INTERVIEW BEST SOMMELIER CHINA

Nov 20, 2011 No Comments by

To quickly introduce myself, my name’s Florent GENTY, I am 29 years old and live in Shanghai for 6 months now. For 4 years, I was in Paris as wine salesman for Burgundy and Rhone Valley vineyards.

I met Ari and Lucas thanks to their website. I contacted them after reading their articles on their blog when I was in France. For few months now, I am working for a Chinese importer-distributor named Grandgle Wines and Spirits. I’m working in the purchasing department and sometimes I have to promote the wines of our portfolio in different cities of China.

September, 22nd, while attending the 2nd competition for the best sommelier of French wines in China, I got the idea to contact them and actively participate in their blog through articles and interviews.

For my first participation, I decided to contact two of the three winners of the competition, Sylvia Liu and Yin Guo. Congratulations! 3 girls on the podium! Through different questions, I try to understand how Chinese can be familiar with the wine and try to understand better what they are expecting with wine in China. I also wanted to highlight the different events around wine.

The Best Sommelier Competition of French wine in China was judged by international and local experts, based on the rules and constitutions of the Association of Sommelier International (ASI). This competition brings awareness and prestige to wine professionals in China and also provide a benchmark for the local industry. Candidates from various cities in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai can participate to the competition. Organizers hope to attract not only sommeliers, but also bartenders and others working with wine and beverages, and employers that want to affirm or improve their staffs’ expertise.

To enter the competition several conditions must be respected, as being a Chinese citizen, being aged over 18 years, working in restaurants or hotels for minimum a year…
June, 28th, about 150 candidates have passed the qualification round. There was a questionnaire of 50 questions and a blind tasting of two French wines.
The top 2 from each city could enter the final competition in Shanghai. The final phase confronts 6 candidates on five workshops:

-Blind tasting of 3 French wines and 2 spirits

– Service lunch at restaurant settings (decanting, pouring, food and wine pairing)

– Comments of wines.

ZW : Could you present yourself (age, city, job..) ?

Sylvia Liu : My name is Sylvia LIU, I’m 28 years old and I live in Guangzhou. I’m actually manager and Sommelier for Mouton Cadet Wine Bar (Manager/Sommelier)

Yin Guo: My name is Yin GUO, I’m 28 years old and I live in Shanghai. Even I have different offers from companies or restaurants, I’m actually looking for a job of sommelier.

ZW : What is your school and professional career ?

SL : I began my higher education with a bachelor degree in Applied Chemistry from Qingdao University of Science and Technology. One of the part time jobs I took to help pay for schooling was doing sales and translation for a local wine distribution/club company. . I became very interested in the wine industry. To date, I have completed several ISG and WSET courses, and have obtained teaching certificates issued by those two organizations. I now have a strong desire to share my enthusiasm for the wine business, and see a sommelier position as an ideal way to combine all my interests.

YG: I have a bachelor in Advertising and communication. After my studies and before begin to enter my working life, I decided to travel around the world to meet people from different cultures. I saw rapidly that people have a deep link with wine that Chinese don’t have. I met foreigners sommeliers who gave me the passion for wine and I began to study by myself. After 2 years working in a wine Cellar.  Then, I worked for a French restaurant as a sommelier.  I also studied in WSET courses.

ZW : What do you think about this competition and what that bring to you ?

SL : It helped more people to know the sommelier occupation. It was very meaningful, especially for China’s wine market and hospitality industry. This competition could bring me new opportunities and challenges for future.

YG : This competition is a way to democratize the wine and give the opportunity to Chinese to show their knowledge about the wine. More and more are Chinese are passionate by wine, this competition can highlight that job of sommelier is a very respectful and hard job.

ZW: What is the workshop you particularly liked ? Why ?

SL: I prefered the Sparkling wine service and decanting. These workshop consisted in opening bottles (Champagne and red wine) with professional items and glasses for the jury. I liked because that is I usually do in everyday work and where I feel better.

YG : I prefered the food pairing workshop. Why ? Because I think that a sommelier has to develop a real open mind with his clients. He has to know what kind of drink should be the best for a lunch, a dinner or a simple meeting. Moreover, you have to create an empathy and a discussion with them to know what should be the best taste for their palate. The drink must sublimate the food and not the opposite. We must also put in practice his memory.

ZW: How do you know the wine culture ? Why are you attracted by wine ?

SL: I felt in love with wine by accident. I have a very good friend from United States. His name is Joe Benson. 5 years ago, he threw a net-working party for all his friends in South China. He always wondered that what would happen if his friends got to know each other. Yes, something happened! I had met one of Joe’s friends at the party. Later on, his friend introduced me into the wine field. 5 years later, I’m where I’m standing now. If it wasn’t Joe, I think I wouldn’t be in the wine industry.

YG: First, by working of course, you need to understand and learn by “drinking”! I mean, you need to keep trying wines all the time! You  can read anything s from the books, but to understand, you need to try and drink it! Also thanks to some trips I’ve done. I am also very interested in geography in order to learn all the appellations all around the world. Then the training courses allowed me to master more and more science of tasting. It takes a lot of homework because Chinese do not know nothing about wine culture.

ZW: Were you born in a family where wine was often present?

SL: In my family, wines have never been present. We mostly drink local white spirits made from grains call BaiJiu.

YG: It’s the same for me! My family is the owner of a Baijiu company for 12 years now. So I always grow around white alcohol but never around the wine. In ours family meals, most part of the time we drink beers or Baijiu.

ZW: Is the chinese have a easy access to wine? Can you see more and more Chinese interested by wine around you and how wine is perceived?

SL: Not really. Comparing to the salaries in China, wines are quite expensive. Chinese are more and more interested by wines and I think there’s a great future for the wine industry. I think for the majority of Chinese, wine is an elegant and expensive drink. The wine must appear as a rare and sharing drink, to bring a magical moment in the meal.

YG: For the moment, I think it’s a little hard for Chinese to access the wine universe. On the one hand, prices are really high for majority of the population and on the other hand, universe of wine is complicated and full of codes. Sometimes, Chinese are afraid by losing their face if they make a mistake when drinking wines. Moreover, in China, we don’t have meal rules like in Europe with starters then main course and deserts. All our dishes are served together. Wines need to be served step by step like a story with a beginning and an end. That’s why I think it will take a long time to democratize the wine into the Chinese meals but I believe in it.

ZW: What is your dream career?

SL: I would like to be a Master Sommelier.

YG: My dream is to travel and work around the world in different vineyards

ZW: What is your best tasting wine souvenir ?

SL: A Iconic wine tasting hosted by Mr. Pancho Campo (Master of Wine) from Spain. We tasted Chateau Cheval Blanc 2001, Chateau Lynch Bages 2004, Chateau Palmer 1999, Chateau D’Yquem 2001, Vega Sicilia Unico 1995, Felton Road block 5 Pinot Noir.

YG: Although I have good souvenir of a Latour, I remembered a wonderful Corton Charlemagne and a Chablis Grand Cru. The more I taste the wines, the more I am interested in white wines because I find them complex, elegant and we can drink them in any occasions.

ZW: If you have to choose one red and one white ?

SL: A German Riesling and a Pinot Noir from Burgundy !

YG: I felt in love with a white wine from Tasmania and for red, I’d love to keep it as a secret!

Florent Genty for Zhongguo Wine

(PS: Sorry Florent, Sylvia and Yin for taking so long to post the interview… Ari & Lucas)

Chinese Wine Industry, News, Wine Education in China

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