Keeping An Eye On The Price Development Between Vintages Is Key To Grow Profits, Says Carolina.
Carolina Seibel, Head Sommelier at Scully St James’s, talks about her journey in the wine industry. In the interview below, she also discusses methods she uses to elevate the guest experience at the restaurant.
Carolina has more than 10 years of experience in the hospitality and wine industry. Carolina started working as a head sommelier at Terrenos Vinotek (Winebar) in Stockholm. She then worked at fine dining Berowra Waters Inn and wine maestro Stuart Knoxs’s Fix St James. She also spent 2 years at Comptoir Cafe and Wine, the cafe and wine bar by Xavier Rousset MS. Currently, she works with Ramael Scully at the Scully Restaurant.
Read more about her below.
Your current place of work
Tell us about yourself.
When I was 3 years old, my mother told me I was mixing "cocktails", seating guests, and asking her if I could read the employment laws. We had a hotel and restaurant then. Now, I couldn't read clearly, but I had very big ears and picked up on what was important to my parents.
So the path to working in hospitality was set very early. I started for real at Terrenos Vinotek (Winebar) in Stockholm in 2010 as head sommelier. After that, I worked at famed TV chef Fredrik Eriksson’s Långbro Värdshus. I honed my front-of-house skills as a manager, became the go-to wine person, and became responsible for events and conferences.
During a short stint in Sydney, Australia, I worked at fine dining Berowra Waters Inn and wine maestro Stuart Knoxs’s Fix St James. Returning to Sweden, I began studying for the WSET Diploma and, during the course, moved to London to start at Michelin-starred Portland, where I took overall responsibility for wine.
I also spent 2 years at Comptoir Cafe and Wine, the cafe and wine bar by Xavier Rousset MS. Admittedly, I still miss the huge Champagne selection, which was a true candy store to me.
Now, I work with Ramael Scully, his amazing ideas and palate, and the exciting task of pairing wines with all the different expressions of chili.
Image: Carolina Seibel
Why did you want to become a sommelier?
Unluckily, during the global economic crisis in 2008, I was laid off from my job working with the administration of the annual payment of patents. That itself wasn't my life's calling, so I was given a forced chance to figure out what I wanted with my life. My parents had been adamant to keep me from a life of long hours on my feet, so I had not acted on turning to hospitality before it. But this time, I could feel it in myself that it was the right choice.
What sources do you follow to stay on top of industry trends and new launches worldwide?
Nowadays, my sources are social media, newsletters, and maybe most importantly, talking to other sommeliers. I love hearing about other sommeliers' experiences and finds, which already gives me a greater context and can add to the storytelling.
Questions you would ask a customer who doesn't know anything about wine?
I try to translate them into more approachable and less scary comparisons. When someone is looking for white wine and isn't sure at all what they like, I try to get them to answer, without thinking, if they prefer lemon sorbet or vanilla ice cream, for example. This they definitely know, and they can't embarrass themselves by saying the wrong thing gives me an idea of what to suggest.
What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier?
Seeing the person in front of you. Most people don't speak wine as fluently as we do, so it is important to be able to listen to what they say and actually don't. What kind of an occasion is it, and what is the company they are in? Some guests want the full storytelling experience. Some just want their glass to be magically topped up, and some guests are there only to enjoy each others' company.
How I would train my new staff member in their first 7 days of joining.
The first day would be orientation. Granted, we are a very small restaurant, but knowing where everything can be found and should be placed is the key to keeping it organized. And getting familiarised with the wine list and food.
Day 2 would be strictly food, as we have a lot of ingredients and housemade components that are absolutely foreign when you come from traditional cuisine.
On day 3, I would dedicate myself to being on the floor and interacting with guests, and understanding the flow of the restaurant.
Day 4 would be about when deliveries come in, which is a good day to start talking about the build of the winelist and how it works with the food and the guests. So clearly doing the wine fridge job and looking into how our ordering and epos systems work.
Day 5, 6, and 7, I would adjust to the new staff member. Some might need more time looking at the wines, some spend time with the food, and some are ready to spread their wings. As much as we want to look after guests, looking after staff's needs to be productive should not be ignored.
What methods do you use to grow wine sales? Please explain with examples.
Some small things are adjusting to the season and offering the type of wine both by bottle and glass, which guests prefer to drink, and giving them options. Especially if they are by the glass, people might be keen to have a glass of each. Of course, it depends on the size of the restaurant, but with smaller operations, there has to be a more ruthless "kill your darlings" approach. If wines don't sell, it is not what guests ask for; it is better to replace them with wines you can sell.
What methods do you use to grow profits?
Supplier relationships are very important, and again looking at the small things. Now more than ever, keeping an eye on the price development between vintages is key. And it is not all about wine. The non-the alcoholic offering has to be on par with the wine selection as many more people choose not to drink or not always drink.
How do you self-learn and improve your skills?
Tasting and reading are my go-to. Portfolio tastings and masterclasses and trying to find the things that interest me.
Image: Carolina Seibel
What's the best part of your job?
Seeing people having a good time and enjoying wines they had never considered before.
How do you elevate the guest experience? Please give 4-5 examples and insights here.
Check back easy, and ensure you are looking out for the guest's best experience. This might sound backward, but try to have fun. Guests can feed on negative energy, and whatever is happening within the team or on the sideline should not affect the guests. Sometimes it is enough for them to see people being happy at work. I tend to dance a lot during service. It usually makes someone smile.
Making the members of staff person has, in my experience, given guests a little extra. If it is an open kitchen, I like to mention particular chefs or point out FOH who also love the wine the guests have chosen.
Your favourite Podcast.
I love listening to podcasts. "No such thing as a fish" was recommended to me by one of my best friends and fellow restaurant pro. It is a factual comedy podcast made by the people supplying QI with their facts.
An unforgettable wine experience for you - tell us the whole story!
In 2018 I was fortunate enough to serve the wines at a collector's Rioja dinner with exclusively aged Rioja. When he asked me if I could open the second bottle of 1904, it was a very surreal experience.
Header Image: Carolina Seibel