With the heats for the UK Sommelier of the Year competition approaching, we asked reigning champion, Romain Bourger from the Vineyard at Stockcross for his six top tips on how to succeed.
Get the basics right
If it’s your first time you just need to cover all the bases – studying the different countries. The classic ones, obviously, but don’t omit the more unusual ones. They’re putting more stuff in from places like Eastern Europe and Uruguay now.
Prepare service, and work on your timings
We all practice service in the restaurant every day. But it’s important to be timed doing it and do training as well, so when you have a practical task you can stick to the schedule. When you’re doing a decanting, for instance, it’s important to have like a check list of everything that you need and make a plan for your station. You need to make it as flawless and easy for yourself as possible, so it all comes naturally.
Breathe – and get in your bubble
Calmness comes a bit with experience. The first time you are on stage it’s always a bit stressful and you can lose focus more easily. You can practice it by doing your training in front of a small audience. But having four or five people in front of you is different to having 200 people from the trade. Some people are more prone to stress than others, but before you go on stage take a couple of minutes to yourself to breathe, concentrate and get in your bubble. At the upper level [like the Sommelier du Monde] some sommeliers treat it like a sport and would train like an athlete, training their mind as well as their body. Breathing exercises can help.
When you’re on stage you should treat it as though you’re in your restaurant, serving your guests. Breathe, relax and be natural. Think it’s like you’re at home and you’re serving guests like you would at home. It’s easier said than done, but the judges basically want to know ‘would I want to be served by this person’ and if it’s very cold and robotic that might go against you.
Be creative where you can
When I won, the blind-tasting element was a scenario was two guests who had brought their own wine, and I had to analyse the wine, describe it, talk about temperature of service, decanting, whether to drink it now – then create a menu around those wines for the guest. So yes, there’s blind tasting but there are whole other elements around it. Some questions in the exam are closed questions, where there’s only one way to answer. But in these open scenarios it’s important to be imaginative. That’s where your personality can shine through.
Experience helps – and all experience is good
When I won I’d done a few competitions in the past and had feedback. That helps because you can focus on your weaknesses. But it’s not all about the winning. It’s a journey. You get good feedback, which means you can work on your weaknesses. It’s also great for networking. I’ve made some great friends through exams and competitions; different generations all going up the ladder together.
If you’d like to take part in one of the many sommelier competitions visit our COMPETITIONS page for more details.
Read about Collective member Mattia Mazzi’s experience of competing in the last Copa de Jerez; and read Romain’s excellent article about the wines of the Santa Rita Valley in California
After taking part in this year’s Copa de Jerez, Collective member Mattia Mazzi is already dreaming of next year’s competition. This year’s Copa de Jerez [held on November 9th and 10th in Jerez] was incredible. Really unique. For me and my chef Vincenzo it was something else – and not what we expected. We were… Continue reading →
Romain Bourger takes us through Santa Rita Hills – one of the best cool-climate areas in the world. Located in the southern part of California, 148 miles north of Los Angeles it stretches for about 10 miles inland between the towns of Lompoc to the west and Buellton to the east.… Continue reading →