Thursday, January 31, 2019

Wine Quality Control - Incident Report: Petrus 1966 with a broken piece of cork floating inside

Wine Quality Control 
Incident Report: Petrus 1966
with a broken piece of cork floating inside

Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

As you probably know by now, as a "Wine Quality Control Director" (for the Wine Division of the company I work for), an essential part of my daily job is to inspect (detailed examination and authentication too) all the bottles we buy, sale and/or store in our different warehouses in Hong Kong and China. (*)

The case scenario I will detail in this post today is a rare one that is quite unlikely to occur on regular basis, and so I thought it would be interesting to write about it (and, you never know, it might also interest you).   

So, here is the situation: 

Two days ago, on January 29th 2019, 6 bottles of Petrus 1966 (and a few more bottles including Chateau Haut-Brion 1989) were prepared at one of our warehouses in HK to be withdrawn then delivered. 

One of the members of my QC Team, in position of QC Supervisor at this warehouse, quickly inspected the bottles and took some pictures (unfortunately in low light - see picture below), which, in turn, were sent to our internal WhatsApp group for the QC (myself) and the C&L (Cellars and Logistics) Senior Manager reviewal and approval, prior the bottles leave the warehouse. 

6 bottles of Petrus 1966 prepared at one of our warehouses in HK - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

My QC team member did not switch on the lights that normally should be ON to allow for the wine level and other details to be checked. Consequently, at first glance, looking on WhatsApp on my phone, and despite some of the levels being low, but nothing abnormal for the vintage, the bottles looked OK. Hence, I gave my approval. The bottles were released from the warehouse and delivered to  our company's headquarter building in Kowloon Bay first. 

Once in Kowloon bay, the bottles were put in the cellar of our company's French restaurant "Le Pan". Simpson, Wine Director, at Le Pan, took a picture of the bottles of Petrus 1966 (and the Chateau Haut-Brion 1989) when they arrived, and send it to the WhatsApp group. 

Bottles of Petrus 1966 and Chateau Haut-Brion 1989 - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

The picture being clearer (with more light) than the picture taken at the warehouse, Samuel, our C&L Senior Manager, realized that something was wrong with one of the bottles. A broken piece of cork was floating in one of them. 

Bottles of Petrus 1966 and Chateau Haut-Brion 1989 - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

So, I looked back, (a bit more closely this time), at the first picture sent from the warehouse prior the delivery, to check if the incident of the broken cork may have happened during the transportation between the warehouse and our headquarters building. 

6 bottles of Petrus 1966 prepared at one of our warehouses in HK - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

But no. Looking at it again (more closely this time), I realized that it was already like that at the warehouse (meaning that the broken part of the cork was already floating in the bottle), and that consequently my team member did not inspect the bottles properly and carefully enough prior the delivery. 

I was really unhappy about him, as it is his primary role as QC Supervisor at the warehouse to do a quantitative and qualitative inspection (at good receiving and departing) and consequently to check that all bottles are in good (or at least acceptable) conditions prior the bottles can leave the warehouse and be delivered.     

However, and fortunately, the bottle had been delivered to our headquarters first, meaning, prior going to its final destination. So, I had to take care of the situation and find a solution to replace the bottle with the defectuous broken cork, by a bottle with better condition to be delivered with the other bottles instead. Fortunately (again), we had a few more bottles of Petrus 1966 at the warehouse, so we had to quickly organize and make a new delivery from the warehouse to our headquarters building for the replacement bottle.  

While waiting for the replacement bottle to arrive, I (assisted by my colleague Martin Li) inspected the bottle with the defectuous broken cork. I brought it down to our basement cellar to get a closer look at it. 

Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

It was clear that a broken piece of the cork had fallen inside....

Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (close up) - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

The capsule was still tight, and did not present any sign of seepage or leakage. Yet, it looked like the piece of cork was quite big, but "how big"? (...that was the question...) 

Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

Looking even closer (like on the picture above), it almost seemed that the upper part of the cork was visible and did not seem to be loose. Therefore, I believe (at first) that the broken piece was only the bottom part of the cork and probably corresponded to only about ⅓  of the cork maximum. 

But I had to be sure and it was important to know how much of the cork was remaining in the neck of the bottle to make a rough assessment on the wine condition and ensure the wine was still safe from harm. Therefore, I decided to cut open the capsule by making an incision right below the ring of the neck.

For record purposes, I asked my colleague, Martin Li, to assist me by also commenting (and holding the camera too) while making a little video of me cutting the capsule (of this Petrus 1966 with a floating cork inside), to check how much of the cork left within the neck.

(I definitely need a better camera man..... 😊)

LeDomduVin: Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (inspection) - Video 1/2

LeDomduVin: Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (inspection) - Video 2/2

So, when I cut open the capsule to check the remaining part of the cork, I realized that I was wrong, as, in fact, ¾ of the cork was broken and the remaining ¼ upper part of the cork was seemingly solid and still tight. Therefore, it is possible that the wine may not have been harmed or damaged by this rather peculiar cork condition.  Yet, difficult to say.... unless we open the bottle.....

