Thursday, January 31, 2019

LeDomduVin: 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1966 (and a few more bottles including Chateau Haut-Brion 1989) were prepared at one of our warehouses in HK to be withdrawn then delivered.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  

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

LeDomduVin: 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 to 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 tons of stuff and move out your furniture and everything else you've piled up everywhere..... 

Personally, moving is a stressful and annoying process every time it happens (we have moved 5 times since we arrived in Hong Kong: first to 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, which turned yellow with age, may not represent much. Still, 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 of serving them to others and sharing 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 providing them with a service that will remain an enjoyable and memorable experience... 

My love for wine and food started early in my childhood. By chance, I was born in Bordeaux, one of the leading wine-producing areas in the world, renowned for its wines (of course) but also for its food, where eating well and drinking well are both mandatory in people's daily life (which helped a lot I must say). Eating and drinking are parts of the culture and traditions in the Southwest, like everywhere else in France. 

At my grandfather's house, wine was always served for lunch and dinner, and meals were always rich and earthy 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 open to whoever wanted to step in to share a moment while having a drink or sharing a meal with us. Life in the countryside was simple and convivial, and I could not have imagined it any other way. 

I was raised with these values of sharing and helping each other while being friendly to mostly everyone and adaptable to most situations. The pragmatic ways of the countryside. These were great years of insouciance and innocence when people seemed more genuine and still had time to take the time to discuss daily matters while sharing a moment, a meal, a glass of wine and remaking the world with endless conversations.     

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 neighbouring 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. 

For Bordeaux, "Lamproies a la Bordelaise" and "L'Entrecôte Bordelaise", the Bassin d'Arcachon oysters are typical Bordeaux dishes. Even one of the best Caviar in the world, "Caviar d'Aquitaine" (Sturia, for example), is produced in Bordeaux. Going back to the 1920s, France pioneered sturgeon farming and steadily became a leading producer in the global caviar market. Approximately 24 tonnes out of the 25 tonnes of highly sought-after caviar produced in France annually are produced in Bordeaux and favoured by top restaurants worldwide. Bordeaux is also known for its "Cannelé, " a small pastry aromatized with rum and vanilla, a soft and tender custard centre, and a dark, thick caramelized crust. 

The region of the "Landes", located southwest of Bordeaux, is known for games and bird 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. 

Further down, "Cassoulet" is the speciality of Castelnaudary and "Saucisse lentilles" (a la graisse d'oie) is the speciality of Toulouse. I won't enumerate all the recipes we have in the southwest of France

Consequently, growing up in the vineyard and the countryside with such food varieties and recipes, the love for food was unavoidable. And I feel lucky to have had the chance to grow up in such a lovely part of France (and the world). Moreover, my grandfather always had "a Jambon" curing in his "remise" (one of his house's dependencies) where he stored all sorts of things, including his legendary homemade "paté", fruit and vegetable preserves, potatoes and other types of food).  Basically, it was impossible for me not to become a foodie.      

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. Consequently, wine production is (by far) the region's prime activity, and almost 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's and my father's side, also owned or tended vineyards in various appellations around Bordeaux (mainly on the right bank, though). Therefore, I got acquainted with the work in the vineyards and became accustomed to drinking wine at a very early stage.    

I grew up in the Côtes de Bourg, in my mother's house, a few parcels of vines away from my grandfather's house. I started working in the vineyards when I was young, during holidays and weekends, helping my grandfather and/or other family members and neighbours who owned or tended vineyards back then. 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.

Working in the vineyards, I did the following: 
  • "Green harvest": green cluster removal, usually done during the veraison period, is a sort of crop thinning to help manage yield and allow for better ripening and more concentration of flavours to the remaining clusters. 
  • "De-leafing": leaf removal 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 mildew or other diseases from developing on the leaves and grapes 
  • The "harvest", of course, mostly during the weekends, usually occurring in the months of September and October 
  • 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

The drinking part

Getting acquainted with and drinking wine at an early age in France's countryside, especially in a wine region like Bordeaux, was (and still is) a common custom. My grandfather started adding wine droplets to my glass of water when I was 10-12 years old. The older I got, the less water and the more wine was in my glass (exactly as shown in my illustration above), and usually, by the time you reach 15 years old, you've got your wine glass on the table (with no water in it) like the adults. 😁👍🍷. 

