After hours with...Nicolas Clerc

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Learning, Sommelier

Nicolas Clerc: Head sommelier and Wine Store manager at Le Pont de la Tour
Nicolas Clerc: Head sommelier and Wine Store manager at Le Pont de la Tour
Nicolas Clerc joined Le Pont de la Tour last May as head sommelier and manager of the Wine Store. He talks about his career and shares his top tips for success in his field

Nicolas Clerc started his career as a trainee sommelier at La Table Saint Crescent in Narbonne, France. He moved to the UK in 2004 to work with Eric Zwiebel at Cliveden and then Summer Lodge Hotel in Dorset. He worked in London and Melbourne before returning to the UK last year to take up his current post as head sommelier and manager of the Wine Store at London restaurant Le Pont de la Tour.

My big achievement:

Winning the UK Sommelier of the Year title in 2007. It's a personal achievement, but it also made a difference to my career because when you win that prize you start to be recognised. It also brings a lot of young people who want to achieve the same to work with you which has helped me in recruiting for staff at Pont de la Tour.

How I got to where I am:

I started in France 10 years ago studying and it took me two years to get my diploma. We did a mixture of studying and working in a restaurant, which was really good.

I moved to the UK in 2004 and that's when my luck started, because I got the chance to work with Eric Zwiebel, who'd just won Sommelier of the Year. He helped develop my skill and I feel really lucky to have worked with him at Cliveden and then Summer Lodge.

I then went to work in Melbourne at Vue de Monde Restaurant and that was brilliant. Australia is a brilliant market for wine and I was amazed by the open minds of the Australians when it comes to wine. However, it was too far away and it was impossible to watch Arsenal games, so I returned to London and took up my current job.

What it's like being a sommelier:

We work mostly with wine, but it's only part of your focus. It's the serving of the wine that is the biggest part of the job. You also have to build your knowledge constantly because there is an on-going development of wine.

At Le Pont I am in charge of a team of six people and also have responsibility for the Wine Store. That was a good opportunity to create a new skill. I didn't have experience in retail before and it is a completely different world. It's a great experience because people are more adventurous about trying different wines at home, partly because of the price.

I love to help people discover things that maybe they wouldn't try in a restaurant and they are more open to that in retail: In a restaurant you will have 30 per cent of the guests asking for advice on wine and 70 per cent who don't, but it's the reverse in a retail environment. However, if they try different wines at home they feel a bit more secure about ordering them when they come back to the restaurant, so it works well.

The most valuable thing I've learnt:

It's good to have an interest in the right people and get to meet them and to know them if you are able to. The sommelier's world is a small one, but it's important to meet the talented people who inspire you. If you can work with people like Eric Zwiebel or Gerard Bassett you can learn so much.

Future plans:

I still have things I want to achieve in my career and there are a lot of things I still want to do at Le Pont de la Tour. I'm still entering a lot of competitions and developing myself. I've got the Master Sommelier coming up in November and I like studying so I will continue to learn in the job. After that I've always wanted to write about wine, so I may turn to writing in the long-term future.


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