Petrus 1966 with capsule opened and a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (1/3)

Petrus 1966 with capsule opened and a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (2/3)

Petrus 1966 with capsule opened and a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (3/3)

The broken part of the cork being so big, and therefore the level of the wine being difficult to estimate, it is also hard to tell if the wine suffered from air oxidation or if the wine has evaporated a little due to the cork condition. 

Yet, as previously said, the capsule is tight and the remaining upper part of the cork is seemingly solid and tight against the inside of the neck, the capsule does not present any trace of seepage or leakage, so we can assume the wine could be OK, after all.

Petrus 1966 with capsule sealed back with tape and a broken piece of cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (1/3)

Petrus 1966 with capsule sealed back with tape and a broken piece of cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (2/3)

Petrus 1966 with capsule sealed back with tape and a broken piece of cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (3/3)

I sealed back the cut part of the capsule with tape, then laid down the bottle in the cellar for further examination by regular checking within the few hours that followed. 


It is hard to determinate what exactly happened for the bottom part of the cork to break within the bottle like this. It is a rare case scenario that is unlikely to occur usually, unless the bottle previous handling and/or storage conditions led to the weakening and eventually cracking of the cork.

We can only speculate that this situation may have occurred, for example, if the bottle experienced  or has been exposed to important and/or sudden variations and/or oscillations of the temperature and/or humidity levels (for a certain period of time and at a certain period of the bottle's life), altering and changing the shape of the cork in some ways, weakening it, while, at the same time, creating  a pulling force, like a vacuum, sucking the cork within the bottle. 

This situation usually happens when the temperatures are too cold, causing the cork to slightly shrink and get pulled into the neck of the bottle, which normally leads to a "depressed" cork.... 

Petrus 1966 capsule top - video screenshot by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019

However, as you can see in the video and in this screenshot of the video above, the usual sign of a depressed cork, which is normally characterized by a "dent" formed on the top of the capsule, giving a clear indication that the cork is either weak and/or has slightly been sucked in, is barely visible. But ,even if, a tiny, slightly bit depressed, it is nothing compared to bottles with serious depressed cork conditions I previously inspected. And therefore, once again, makes me think the wine might be OK. The color and overall condition of the wine seemed OK too when I checked it. So, let's cross fingers.           

In any case, I put the bottle laying down in the cellar, and will keep it there for the next few days, to check if any seepage or leakage occurs due to the defectuous/broken cork. If no seepage or leakage  appear after a few days, the bottle is to be sent back to its original warehouse (for long term storage), with a note to be written and taped on the bottle, saying "do not touch unless strictly necessary and/or to be handled with extreme care due to the broken cork".   

My advice (first verbally formulated by my former CEO Bernard de Laage, when I showed him the pictures) is that this bottle should be opened and consumed as soon as possible, as the wine may deteriorate quickly (or not) with a cork in such conditions.

I will keep you inform of the status of this particular bottle.

That's all folks for today, stay tuned for more posts coming soon and meanwhile drink responsibly and give a closer look to the cork condition of your old bottles. You never know....

Santé! Cheers!

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noël

©LeDomduVin 2019

(*) You can also read about wine inspection and bottle authentication in my previous posts on the subject here and here  

#france #frenchwine #hongkong #incidentreport #petrus #pomerol #bordeaux #qcincidentreport #qualitycontrol #wine #wineauthentication #wineinspection #winequalitativeinspection #ledomduvin #dominiquenoel @ledomduvin

Thursday, January 17, 2019

How I became a certified Sommelier and the people of my London years


How I became a certified Sommelier and the people of my London years

Sommelier Promotion of 1997 - Catering and Hotel Management School of Talence (Bordeaux)
Article from and courtesy of the French newspaper "Sud-Ouest" - June 1997 (full article)

Last October (2018), I relocated into a new apartment in another district of Hong Kong. And it is amazing all the junk I kept in just 5 years in the previous place... A real pack-rat. 

Moving out is usually a pain in the neck, as you have to go through tones of stuff and move out your furniture and everything else you've piled up everywhere..... 

Personally, moving is a stressful and annoying process every times it happened (we have moved 5 times, since we arrived in Hong Kong: first, in Wan Chai, then Hung Hom, followed by Ma Wan (old village), then Ma Wan (Park Island residence) and now Lohas Park... tiring... (sigh) 

However, the other (and positive) side of the coin is that moving out always enables you to clean out what you don't need anymore, or don't want to keep. Things that can be sold, donated or trashed (if unusable).... or even gifted back (you know that stuff your neighbours - or even siblings - raved about and offered you a few years back and ended up collecting dust ever since, while deep inside you know they bought it and wanted to keep it for themselves... yes, that one... just gift it back to them... they surely will love it 😊).....

