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Q & A with Lucian Obreja, Head Sommelier

Lucian Obreja, Head Sommelier at L’Ortolan on how to grow wine sales at your restaurant.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you progressed into this role.

I had great mentors, first of all, working in different countries and environments ( Italy, Silver Sea Cruise Line Company). I tried to take on board very seriously the feedback of my guests and understood where I was doing well and where I needed to improve. I always had a plan, regarding what I want to do (took as many wine courses as possible WSET2, WSET3, Court of Master Sommelier Introductory, Certified, Advance on the way). I tried to be as informed as possible, regarding the trends, of the industry. I tried to make and improve my network of connections throughout the company.

L'Ortolan Restaurant

Wine and food displayed at L'Ortolan Restaurant

2. Define your role and what all tasks are involved in your role.

My role in the company is to run the wine and beverage program, train and assist my colleagues and drive sales.

3. Let's say you were given a restaurant to fix its wine program and grow wine sales, where would you start and what would be your strategy. What questions would you ask the restaurant owner to get good insights before you plan your strategy.

The first person, to whom I would address any question, would be the head chef. Depending on the style of the menu (tasting menu, a la carte) I would introduce wine flights (classic, fine wine flight, mocktail flight, more and more people do not drink alcohol, recently we introduced a champagne flight).

The training of the sommelier team and the FOH staff is crucial, also the rewards. It is imperative that the sommelier knows the best pairings possible with all the dishes and also with the items such as cheese or anything extra in the menu (ex we have a caviar dish in our testing menu, that we sell as an extra, so of course it would be great if we could upsell a nice glass of champagne or a shot of chilled vodka.)

The training would be provided by our wine suppliers, so no cost, just benefits for the company and the staff.

Regarding the wine list, there should be a fusion of classic and let’s say little gems that you wouldn’t know about it unless you would visit our venue. The introduction of more prestigious wines by the glass, because ‘it is a treat’ for some of the guests.

Investing in wine preservation system!

Introducing a digestive trolley. 5 out of ten guests are more likely to order a digestive, only because they can actually see the bottles and everything is poured at the table.

4. How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Well, first of all, they can help by providing courses for sommeliers, bartenders. By supplying coravin capsules, special pricing or discounts, depending on the volumes.

5. Give us an example of a solid wine program with examples of wine names and why you have them.

White and Red Wine

White and Red Wine

Our list ‘by the glass’, reflects the fusion of classic and a bit more quirky wines.

NV     Charles Heidsieck, Brut Réserve     Reims, France
NV    Charles Heidsieck, Brut  Rosé     Reims, France
NV    Charles Heidsieck, Blanc de Blancs    Reims, France

White Wine

2019    Zghihara de Averesti, ‘Nativus’, Domeniile Averesti    Averesti, Romania
2018    Pinot Gris, Stopham Estate    West Sussex, UK
2018    Alb de Purcari,  Château Purcari    Stefan-Voda, Moldova
2018    Wild Sauvignon, Greywacke, Kevin Judd    Marlborough, New Zealand
2019    Chardonnay, Vie di Romans, `Vie di Romans` DOC    Friuli, Italy
2018    Savennières "Les Vieux Clos", Clos de la Coulée de Serrant    Loire, France
2013    Mersault, Gouttte d’Or 1er Cru, Domaine Louis Latour    Burgundy, France

Orange Wine

2019    ‘Back To Silence’, Lugana DOC, Ottella    Veneto,  Italy

Rose Wine

2020    Bandol Rose, Domaine Tempier    Provence, France

Red Wine

2019    Susumaniello, A Mano    Puglia, Italy
2018    Negru de Purcari, Château Purcari    Stefan-Voda, Moldova
2019    Cullen, `Mangan East Block` Malbec/Petit Verdot    Margaret River, Australia
2011    Il Carnasciale IGT, Podere il Carnasciale    Tuscany,  Italy
2015    Barolo ‘Monroj’, Teo Costa DOCG    Piemonte, Italy
2007    Margaux, Chateau Durfort-Vivens 2nd Growth    Bordeaux, France
2013    Volnay 1er Cru, "En Chevret", Domaine Louis Latour    Burgundy, France

Delicious food at L'Ortolan - Michelin starred restaurant

Delicious food at L'Ortolan - Michelin starred restaurant

6. Lets dive deep into your restaurant wine program, break us down on why some elements were there in wine menu and how it helps the bottom line.

Some of our producers for example are the most awarded wineries ex Chateau Purcari, Il Carnasciale is made with a grape varietal that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world (Caberlot). Orange wines are great with fusion cuisine and our restaurant was the first restaurant in the UK to list this kind of wine. Recently we have a list with only cider by the glass (ice cider, cider, fruit wine). Most of our wines are either organic, biodynamic or practice sustainable viticulture. Classic and famous producers are listed as well.

7. What are the four main things you focus on daily in your role?

  • Ensure that the bar station and the wine station is ready

  • Ensure that the bar lists and wine lists are updated

  • Ensure that the staff is updated about any changes regarding wines/ cocktails

  • Ensure that all the enquiries regarding eventual functions are dealt with properly

8. What are the things that are NOT so important to the bottom line that many sommeliers/wine directors tend to focus on?

Lately, a lot of restaurants or employers asks for certification or experience of their candidates, forgetting about someone’s passion for this industry.

  • Anybody with passion can be trained.

  • The passion for this industry is very rare.

  • A piece of paper doesn’t guarantee the success of your programme but the passion for the job will pay dividends.

9. What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

  • What is the story of the wine?

  • What can be paired with the dishes from the menu?

  • What is the cost?

  • What price I will sell it and does it give me the GP that I want?

  • Do I get any discount if I list it ‘by the glass’?

  • Is it organic, biodynamic, or sustainable?

10. What is the difference between a sommelier and a wine director?

  • There should be no difference, the wine director doesn’t work on the floor, but a wine director worked as a sommelier, hopefully.

  • The wine director should be an artist regarding the right selection of wines and make sure to get the best possible deals.

  • Define a good sommelier and what qualities you would look for when hiring one

  • A good sommelier should have passion and commitment.

  • Naturally, a good palate and depending on the type of venue where he/she works, to be able to adapt his style and approach.

11. What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of the wine program?

The balance between guest satisfaction and business requirements. When I create a list ‘ by the glass or a wine flight, I try to create an experience for the guest. So from the point of the guest, it should have a wow factor. To create that wow factor we introduced the orange wines with dishes that have an Asian twist, for classic dishes like foie gras we introduced the ice cider etc. From the business point of the view, the GP is higher than if we had to sell those wines by the bottle. Of course, you need to be trained staff to sell and explain everything.

Call for domestic and international submission is now open for London Wine Competition. Enter your wines before 31 August 2024 to get super early bird pricing. Register now and ship later to save.

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