How I got here:
I caught the ‘wine bug’ in a course I took whilst studying economics and international relations at Cornell University. We were given the rare opportunity to taste a 1952 Chateau Margaux, and from that moment I knew a career in wine was my calling.
I left the world of finance and trading and started working in sales with a wine distributor based in Chicago, where I had the chance to taste thousands of wines and work on my palate.
But it was only once I’d been working with restaurants that I realised that was where I wanted to be.
We moved to New York and I began working as a server in 11 Madison Park. I was studying with the wine team at the restaurant with a view to eventually go in that direction, but they have this thing about training where you start at the bottom no matter what your experience is. You have to learn about a restaurant from the bottom up. So I started as a food runner and then an assistant server so I could leanr different service techniques.
After six months my wife got a job in London, so we moved over the UK. I had my eye on several big named restaurants in the City but eventually I came across Launceston Place. It seemed a perfect fit. I called on the off chance that they may have something for me, and it so happened they were looking for an assistant sommelier.
I worked alongside the head sommelier at the time, Daniel Britz, and really made a connection with him and the head chef Tristan Welch. I really made an effort to learn as much as I could, so when the time came for Daniel to leave, Tristan happily promoted me in his place, even though I’d only been a sommelier for six months.
My first sommelier job:
Although I’d only worked in one restaurant for six months before, I wasn’t nervous about starting at Launceston. I was excited about what I’d seen and learned in New York and I wanted to apply myself and build on my knowledge so I could improve.
But I started at the restaurant at a busy period. It was like an initiation by fire when you’re learning a craft and in a position like that at the same time. But I think the pressure helped push me.
I was also getting good feedback from guests. People could tell I was creating conversations with guests about the wines that hadn’t been there in the past.
My work ethic:
Danny Meyers says in his book Setting the Table that he looks for staff with 49 per cent technical skill and 51 per cent passion. I have a real urge to provide guests with an experience, and believe wine should really accentuate an evening. So I put passion not only into my service but into my wine list too, as I believe it really takes on the personality of the sommelier.
My wine list:
My list is really selling. It’s global, diverse and shows appreciation for the Old World wines of Italy and Spain. I haven’t plugged it with American wines, which I think they feared I would when I took over. My main priority with the list is to showcase the best varieties from each region.
In my future:
There’s still a lot to do with Launceston Place, and one of our primary goals is to achieve a Michelin star. We all strive for perfection everyday, and above all we want to give that warmth and hospitality for our guests. If we do that then Michelin and other inspectors will follow.
I certainly see myself staying here with Tristan and bringing about greater things for the restaurant.
Narea will be appearing in the Drinks Quarter at The Restaurant Show at Earls Court 2 (11-13 October), discussing ways other restaurateurs and sommeliers can help increase their drinks revenue.