...but more importantly, moving out allows you to rediscover supposedly lost memories and old hidden personal treasures... like this old (cut) newspaper page from the "Sud-Ouest" (titled: Lycée Hôtelier de Talence - La Revue des élèves Sommeliers) that I kept in memory of my graduation day as a certified Sommelier from the Catering and Hotel Management School of Talence (Bordeaux) back in June 1997..

Sommelier Promotion of 1997 - Catering and Hotel Management School of Talence (Bordeaux)
Article from and courtesy of the French newspaper "Sud-Ouest" - June 1997 (close up)

This old piece of newspaper, turned yellow with age, may not represent much, but to me, it is a priceless piece of memory of a very important moment in my life: the day I officially became a certified Sommelier. 

My childhood and how I got acquainted with wine 

So, how does one decide to become a certified Sommelier? 

The love of wine and food (and spirits) of course. The pleasure to serve them to others and share the knowledge about them with others. But also the passion for the art of the table and the service... And the need to share moments with others by making them both more special and provide them with a service that will remain an enjoyable and memorable experience... 

For me, the love for wine and food all started rather early in my childhood. By chance, I was born in Bordeaux, one of leading wine producing areas of the world, renowned for its wines (of course) but also for its food; where eating well and drinking well are mandatory in people's daily life (which helped a lot I must say).  

Wine was always served for lunch and dinner at my grandfather's house and meals were always earthy, rich and seemed quite plentiful to me, and I loved it that way. There was always more food than needed in case a family member, a friend or a neighbour came to join the meal at the last minute.  The door to my grandfather's house was always opened to whoever wanted to step in to share a moment while having a drink or sharing the meal with us. It was life in the countryside, and I could not imagine it any other way.

The food

In terms of food, as part of the southwest of France, Bordeaux is a culinary capital renowned for its food and succulent recipes inspired and influenced by local and neighboring region's cultures and traditions, consisting of products from farms, games from seasonal hunting and also the seasonal varieties of fruits and vegetables which abound in these regions. The region of the "Landes" (southwest of Bordeaux) is known for games and birds hunting, as well as poultry and duck and goose farm products like "Foie Gras" or "Confit de Canard"; while a region like Dordogne (East of Bordeaux) is more renowned for food found in the forest like truffles and other mushrooms like "cèpes", as well as duck and goose products also, like "Magret de Canard", but also charcuteries from pig and wild rabbits, "Paté", and other wild animals, like boars for example. Consequently, growing up in the vineyards with such food varieties and recipes, the love for food was unavoidable and that was a really good thing. Moreover, my grandfather always had "a Jambon" curing in his "remise" (one of his house's dependencies where he stored all sort of things including preserves, potatoes and other types of food).      

The wine

In terms of wine, it was also unavoidable, as in Bordeaux, from the right bank to the left bank, the landscape is like an ocean of vines, with vineyards planted pretty much everywhere (in the whole region), covering both hills and plains forming undulating waves of vine rows rolling as far as your eyes can see. And, thus, wine producing is (by far) the region's prime activity, and pretty much everything in Bordeaux is directly or indirectly related to wine.     

My grandfather was a small local winemaker in the Côtes de Bourg, and other members of my family, on both my mother and my father side, also owned or tended vineyards in various appellations around Bordeaux (mainly on the right bank though). Therefore, I got acquainted with work in the vineyards and accustomed to drinking wine at a very early stage of my life.    

I started working in the vineyards, when I was really young, during holidays and weekends, helping my grandfather and/or other people in the family and neighbours who owned or tended vineyards, back then, where I grew up in the Côtes de Bourg. It was hard, but I learned a lot from doing it, it made me humble and respectful of the people working in the vineyards and cellars all year long.

I was mainly doing

  • the "green harvest": green clusters removal, usually done during the veraison period, sort of crop thinning to help manage yield and allow for better ripen and more concentration of flavours to the remaining clusters. 
  • as well as the "de-leafing": leaf removing from around the grape clusters, usually done during the summer season, to allow for the sun to reach and ripen the grapes, also to allow for the vines to dry faster after each precipitation and prevent from mildew or other diseases to develop on the leaves and grapes 
  • and of course the "harvest", in September and October, during the weekends,  
  • and also the Winter "Pruning" and making bundles with the cut vine shoots ("Les Sarments") 

How kids get acquainted with wine in France by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Getting acquainted with and drinking wine at an early age in the countryside in France, more especially in a wine region like Bordeaux, was (and still is) a common custom. My grandfather started to add droplets of wine to my glass of water when I was 10-12 years old. Definitely, a common thing when growing up with a winemaker for grandfather. And consequently, the passion for vines and the love for wine naturally and gradually came with age. 