Definitely, a common thing when growing up in the countryside of one of the most iconic wine regions of the world with a winemaker for a grandfather. And consequently, the passion and love for wine and vineyard life naturally and gradually came with age. 

Wine is not only part of the culture and traditions in Bordeaux (or any other of France's 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, and part of these moments shared with family and friends. Wine brings people together and is an excellent excuse for gatherings, interminable meals and endless conversations... so, what is not to love about wine? Nothing (in my humble opinion)...    

Becoming a Sommelier

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-travelled 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 a daily basis...

Moreover, you must realise that a Sommelier is not just a "wine waiter". A Sommelier must be knowledgeable 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 different mineral waters), as well as 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, to always be aware and updated and continuously improve knowledge and skills.

I will never repeat it enough: to be a Sommelier, you must have, above all, patience and devotion, passion and dedication, an open mind and curiosity, a 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 a 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 in the wine industry which has a need for a Sommelier.            

Understandably, not everyone is willing to sacrifice his or her life to serve others, work long hours, and possess the required skills, knowledge, character, and personality to become a Sommelier. Still, those willing to learn and do so are often the people you will remember the most...   

As working as a Sommelier (in the F&B industry in general) requires qualities that 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 in committing 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

Leaving school

I left school rather early (earlier than I should have for sure and definitely earlier than my parents would have wanted to...). I wasn't meant for it. And yet I grew up in Bordeaux, where academic credentials and family background are essential to finding a good job and succeeding in life. Or so they said. 

Yet, I had none of those. I was bad at school and was from a low-middle-class family. And I was not the son of someone important in the local society, either. I was born to fail in the eyes of many, including my family.   

And yet again, the school has never defined intelligence nor potential, and family background surely helps if you were fortunate to be born into a wealthy or socially highly regarded one. Still, in the end, your family and school backgrounds do not really matter if you leave your hometown, region, or even country. But diplomas and your resume (CV) do as they are usually the only things the HR of an employer or even a headhunter can judge you on and gauge your qualifications and skills.   

However, back then (and still now to a certain extent), I considered myself a free bird with a major problem with authorities in general, lost in my own world, uncomfortable in my own skin, socially awkward and often felt alone and undermined at school and elsewhere. So, I had to find my way and follow a path that would eventually allow me to be myself, express myself, and become someone for myself.

Between the ages of 16 and 18, during the school year, weekends and holidays, despite working in the vineyards occasionally, I also sporadically 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, and it kept me physically and mentally busy.   

Shortly after turning 18 years old, in late May 1991, I was let go early from my school, having badly failed the exam after 2 years in a technical school. I was supposed to have a job for the summer, but things did not work out, and I found myself with nothing to do the whole summer. So, while trying to find a small job and instead of doing nothing, I started to write my 12th book since my 8 years old. 

That's right, I was bad at school but good at writing (and drawing too). My prose was quite good, and my passion for writing, mingling with my vivid imagination, made it easy for me to write all sorts of stories since I was a child.  And this summer marked the beginning of my 12th book. I wrote it over 2 years and a half, and it was divided into 3 parts (3 volumes).    

I was really proud of it as I inputted a lot of me and my life at the time, and I wanted to publish it... but I never did. You see, I grew up in a time when adult did not necessarily encourage their kid if they thought he or she could fail or was not good enough. It was a tough life. They could have encouraged me or read what I wrote to let me know if that was good or bad. Or even asked questions about it and pretended to have an interest, but no, they did not.    

Back in the 80s and 90s (and it was surely true or worst for my parents with their parents back in the 50s and 60s), it was basically the opposite of nowadays parents who are over-protective and over-complimenting their kids, giving them credit and ovations even for the most insignificant things they do. There is no more reprimanding nowadays as it could potentially hurt the "poor" kid's feelings or mental conditions (...and don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that reprimanding was necessarily a good thing, but it surely helped to learn from your mistake and challenge yourself more to become better).  

Even at school, nowadays, there are no more scores or rankings to prevent disappointing and discouraging the kids. Some don't even know how to speak, write, spell or even count, but that's ok, as teachers and parents nowadays don't want to hurt the kid's feelings, fearing to be the cause or the reason for the kid's failing and failures, and refraining from any responsibilities at the same time. Sad reality.       
Back to my book, I guess I could have tried to publish it on my own and without their approbation, but I lacked the guts and confidence in myself to be able to do it, and, in any case, I was opposed to much resistance when I emitted the idea of doing so. Consequently, I gave up. Maybe I shouldn't have, but "easy said than done" back then, especially when not backed up by your family.     

