The Social Company’s Executive Head Sommelier Laure Patry is one of the hardest working somms in the UK, with a full-time job on the floor and responsibility for myriad lists and openings all over the world. We caught up with her in late lockdown to find out how she got there, what she values in others and which wine regions she’s currently most excited about.
Did you always want to be a sommelier, or did you fall into it by accident?
I always wanted to work in a restaurant, but my parents tried to push me away from that, so I went to study literature, studying Russian, Spanish and English. But really I just wanted to work in restaurants so after two years I ended up going to catering school instead. I did that for two years in Le Mans. And then after I did one year of sommelier school in Angers.
But when you graduated you didn’t work in France…
My sommelier school offered me the chance for a year’s work placement in the UK, so I said yeah, why not? I never went back. In France you have to work a long time for the restaurant before you get promoted. But, by the time I was 25 I was a head sommelier. That would never happen in France.
So how did your career start out?
I was at the Angel Inn in Hetton, near Skipton in the middle of nowhere in North Yorkshire. It’s got a Michelin star now, but it didn’t have one when I was there.
What was that like?
I was 20 years old so for me it was fairly difficult because I was young and I was used to living more in the city. Plus I’d lived in my own flat since I was 16, so to come back to a very small room living in a house with other people was hard at the beginning. But I made lots of friends and it was really nice. So I actually stayed two years.
Where did you go after that?
I went to Bath – a beautiful hotel, but the restaurant and the chef were not very good. So my ex-boss put me in touch with Ronan Sayburn. At the time he had a job in Claridges so I went for a trial and started there. This was 2003. It was very busy – we were doing like 150 covers. But I felt very comfortable with that, and after six months, they promoted me to assistant head sommelier.
Is that where you first met Jason Atherton?
He came to do a little bit of work in the kitchen, and he quite liked me and wanted to help me progress, so he asked if I could go and work with him at his and Gordon Ramsay’s new restaurant, Maze. We worked [there] together for six years.
You’ve worked for some amazing venues. What advice do you have for young sommeliers on how to get ahead?
Finding a head sommelier that can teach you and having a good team around you is very important. But I stayed in the same place a very long time so I kind of grew up within the company. A lot of people move within a year or six months, and they lose the opportunity to get promotion within the restaurant where they’re working. When I look at CVs, if people move every year I don’t know if I want to employ them – it makes me feel that they are only going to be there for a year.
Was there someone who inspired you?
It was my teacher, Patrick Rigourd at sommelier school. Before going to his school I liked wine, but when I did the course I really loved it. It was the passion that he transmitted. When someone has so much love for something it helps you fall in love with it as well.
What’s your current role within Jason Atherton’s organisation?
I’m Executive Head Sommelier. Basically I open all the restaurants around the world with Jason. One year after opening Pollen Street, he decided to open in Singapore, so I went in for a couple of weeks to help him set it up. I try to do the wine list from London. And then I go, do the orders, take the deliveries, so I can see everything is OK, then I do the first few services, and then I come back.
Sounds exciting – but a lot of work…
It’s not easy when you have to work in the restaurant and then you have to do the wine list for four different countries as well! I was doing wine lists in the morning, and in the evening after service. It was quite tough. Now I’m working at City Social, but preparing for our opening in Mykonos at the end of May.
What do you think makes a good wine list?
I think you just need to have balance. The content needs to be balanced; the price needs to be balanced. And having diverse styles is quite important – a mix of classic and upcoming producers to keep the guests and the sommelier excited. Obviously if you are a three Michelin star venue you’re going to have a big selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but I think you should also include some smaller regions or local producers. It’s always exciting to see that.
Are there any wine styles that you’re particularly excited by at the moment?
I love wine from the Loire because that’s where I’m from and I’m still discovering people that I don’t know. And I just think the value for money is amazing. And I would say the same for Alsace. I’ve just bought a lot of those because the value for money is amazing; lots of small producers, and everyone is working biodynamically or minimum intervention or organic.
Do you wish you’d done the MS?
I’ve never done it because I’ve always been working on the floor and especially with all the restaurant openings it would be too much for me. Of course it is good to have an extra qualification – it would be amazing to have the MS. But I’m not sure, I would do it now – I just don’t have the time. And I’m not so I want to learn every single appellation. If people know you and they know the way you work, I don’t think [having an MS] makes such a big difference.
Obviously the hours are tough in hospitality. Why should young somms stay in the profession?
First you need to love it. But you get to try wines that maybe you would never normally have a chance to try. That’s a big plus. But you can travel too. Every country has a restaurant so you can work anywhere in the world. But also you can visit producers and vineyards. That’s a massive advantage for sommeliers as we are the link between the producer and the consumer. And of course, when you are a head sommelier the opportunity to do your own wine list – to make it your own, to be buying wine and also making your guest happy is very rewarding.