though that’s the person I want to work with – I want to learn everything from him. Then it was clear that I wanted to do wine.’

Do you think qualifications are an essential part of wine education?

It depends. It’s important to take courses, but something that is non-negotiable is that you have to have passion. You might have the knowledge, but if you don’t have the passion you won’t be able to share it with your guests. Hugues Lepin, for instance, has no qualifications at all. But if you speak to him he knows the producers, the soils, the stories, everything. You can learn more from someone like him than taking WSET Level 3. For someone at my level you’d probably already expect that I am a Master Sommelier or have a Diploma, but in fact I started my Diploma last year.

How do you go about working with your suppliers?

I’m a big fan of building the relationship with the suppliers, rather than just looking at pure contract. My job would be much easier if I just worked with ten suppliers, signing contracts based on retros and volumes, but it would lack dynamism and uniqueness. With wine we have 20 main suppliers, and we work with another 15. I’m more interested in the story behind each product than the retro stock they might be offering.

What do you love most about the job?

The variety. It’s like being an entrepreneur – I need to do a bit of everything. I need to be on the floor, but there’s a lot of work to do behind the scenes too. I’m lucky to have a strong team – I couldn’t do this on my own. I delegate a lot.

What are your favourite wine styles?

In general I’m interested in the expression of the terroir, and I like diversity. I prefer wines made with indigenous varieties – a Nero di Troia from Puglia, for instance, or a Lacrima di Morro d’Alba from the Marche. And I love Germany. I really appreciate Riesling.

And what excites you about being part of The Sommelier Collective?

I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge and transferring my passion to youngsters in the hospitality industry – and to be able to talk to my peers. There’s nothing else in our industry that brings all the sommeliers under one roof.

Contact Giovanni or view member profile.

A delicious way to discover the world

Q&A with Klearhos Kanellakis, Head Sommelier, Trivet

How did you become a sommelier?

While studying Mathematics back in Greece, I was working as a waiter in restaurants. In one of the restaurants where I worked, my Maître d’, mentor and one of my best friends decided to enrich me with wine knowledge.

He decided to enrol me for the WSET Level 1 course. I only found out the day before the beginning of the course, and so there was no way out. I was excited to learn about wine and at WSET School I met some very interesting wine personalities.

One of them was my teacher, the only Greek Master of Wine at that time; he taught me to love wine even more and inspired me to dive deeper into the subject. The more I learnt, the more I started considering wine as my career.

I started my career in wine in some of the best Greek restaurants. As I wanted to learn as much as I could, I did not hesitate when the opportunity to work in the UK arose.

What attracted you to wine?

Thanks to wine, I get to meet very interesting personalities. I have visited some beautiful wine regions and I learnt more about the history and culture of these places. And all this with just a glass of wine! I still believe that this is the most delicious way to discover the World.

What’s your wine nightmare?

I have had a terrible nightmare about the Champenois stopping their production of sparkling wine…..I went to my fridge and I had to reassure myself it was just a dream by pouring myself a glass of Champagne!

With regard to my guests, I don’t mind if people order a wine that doesn’t match with their courses, if they add ice to their glass or if they want to top up their glasses by themselves etc. It’s their choice the only thing I want is to be helpful so that they can enjoy their meal and their visit to our restaurant.

Tell us your favourite wine moment and why it’s so special?

A long time ago, I created a wine pairing for a special occasion for a super VIP guest. His whole family enjoyed the night and during his speech he thanked me personally for my contribution. I tried some unique wines that night and I felt so happy that I was part of a special evening for some lovely people.

Why do you think the Sommelier Collective is useful for your profession now?

I like the idea that it connects the sommelier community – it is a great forum where we can all benefit by exchanging knowledge and experience. I also like the fact that the Sommelier Collective will allow me to keep updated about the huge amount of wine events taking place around London in the future when things get back to normal.