Moreover, phrases like "but you are not good enough", "it will not be published", "I don't think that's a good idea", or "you should concentrate on something tangible and realistic", "find yourself a real job",  were common in my surrounding and education back then.  It was hard to make people understand or listen to what I was thinking, what I wanted to do and what I had to say.  Being an artist in mind was not easy.  

And writing, drawing and making music were only seen as hobbies. Only those who persevered, believed in themselves and had the guts to follow their instincts and passion succeeded, with or without their family helping them. Art in its many forms and travelling for a job were not considered wise back then, and definitely not a way of earning a living.              

I can still hear them say: "Not sure what you're going to do, but you should find a job". Even my father, upset by the whole situation, told me: "If you don't want to go to school, then go in the army then!" Doing the army was still mandatory back then in France. One year for all men turning 18 years old. Thus, I will have to do it sooner or later anyway.

The summer ended. My friends went back to school, college and/or universities. I was jobless, and no one seemed to care.  I could not find anything except helping in one of the bars where my friends and I often went after school to have a coffee or a beer while listening to "Rock n' Roll", playing "flippers" (pinball) and having long conversations while chain smoking. 

For a few months prior to going into the army, I was a barman, a DJ, a poet, a drawer, a writer, and a "feature" of that bar near "Place de la Victoire" (Bordeaux). Despite not making much money, I was enjoying it, as I could still see my friends and felt somewhat free, yet terribly alone and depressed at times. During my breaks, I continued to write my book.         

Then 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, no one to that could help me, and no real expectation by staying here, in Bordeaux. I had to leave, try my luck elsewhere.

You see, as stated above, in France (like in many other countries), the secret to your success story is all about how well where you were born? Who is your father? Which school did you attend? How far did you go? And which diplomas did you get? 

Basically, to succeed and get the best jobs or higher positions and salaries in France (even if you do not possess the intelligence, knowledge, skills, guts and leadership, let alone the experience to occupy the position and be good at it), you need to be born in the right family! 

You must be the son or daughter of Mr. "Iamsomeone" and/or "Iamsuperrich" (preferably a doctor or a lawyer, always useful and highly regarded by the high society...), attend one of the best schools in town, went to the best university in town and have, at least, a Bachelor degree + 2, 3 or 5.... and I had none of the above... (sigh)

Military Service

So, I followed my father's advice, 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 some people said at the time) and nowhere else to go, I went to do my military service. 

Fate granted my wish to try my luck elsewhere and led me to the other side of France, to the east, in the foothills of the Alpes, in the Vercors, 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)

A few months before I joined the army, the mandatory period was still 1 year. However, lucky me, by the time I joined, in December 1991, they had decreased it to 10 months only instead of a full year. 

During these 10 months, I did the most incredible things you can imagine doing in the mountains, including, but limited to, sealskin skiing, skiing, snowboarding, running 17 kilometres in the mountains every morning prior to breakfast, hiking, trekking, rock climbing, glacier climbing, sleeping under 3 meters of snow near the summits, backpacking, abseiling, bungee jumping, parachuting (from army banana shaped helicopters), 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...)...

The experience was incredibly challenging, both physically and mentally exhausting, but it was also incredibly enjoyable! What a blast! 

At the age of 19, I had no future, expectations, ambition, confidence in myself, or real love for myself. And yet, after 10 months in the army, I had just discovered that I could adapt and be resilient when facing difficult situations and could endure a lot more than I thought I could. That's when I realised that my condition was not so desperate after all, and I could try to do something of and for myself.

After the Army

Right after the army, I returned to my home town, Bordeaux, tougher and stronger physically and mentally. Yet, still with no real future or no real idea of what to do with myself, with no diplomas on hand (at the time)... and still, with no one in the family ready to take me under his or her wings, I could not go so far or do so much anyway... 

I could only count on myself. I was eager to learn and grow, ready to work and willing to share.... and, despite having no real self-esteem or confidence, I had enough personal drive and a minimum of ambition not to stay at home doing nothing and taking advantage of the French social system (like many people do in France)..., like some people with not much school education and no diplomas do (and because I had a taste of it prior to the army and liked it enough not to be bothered by it), I started working as a bartender/waiter in bistros and bars, then in restaurants. 