I must say that wine is a not only part of the culture and traditions in Bordeaux (or any other wine  producing regions for that matter), it is indissociable from your everyday life when you live there: wine is part of your meal, part of your relaxing time, part of the landscape, part of the tourism attractions, part of these moments shared with family and friends, it brings people together and it is an excellent excuse for gatherings, interminable meals and endless conversations... so, what is not to love about wine? Nothing (in my humble opinion)...    

And to complement and insist a little more on the "sharing" part and the art of the table, to become a Sommelier you must be curious and open-minded, well-traveled and passionate, disciplined and willing to continuously learn and perfect your knowledge and skills about the constantly evolving subjects that wine and food are, then devote your time to others to provide an impeccable service, communicate your passion and share your knowledge on daily basis...

Moreover, you have to realise that a Sommelier is not just a "wine waiter". A Sommelier must be knowledgable about wine and food, obviously, but not only. Its knowledge must extend to all drinkable liquids (Wines, Beers, Spirits, Liquors, Sake and all other beverage you can think of, including coffee, tea, chocolate and even the difference of waters) and all eatable solids (anything that you can eat basically and all the various ingredients composing it). The training of a Sommelier is not limited to its time at school to be certified, it is a continuous journey lasting a lifetime to constantly learn more in order to always be aware and updated and continuously improve its knowledge and skills.

I will never repeat it enough, to be a Sommelier you need, above all, patience and devotion, passion and dedication, open-mind and curiosity, the love for the art of the table, and for the art of the service, and the will to serve others and share your knowledge on daily basis.; and that whether you work for a restaurant, a "caviste" ("boutique" or "niche" wine retail store), a hotel, a supplier, a Negociant, a winery, a producer, a logistics company, an auction house, or whatever other positions you could access as a Sommelier.            

Not everyone is willing to make these sacrifices, but those who are willing to do so are often the people you will remember the most...   as these required qualities may not be accessible to everyone for they usually come from home education for the most part (family, friends) and school education to a certain extent too (teacher, students, friends), as well as self-discipline and personal drive to see, hear, touch, taste, listen, read, understand, learn, remember and share everything in life... and not everyone is able or ready to do so... not everyone is interested to commit that much either.... but I was... my childhood education and upbringing, somehow, pre-destinated me to pursue a career in the Service/Food and Beverage industry for some reasons...... yet, the path I followed was far from being easy though.... 

My path to becoming a Sommelier

I left school rather early, (earlier than I should have for sure and definitely earlier than my parents wanted to...), I guess I wasn't meant for it. School has never defined intelligence or potential. And, I considered myself as a free bird, had a major problem with authorities in general and often felt alone and undermined at school. So, I had to find my way, follow a path that will eventually allow me to be me and express myself.

Between 16 and 18 years old, while still at school, I occasionally worked in bars and restaurants, helping out with the service to earn a bit of money, at night or during weekends. It was not much, but I had to start somewhere. 

Then about 7 months after turning 18 years old, back in December 1991, with no real ambition nor possibilities or opportunities, no diploma on hand and no one in my family with a business where I could work a little to give me a headstart, a better work  experience or a potential boost, I was basically facing a sad reality: I had no bright future and no real expectation by staying here. I had to leave, try my luck elsewhere.

You see, in France, like in many other countries, the secret to your success story is all about how well where you born? who is your father? which school did you attend? how far did you go? and which diploma did you get? Basically, to succeed and get the best jobs or higher positions and salaries in France, (even if you do not have the knowledge, skills, guts and leadership, and let alone the experience to occupy the position and be good at it), you need to be born in the right family, be the son or daughter of Mr. IamaSnobandorIamsuperrich (preferably a doctor or a lawyer, always useful...), attend one of the best schools in town, went to the best university in town and have, at least, a Bachelor degree + 2.... and I had none of the above... (sigh)

So, I followed the advice of my father, who was unhappy and disappointed with how things turned out for me with school at such an early stage. With nothing else I could do (as per some people at the time) and nowhere else to go to, I went to do my military service. Fate granted my wish to try m,y luck elsewhere and led me to the other side of France, to the east, south of Grenoble, where I enrolled in the "Chasseurs Alpins" (the French Mountain Army), at the "6eme Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins" (the "6th battalion of Mountain Hunters"), based at Varces-Allières-et-Risset (a small commune south of Grenoble, at the feet of the Vercors Mountains). 

Image result for 6eme bataillon de chasseur alpin
Picture of the battalion's badge  "Insigne du 6eme Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins"
Picture courtesy of (read the related article here)

For 10 months in the army (for those who remember the military service being 1 year, they decreased it to 10 months only, instead of a full year, a few months prior I joined), I did the most incredible things you can imagine doing in the mountains (Sealskin Skiing, Skiing, Snowboarding, Running 17 kilometers in the mountains every mornings prior breakfast, Hiking, Trekking, Climbing, Glacier Climbing, Sleeping under 3 meters of snow near the summits, Backpacking, Rock Climbing, Abseiling, Bungee Jumping, Parachuting (from army banana shaped helicopter), Paragliding (by jumping from the cliffs), Canyoning, Rafting, Running, Shooting all sort of guns (even rocket launcher), surmounting all sorts of obstacles and doing countless times the obstacles course, real war fight simulation (countries again countries), etc..., etc...)... It was really really hard, and both physically and mentally draining, but what a blast!!!

