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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org