I first worked in my hometown of Bordeaux, and then, as if suddenly bitten by the bug and the need to escape and explore, I moved and worked 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 in a technical school for adults in Olivet (near Orleans). Then, armed with new hospitality and service certifications, I went back to Bordeaux, where I worked in a well-known restaurant, part of the "Relais & Chateaux" from 1994 to 1997.

These were 3 crazy years where I worked and learned a lot and moved from the position of "simple waiter" to "captain" to "Maitre D" and ended up assisting the Restaurant Director and Head-Sommelier.

Working in restaurants

Back in those days, in the early 90s, I loved working in restaurants, caring for the people and providing food and wine service to them while learning, sharpening my skills and growing my knowledge, but not only... What I loved the most was making their experience unique and pleasurable by being attentive, tending to their needs and requests, and entertaining them while sharing the moment with them. 

Basically... I was a "waiter".  It was not much, but it was my job. It was my life, and it gave me purpose.  Moreover, I loved the theatrical part of it, being able to be whomever I wanted to be, depending on the mood of the moment and the type of patrons.  Being a waiter was not necessarily what I wanted to do, but it was all I could do back then. And in the end, even if I was not predestined for it (or maybe I was), I liked it and even made it my way of life. 

Back then, in my early 20s, I did not know better. I had a small apartment I was renting, a 3rd-hand car that I loved, and a job at a restaurant to pay the bills. That was it. And although I was working 15-16 hours daily, 6 days a week (the law was kind of vague on that, and back then, no restaurant owners really cared about overworking their staff anyway), and had no real social life as I did not have many friends and was not going out much anyway as I was always at work, call me "crazy", but I still felt a sense of freedom and liked it that way.

It was a hard life, and the boss treated us like shit, but I felt it gave me purpose. Everyone needs to have a purpose, no matter what it is. Working at the restaurant gave me the impression that I was doing something concrete and tangible by providing services to people and contributing to their overall experience by enhancing this ephemeral yet specific moment of their life, and sharing my love and passion for the products I served them, especially the wine, for which I had a growing attraction and interest.

However, despite having no real self-esteem or love for myself, I still had a minimum of ambition and wanted to prove to the world and to myself that I was better than that. I did not want to stay a "waiter" working in an average restaurant in Bordeaux's suburbs for the rest of my life. Life had to be more interesting and exciting than that.

Yet, if I wanted to get promoted to a better position and get a better salary, I needed to go back to school and get some certifications and diplomas. That's how it worked (back then and even now) in France... (even in the food and beverage industry)... France is an elitist country where meritocracy based on ability, skills and talent is often denied for diplomas, schools and family background.  

As stated earlier, in France (and other elitist countries), 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 the world, not only in France, you have so many people who have access to high positions and high salaries while not having the competence or the know-how for the job... (a sad reality many of us are facing in most jobs)...

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 or uninteresting...

I had to do something about not having any diplomas to get out of this precarious situation and get more opportunities and choices. I had a long talk with one of my uncles, who was a teacher at the "Catering and Hotel Management School" nearby the restaurant I was working at, who told me: "You can do better than that. And you have a strong interest in wine. If you pass some certifications as a self-candidate, I could help you enter the school where I work, and you could study to become a Sommelier."     

I know he was right, and it was the only opportunity a member of my family (or anyone else for that matter) had offered me in years. He trusted me. So, I had to trust myself. Shortly after, I kicked my butt and made up my mind. While still working days and nights at the restaurant, I trained as a self-candidate, studying during my break in the afternoon and at night after work.

In June 1996, I passed 2 technical and professional certifications as a self-candidate and succeeded at both. I was now a certified Waiter/Maître D' for Hotels/Bars/Restaurants with Sommelier training (including in-depth knowledge + service of wine and spirits).

My uncle was delighted and proud. And as he predicted (or planned, should I say), these 2 certifications allowed me to go back to school at the "Lycée Polyvalent d'Hôtellerie et de Tourisme de Gascogne" (located in Talence, Bordeaux, France), Bordeaux renowned "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, as, after having failed secondary school (after repeating a class) and then failed 2 years at an Architect/Civil engineering technical school, which then led me to go to the army at 18, to end up officially starting working at the age of 19 (unofficially, I had worked already many different jobs since the age of 16 and worked in the vineyard since I was at least 9 years old) with nothing on hand, 4 years later, at the age of 23, I was finally getting back on track with 2 certifications in my pocket and going back to school to study for a diploma to have a better future.