Right after the army, I came back to my home town, Bordeaux, tougher and stronger both physically and mentally. Yet, with no real future or still no real idea of what to do with myself, with no diplomas on hand (at the time)... and with nobody in the family ready to take me under his/her wings, I could not go so far or do so much anyway.... yet, I was eager to learn, ready to work and willing to share.... and I had enough personal drive, and a minimum of ambition and self-esteem not to stay at home doing nothing and taking advantage of the French system (like many people do in France)...., like some people do, with not much school education and no diplomas, I started working as a bartender/waiter in bistros and bars (right after the army), at first in Bordeaux, then in various towns in France for a few years (between 1992-1994, I worked in Orleans, Bourges and Strasbourg, while studying to get some certifications), then back to Bordeaux again (1994 to 1997).

Back in those days, in the early 90s, I loved working in restaurants, caring for the people and providing a service to them. Sharing my knowledge of wine and food, but not only... making their experience unique and pleasurable by being attentive to their need and request... it was my job, it was my life and it was my way of life, the way I liked it... I felt I had a purpose and was doing something concrete for the people, contributing to enhance an ephemeral moment of their life and share some love and passion for the products served, more especially the wine, for which I had a growing attraction and interest.

But, if I wanted to get promoted to a better position and better salary, I had to have some certifications and diplomas, that's the way it works in France... (even in the food and beverage industry)...

As explained earlier (I will never repeat it enough), in France (and elsewhere), unfortunately, you are being judged based on your family background, the school(s) you went to and the diploma(s) you hold, rather than on your intrinsic qualities, knowledge, skills and experience... That is why in most parts of this world, not only in France, you have so many people that have access to high position and high salary, while being totally incompetent and incapable for the job....(a sad reality too many people are confronted to on daily basis)... basically, if you don't have the "right" family background, did not go to the "right" school(s) and did not pass or possess the "right" diplomas, you are basically doomed from the start and usually regarded as unworthy...

So, while working, at the same time, I trained as a self-candidate, at first, then at school, to get some technical and professional certifications and diplomas, to eventually go to Catering and Hotel Management School. Studying by day while working at night and weekends allowed me to put in practice what I was learning at school, and vice versa.  

Succeeding few technical and professional certifications and diplomas exams (1 in Spring 1993, then 2 in June 1996, as a certified waiter/steward/Maître D' for Hotel/Bar/restaurant with Sommelier training, with in-depth knowledge + service of wine and spirits) allowed me to go back to school at the "Lycée Polyvalent d'Hôtellerie et de Tourisme de Gascogne" (located in Talence, Bordeaux, France), a Hospitality and Hotel Management School, where I enrolled in the "Mention Complémentaire de Sommellerie" (Official Sommelier Class)  to become a Certified Sommelier. It was a dream come true somehow. 

So, from September 1996 to June 1997, I spent 1 year of intense learning about the knowledge and practicing about the service of both wine and spirits (and basically anything you can drink and eat and serve in a bar, a restaurant and/or a hotel, from wine to mineral water to tea to coffee to aperitif and digestive drinks, like Cognac and Armagnac for example, and even cocktails, as well as other beverage and so much more) and food too (classic food, but also cheese, desserts and other delicacies). 

Sommelier Promotion of 1997 - Catering and Hotel Management School of Talence (Bordeaux)
Article from and courtesy of the French newspaper "Sud-Ouest" - June 1997 (close up)

I spent that year with a bit less than 15 other future Sommelier students. The promotion of 1997, mainly consisted of (to name the ones on the picture above from left to right): David Cricchio, Sébastien Carrère (partly hidden in the back), Christophe Cocoynacq, Maxime Monsallut, Dominique Noël (your humble "serviteur" at the bottom of the picture), Beatrice Soubabère, Florian Bosq, Cindy Goimard, Fabrice Gilberdy (yes, the same one from the "Alcazar" in Paris, but younger), Christelle Doriant and Séverine Audouard. 

All professionally trained as Sommelier by our great teacher, Monsieur Roland Garcia, to whom I will always be eternally grateful for taking me in his class (I was the oldest and had a total outsider's background compared to the other students) and giving me a chance to find my life's path. Thank you also to my uncle, Bernard Noël, who also worked at the school and helped me to get in, for believing in me and trust that I will succeed (he will understand what I mean).       

The graduation day, immortalized in the picture above, occurred on the 22nd of June 1997 (just a few weeks before I moved to London - UK), marking the beginning of a new life and a long journey working abroad (I left France 22 years ago... already). I never realized (at the time) how crossing the "Channel" and stepping out of France to venture into the world would change my life forever. Yet I also knew that if I stayed in France, I will never be able to reach the heights of my personal ambition. So, once again, I had to leave Bordeaux, which, at the time, couldn't possibly offer me the future I wanted, to see if the grass was greener elsewhere.

It was saddening for me to realize that Bordeaux, the town I loved, in the region where I grew up and where I specifically studied and specialized into the prime local product (which is wine) in order to be able to work and live and grow old in the city of my birth, had nothing to offer me but to work my ass-off, more than 15 hours a day, 6 days a week (sometimes 7), for peanuts, with barely no advantages or not much vacation days, no hope for rapid promotion as I would have to wait for my superior to retire to get his position and being treated like shit in a restaurant of supposedly high standings, just because I did not have the right background. I had done it for nearly 6 hard and long years already, but I couldn't anymore. I had to retrieve some confidence and self-esteem.

At the time, I even blamed some people of my family who were working directly with wine, as Chateau owner or manager, and even Negoce owner or manager, to never respond to my demand to even just do an internship to get a foot in the industry and get a boost to become more than a waiter... I guess even for them I did not have the right background, and they did not see the potential, probably thinking that if I was a failure at school, I will definitely be one in their business too.

For all the reasons cited above, and mostly for the people being distant and reluctant to try me and not even giving me a chance to show them and prove them wrong, I had to leave to, at least, prove myself that I was able and better than what they think I was capable of. I had to show them what I was made of, but more importantly, I had to prove myself I could achieve my goals, succeed where they say I will fail, satisfy my ambition and pursue higher dreams. And if it could not be in my hometown, well, I had nothing to lose anymore, I was ready to leave and explore the whole world.              
At the end of the school year, our teacher, Mr. Roland Garcia, told us about a few opportunities in England, more especially in London. One of them was to go to work with a Restaurant Manager and Head Sommelier, called Yves Sauboua, also a former Sommelier student at the school of Talence, also taught by Roland Garcia, and who was looking for a Junior Sommelier from France (to start a few weeks later, early July 1997).

Mr. Garcia asked the class if one or more of us were interested, and I immediately raised my hand up high in the air. My message was clear: I needed this opportunity to leave and definitely needed to make a fresh new start somewhere else. You see, I worked for already (nearly) 6 years in France (prior to that day), and knew already that if I stayed in France, I will have no future, or let's say a gloomy one... and trust me from the numerous experiences I had in the previous 6 years, I knew perfectly well what I was talking about.

I know, I can hear you say already that everyone choose his/her path and consequently his/her future, and I could have had a beautiful life in France if I would have work for the right people and the right place... maybe... but no, not in France, not for a guy like me, a nobody with no background and born from a low-key, lower middle class family... guys like me have difficulties to succeed in is a fact and a reality... for the many reasons already cited above...

Basically, (and once again I repeat myself), I could have chosen to continue working super long hours in local restaurants (stars or not), nearly 24/7, for a low salary, no reward, no thank you, chasing after never happening promotions and having no life... or, turn the page (over the last intense and mentally difficult 6 previous years), move to another country, reinvent myself and explore the world.... well, I'm glad I chose the later.

I was 24 years old, mostly a countryside boy, with not much life or work experience (in my opinion), and although I had some experience, as I had already been working hard and long hours and in many places in France since the age of 18, yet, it really seemed that I did not experience much prior leaving France. I was somewhat innocent and very naive about so many things, and for the first time in my life, I was about to take a plane to go to another country.

In fact, I never took a plane before that day, because, to reach France's neighboring countries you can get pretty much anywhere quite easily with a car, a bus or a train. And except for a few school trips in England, Germany and Spain did by bus, I never travelled via plane before that first flight to England. It was a short flight, but still, it moved me in a very indescribable way. Crossing the Channel, then seeing London from the sky (from far, but still) for the first time, especially Tower Bridge and Big Ben with Westminster, was incredible.

Once on the other side the Channel, in the British Capital, I started to work as a Junior Sommelier, at Monte's Club, a high-standing private club  on Sloan Street (including a fancy cocktail bar, an upscale restaurant, serving Alain Ducasse cuisine with an impeccable service team, a cigar lounge and a nightclub/discotheque), where I met extraordinary people.

A group of people that I evolved with and learned immensely from, during 5 incredible years, from 1997 to 2002...

It was the beginning of a long journey out of France, that without knowing it yet, will later on bring me to New York (2002-2011), where I stayed for a bit more than 9 years and lived and worked, got married and had 2 kids, prior to moving to Hong Kong (2011-present)..... 

My London Years...

...and while I'm writing about some old memories and souvenirs, why not name these people and briefly depict them in a few words. You might know some of them, as, over the last 22 years, some became really important and renowned in the world of wine.   