From September 1996 to June 1997, I spent 10 months of intense learning about the art, knowledge and service of both wine and spirits, as well as food and cigars (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).

I was still working at the restaurant at night and at weekends. It was not easy, as I was often tired. Yet, the subjects of wine and food are so interesting and fascinating that I hold on tight and prevent showing my fatigue. Yet, my teacher and my uncle saw it a few months after starting (in December).

Both told me: "You cannot continue both working at night and at weekends and attend school with lots of homework at the same time if you want to remember all that you have to remember for the exams and succeed."

Once again, I was faced with a difficult choice: my job or my studies? Moreover, how will I pay for my apartment's rent, the car, food and bills with no job? Fortunately, my parents stepped in to help me with the rent for a few months until the end of the school year, promising to get the diploma in return.

I quit my job in early January, kept the apartment and the car and continued studying. I had only 6 months to prove I could do it to my parents, teacher and uncle, but I was motivated and ready to learn.    
People do not necessarily realise that the subject of wine is vast and encompasses many topics, such as (but not limited to): history, geography, topography, soil, subsoil, "terroirs", weather, climate, science, astrology, biology, chemistry, maths, economics, market analysis, buying and selling strategy, why, how, what and where to buy, as well as regional cultures and traditions, languages, atop of the culinary and service arts, and the know-how of buying, selling and managing stocks, then opening, preparing, decanting, tasting, drinking and pairing, and so much more. 

And all of these, at least, for all the major producing countries and regions in the world.  Usually, with a focus on European countries such as France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, to which can be added Switzerland, Austria, the UK, Greece and Hungary. Then follows the "New World" countries such as the US, Australia, South Africa, Chile and Argentina. Then the rest of the world comes, starting with Mediterranean wines from Algeria, Tunisia, Maroco, Libanon, Israel, etc... Then Asia, starting with the Sake from Japan, which has gained a tremendous following over the last 10-15 years, but also China and a few others.       

Being a Sommelier implies that you must have a good understanding and knowledge of all the cited topics above and beyond, countries and regions included, to do your job properly, wherever you work. 

A Sommelier is, by tradition, someone working in restaurants, usually in charge of the sourcing, buying and selling of the wines and the creation and maintenance of the wine list, as well as the management of the stocks and the conditions of storage, amongst other things like staff training, events and wine budgets planning. And yet, a Sommelier can also find a related job in the rest of the wine industry working for a wine producer, a negociant, a wine merchant, a wholesaler, a distributor, an agency, a retailer (boutique shop or supermarket), a wine bar, a bistro, a "caviste", as a wine buyer, a salesman, a brand ambassador, a manager, etc... etc... There are so many options for a good Sommelier to choose from.

That's why I love my job as a Sommelier. It is so interesting and fascinating. And there is always something to learn, discover, and taste to improve your knowledge and skills and broaden your mind and your palate. It is endless and always evolving.      

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 this school year with 15 other future Sommelier students. The promotion of 1997 mainly consisted of (to name the ones in 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 a 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 worked at the school and helped me get in, for believing in me and trusting that I will succeed (he will understand what I mean).       

The graduation day, immortalized in the picture above (in the local newspaper "Sud-Ouest"), 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). Our main teacher had received an offer for the position of Junior Sommelier in a restaurant in London, and I immediately raised my hand.  

I was ready to leave Bordeaux and France altogether to check if the grass was greener elsewhere. I was ready to leave the "elitist" and "bourgeois" mentality of the Bordelais, choking me for years and preventing me from being who I wanted to be and who I wanted to become. I had also been a victim of physical aggression twice and had difficulty to continue living in my home town of Bordeaux. I couldn't recognize myself anymore in this town that saw me grow.          

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 knew that if I stayed in France, I would 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 anyway.

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 in 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, 6-7 days a week. And for what? For peanuts, no advantages, just a few vacation days, no hope for rapid promotion (as I would have to wait for my superior to retire to get his/her position and be treated like shit in a restaurant of supposedly high standings), just because I did not have the right age, nor the right background. 

It was late June 1997. I had already been working nearly 6 hard and long years since I came out of school back in 1991 at the age of 18. Working in various restaurants and bars in France during these years exhausted me, and I was only 24 years old. I couldn't anymore. If I could not find a better job here for all the reasons cited above, and if all French restaurants were treating their staff this way, it had to be better elsewhere. 