Let's start with the people I met at Monte's Club (on Sloan Street), the first place I worked when I arrived in London, in July 1997. These people, or friends should I say (for most), inspired and continue to inspire me by their actions, ways of life, personality and character, and more importantly by what they achieved and the message they convey their whole life (so far).

Image may contain: Yves Sauboua, drink
Yves Sauboua - Photo courtesy of his Facebook Page (here

Yves Sauboua ("Monsieur Le President"), my first mentor and Chef Sommelier extraordinaire, a man with a huge character and personality, highly sociable and opinionated. He took me under his wings,  guided me and taught me pretty much everything I know about wines, how to buy and sell them, and showed me how to make the best pool party ever, as well smoking cigars and drinking champagne. He was once the president of the London Sommelier Association and remain "Monsieur Le President" for most Sommeliers around the world. After working all around the world, Yves (and his partners) opened a wine shop in Hong Kong, then in Phuket, Thailand, called Wine² ( offering classics and discoveries from all around the world. 

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Tim McLaughlin-Green - Photo courtesy of "Dartmouth Food Festival"
read the related article here

Tim McLaughlin-Green, of course, my Head Sommelier and 2nd mentor that I followed in 3 different restaurants (back then in London), who taught me everything else that Yves didn't, and not solely about wines, but also food and life in general. I shared a lot of memories with Tim, he always looked after me and I will eternally be grateful for that. After working in the restaurant business for years,  Tim created his own company offering and supplying boutique wine retails, restaurants and private clients with carefully selected great little wines he found along his various travels. See his selection at The Sommelier's Choice (     

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Eric Fossard - Photo courtesy of "Mixology Magazine of Bar Culture"
read the related article here

Eric Fossard, a barman/bartender and more importantly mixologist extraordinaire, who welcomed me as his roommate, and taught me everything about bar, cocktail and food, and so much more. Eric and I lived and worked closely together for many years and shared a lot of memories and souvenirs too. He even introduced me to the one who will become my wife. After many years working in the restaurant business abroad, Eric went back to France, and partnered with a friend of his, Thierry Daniel, to create the "LIQUID LIQUID" agency, founder and creator and responsible for the "Paris Cocktail Week" and other events centered around bars and cocktails (in Paris, but not only). Follow them at  and participate to it if you can (it occurs at selected Bars and Clubs in Paris from January 18 to 26 2019)

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Georges Dos Santos - Photo courtesy of Vincent Pousson
from his blog "Idées Solides et Liquides" (read the related post here)

Georges Dos Santos, the restaurant pass-boy who became an internationally-renowned Legend in the wine industry, who knew everything about wines and ports, and so much more than any of the Sommeliers I knew at the time back then in London (and still now) when nobody at the time was giving him any credits or any promotion... Georges is a "personage" extraordinaire, a very unique lovable character and personality, generous, funny and crazy in so many ways. After going from one job to next and travelling the world, "Jojo" (as we "all" call him) came back to France to settle down in Lyon, where he has become one of the best (if not THE best)  "caviste" of France (also recognized as one of the world best cavistes too...). His niche wine boutique store in the old part of Lyon, called "Antic Wine", is a real cavern of Alibaba for wine lovers and amateurs, with a few thousands of references, rare bottles and labels you will have difficulties to find anywhere else. He is friend with all the best chefs and restaurateurs alike in France and abroad. He loves food as much as he loves wines and Porto. And aside of his retail store, he also has a bar-tapas-bistro joint around the corner from his store, called the "Georges V" (pronounce it "George Five")... Jojo is everywhere... even in BD (Bandes Dessinées). Follow his adventures on his website at and also you can watch an interview of him and have a better idea of the fantastic person he is and his environment here .

I put a picture for the 4 persons above, as they are public figures and therefore represent some of the most renown ones (among the people I met in London) within and from the wine and spirits world. But that does not mean that the people below are less important or less worthy of having a picture posted (on the contrary, some had a huge influence on my life at some point), it just means that I'm not so sure if they would want me to put their picture on this post (I try to respect their privacy, you see.... but if any of you guys wants to have his or her picture on this post, please let me know and I will oblige your request right away 😊)

The other people I met at Monte's included the following:

Lulu Peyrard, dit "Lulu", a great Maître D who taught me the art of the service, and how to party and have fun, as well as always having fun and being more relaxed in life in general, while playing tennis and video games (among other things), a great listener too. After working in various places in England, Lulu went back to France in his native Rhone region where his career shifted from working in restaurants to working in wineries (tending the vineyards and wine production).  

Mark Pratt, a classic bartender/mixologist and rugby player/lover turned rugby coach, who taught me everything about Whisky, Bourbon, Cognac, Armagnac (spirits in general) and cigars too, and shared his passion for Rugby. He now coaches kids and transmits the love of rugby to his kids that he follows to all their matches with assiduity. 