I also had to retrieve the confidence and self-esteem I had lost after being attacked twice. I needed it both physically and psychologically.   

At the time, I even blamed some people in my family who were working directly with wine, as Chateau owners or managers, and even as Negociants, (Negociant owner or manager), to never responding to my demand to even just do an internship to get a foot in the industry and get a boost to become more than just a waiter... 

I guess that, even for them, I did not have the right background. They did not see the potential. They were probably thinking that if I was a failure at school, I would definitely be a failure 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. Leave to, at least, prove to myself that I was capable and better than they thought. I had to show them (and show myself too) what I was made of. But more importantly, I had to prove to myself I could achieve my goals, succeed where they say I will fail, satisfy my personal ambitions and pursue higher dreams than just being a waiter working in a restaurant in the suburb of Bordeaux. 

And if I could not succeed in my hometown, I had nothing to lose anymore. I was ready to leave and explore the rest of the world.        

Leaving to London      

As mentioned earlier, at the end of the school year, our teacher, Mr Roland Garcia, told us about a few opportunities in England, 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 make a fresh start somewhere else. 

I know, I can already hear some of you say that everyone chooses his/her path and consequently his/her future, and I could have had a beautiful life in France if I had worked for the right people and the right place... maybe... but no, I don't think so. 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 succeeding 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 (Michelin stars or not), nearly 24/7, for a low salary, no reward, no thank you, chasing after never happening promotions and having no life... Yet, I wanted to turn the page (over the last intense and mentally difficult 6 previous years), move to another country, reinvent myself and explore the world.... and I'm glad I chose the latter.

I was 24 years old, mostly a "countryside" boy with no girlfriend and little life or work experience. Although I had travelled a few times when I was at school (during school trips only, not with my parents as, surprisingly enough, I never really went on vacations with my parents), and also worked for the past 6 years (and therefore had "some" experience), it seemed that I had not experienced much prior to 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, prior to that day, I never took a plane before. I travelled during school trips to some of France's neighbouring countries via car, truck, bus or train, but never via plane. The few school trips in England, Germany and Spain were made by bus. 

That flight to England was my first flight. It was a short flight, but still, it moved me in a very indescribable way. Seeing Bordeaux from the sky for the first time, crossing France from south to north, following the Greenwich Prime Meridien, passing above the English Channel, and 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 of the Channel, in the British Capital, London, 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 (2nd floor), 
  • An upscale restaurant serving Alain Ducasse's cuisine with an impeccable service team (1st floor), 
  • A cigar lounge (ground floor), 
  • A nightclub/discotheque (basement) 
Monte's Club was the first place I worked in London. I met extraordinary people there, both colleagues and customers. Some of these colleagues became and remained some of my best friends. They welcomed me with open arms into their group. And the rest is history. My life changed forever in London. These were the best 5 years of my life.  

It was a group of extremely talented people I evolved with and learned immensely from, during 5 incredible years, from 1997 to 2002, during which we did everything and even more at all levels. It was insane, yet I'm glad I did it. (One day, I will tell you the whole story of these 5 years....maybe...)    

It was the beginning of a long journey out of France that, without knowing it yet, would 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 with my little family (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, since 1997, over the last 22 years, some have become 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, is a man with a huge character and personality, highly sociable and opinionated. He took me under his wing,  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 as smoking cigars and drinking champagne. He was once the president of the London Sommelier Association and remains "Monsieur Le President" for most Sommeliers around the world. After working worldwide, Yves (and his partners) opened a wine shop in Hong Kong, then in Phuket, Thailand, called Wine² (, offering classics and discoveries from around the world. 

Tim McLaughlin-Green
Tim McLaughlin-Green courtesy of

Tim McLaughlin-Green, of course, my Head Sommelier and 2nd mentor that I followed in 3 different restaurants (back then in London), 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 (     

Image result for eric fossard
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)

Related image
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 difficulty finding anywhere else. He is friends 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 from 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 people above, as they are public figures and therefore represent some of the most renowned 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, which he follows to all their matches assiduously. 

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, was a 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, became a great restaurant 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 wants 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 and 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 has 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 (I never remember if we met at "Monte's Club" or at "CHE"), a 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 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, roommate of my roommate once, fun and gentle, always ready to party too, and just a nice friend to be around.   

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 to 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 and 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)

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

To conclude this long post (with still some parts to finish), I just wanted to say that maybe I became a Sommelier because I grew up in the countryside, in the vineyards of my grandfather and grandaunt, and I love the vineyards. Maybe because I loved working in the vineyards too when I was doing the harvests, green harvesting, thinning vine shoots, etc... or occasionally working in the cellar too.  

Maybe because I was acquainted with wine from an early age and liked it. Maybe because I grew up in Bordeaux, where wine is everywhere, part of everyone's daily life and part of both lunch and dinner rituals. Maybe because it was my only way to get out of the hole I was in and move up from being a simple waiter to someone with more knowledge, skills and responsibilities. 

When 19 years old, with not much school education, no diplomas, no real stable job and no one to really help you or give you a hand to start in life, facing yourself and the situation, and having no other choice but to find the strength, the will and the motivation to prove yourself and the whole world that you're better than you think and that you can do it, well... you have to do it.

So, despite having no self-esteem and no love for myself, I put my courage in my hand, put my head down, and started moving forward. From a socially awkward and failed student with not much faith in himself or the rest of the world, I became a simple waiter, travelled around France and learned my way up.  After a while, I passed a few certifications for more credentials. Which allowed me to work in better restaurants where I learned and learned again.  

Gaining more confidence, knowledge and skills in the art of the table and the service, my personal ambitions kicked in. So I passed a few more certifications as a self-candidate, then, with the help of my uncle, went to Hotel management school to study and pass the Sommelier diploma.     

I had a certain interest in wine already for a few years, but that year back at school opened my eyes and my mind to how vast the subject of wine was.  And this is surely the main reason why I became a Sommelier. There is so much to learn and to know. Wine is an ever-evolving subject, which encompasses so many interesting and complex topics such as history, geography, topography, pedology, climatology, chemistry, biology, mathematics, astrology, local and regional culture, traditions, modes, recipes, etc... as well as keeping your senses awake with constant use of them: see, touch, smell, taste, and even listen.  

Working with wine is working with men and their work, their characters, their personalities, their relationships with their region, their land, their vineyards, their environment, the animals that accompany them and the nature surrounding them.  

I became a Sommelier to relay the message and the hard work men and women have put in their vineyards, their cellars, their wines, their bottles, their labels, to craft, each year, the fruit of one year of labour and to try to make the best of it despite whatever natural or unnatural phenomenons and obstacles nature may throw their way.     

I became a Sommelier to be a storyteller, using somewhat theatrical ways, proses and behaviours to enhance the truth and embellish the context to sell a finished product reflecting the land, the sun, the wind, the rain, the terroir, the men and women, the seasons, the nature and every else of where it comes from.           

I became a Sommelier because it offers so many life perspectives and job opportunities. Throughout my career, since 1991, I have been working as a Sommelier and wine buyer for restaurants, bars, hotels, retailers and even big corporate companies.  Aside from being a Sommelier, I have been a restaurant manager, a salesman, a sales manager, a distributor, an agent, a brand ambassador, a retailer manager and director, a market analyst, a wine quality control manager, a wine teacher, a wine writer and even a private Sommelier.  

And yet, there are so many other possibilities for a Sommelier, like working for a brand, a winery, a caviste, a negociant, a wholesaler, an importer, a logistic company, an investing company, etc..., and whatever else you can think of.  

Being a Sommelier is being versatile and adaptable, eager to learn and share, not scared to move and travel, experience life and continuously discover, as there is so much to experience and discover, so many people to meet, share, exchange with, and learn from.  

Being a Sommelier is to love others, share with them, provide them with a service, give them a moment of your time to enhance their experience and create a relationship based on trust, honesty, integrity and reliability with each other. 

I could go on and on about why I chose to become a Sommelier, but I believe I've made my point. This profession has been a life-changing experience for me, transforming the lost boy I once was (facing an uncertain and gloomy future) into a responsible adult, a father of two, and a successful and recognized Sommelier / Wine Buyer.  I love my job.  

Do not let anyone convince you you cannot do it and you're not worth it. And if they succeed to do so, (like they did with me), then, (like I did), use it to convince and motivate yourself of the opposite.  It will drive you to success, as you'll show them what you're made of.  Trust yourself.  

In the meantime, take good care of yourself and your loved ones.   

Santé! Cheers!

Dominique Noël a.k.a. LeDomduVin (a.k.a. Dom)

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