Christophe Vuillemin, our restaurant manager (or assistant restaurant manager, don't remember), I always look up to him because he had class and skills, and self-confidence too, he was a pro of restaurant service. Christophe is still in the restaurant business and is now working as a Restaurant Manager / Sommelier at "Brasserie / Restaurant / Bar à vins LE TIVOLI" located in the village of Le Cannet (Provence-Alpes-Cote D'Azur). Pay him a visit if you are around (

Stephane Buliard, a skilled Maitre D, who gave all of the care and attention a customer is expecting for impeccable service, great guy too, a bit confused at that time (back then), but that's what we loved about him. Stéphane worked around the world too in many restaurants and is now based in New York, working as the National Beverage Director for the "iPic Theaters" company (

Marco Di Pasquale, the Italian pass boy, who became a great restaurants manager and food and beverage manager. Always fun and gentle, super easy guy and ultra sociable, Marco is one of these guys everyone likes and want to be around, he likes his bike and surely does not want to miss any party with staff or friends. After working around the world, Marco is now working as the Food and Beverage Director for the Conrad Seoul / 콘래드 서울 (South Korea) (

Xavier Demas, Assistant Restaurant Manager and Maitre D', with a great sense of humour, nothing was a problem for him, incredible to work with and really funny. Xavier went back to France too and is currently working as a "Practitioner in Traditional Massages of Relaxation" in the village of Coulobres (Languedoc-Roussillon)

Rachel Poupin, a smiley and joyful bar stewardess, always with the band, great fun too, she loved art, music, drawing and painting, she also went back to France at some point and preserved her artistic mind.   

Jorge Calisto, always a smile on his face, never in a bad mood, and incredible customer service, this man has an incredible aura and energy, and despite his age, continues to manage clubs and private venues around London (like he used to do at Monte's). He currently works at the "Maddox Club" (

which leads me to 

John Davey - Photo courtesy of John Davey Consultancy Ltd. March 2016
(Original cropped and filter added by ©LeDomduVin 2019)

John Davey (which I never remember if we met at "Monte's Club" or at "CHE"), great restaurant manager, great mentor, always joking around and an incredible team player with his staff, super professional service and people skills. John stayed in London too and opened his own Hotel and Restaurant service consulting company. Find more details about John on his blog at

And I'm sure I'm forgetting a few more, let me think... like

Jerome Strub, great guy, with a witty sense of humor, we always had fun during the service with him... 

Madelene Ahman, bar and plane stewardess, roomate of my roomate once, fun and gentle, always ready to party too 

And a few more, I guess.....

I worked in Monte's Club for about a Year, then worked at "Les Ambassadeurs" Casino, at Hyde Park Corner, for a few months prior joining the opening team at CHE Restaurant, Bar and Cigar lounge, located at the ground and first floor of the Economist building, on Saint-James Street

Of course, names from the team at CHE still resonate in my mind, like 

Hani Farsi, owner and creator of CHE Restaurant, Bar and Cigar lounge, thank you again for the opportunity you gave me to be part of your opening team, then become the Chef Sommelier after the departure of my old friend and mentor Tim McLaughlin -Green and my other mentor Philippe Buttin. I loved the 3 years I spent at CHE, such a great place and what a blast!!!

Philippe Buttin, our Head Sommelier at the time at CHE, who left the restaurant business and the world of wine to take a different path, which brought him faith and love and a great little family. I'm happy for you Philippe.

Danny Smith, barman/bartender and above all mixologist extraordinaire and fire-eater, Danny is surely one of the craziest persons I met in my life, also one of the brightest and funniest too, he is definitely a character and has a lovely personality,  he is definitely personable too, and he is now covered with luxuriant tattoos.

Stephane Gilet, Chef de Rang and Maitre D', faithful, loyal, hard-working, a strong personality and a great sense of humor, Stéphane was the type of guy you like to have in your team. He moved back to France and recently joined the team at Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne (France) (   

💥Work in progress......💥

Marcelo Santos

and few more who are in my mind too, but I always forgot if we met in "Monte's", "Les Ambassadeurs" or "CHE"...

Then, there are also all the great people I met along the way at some point or another during these 5 years ("My London Years" as I called them)

Photo of and courtesy from Christophe Brunet (Facebook page)

💥Work in progress......💥

Isabelle Brunet

and a lot more...

Here is a close up of my face at the Sommelier Graduation day, this is the face I had when some of you met me for the first time back in mid July 1997.  

Dominique Noël - Sommelier Promotion of 1997 - Catering and Hotel Management School of Talence (Bordeaux)
Article from and courtesy of the French newspaper "Sud-Ouest" - June 1997 (close up)

💥Work in progress......💥

Thanks to you all for these 5 incredible years (1997-2002) and for what you taught me and allow me to become, what I am today due to your teaching and friendship...

Santé! Cheers!

Dominique Noël a.k.a. LeDomduVin