December 20, 2023
Passion makes a Sommelier tick, Says Luigi Conca of Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill
Passion is the most important thing. You can teach other skills to a sommelier if they have the passion to learn. Being a natural salesperson also helps!
Your current place of work
Tell us about yourself
Originally from the Amalfi Coast, I moved to London 8 years ago. My English wasn’t the best, to begin with, so I worked as a casual waiter whilst I was learning. My first job was at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and then I moved to Sky Garden which is where I became really passionate about wine. I was selling so much of it without knowing a great deal of information, so I was keen to soak up any knowledge that I could! I was tasting the wines every day and speaking to as many people as I could to pick up as much information as possible.
Why did you want to become a sommelier?
Selling so much wine whilst working at Sky Garden started me down this road, but I think I was born to do the job. My family back home used to make their own wine, and there’s obviously such a big culture around wine in Italy so it was inevitable! I became more and more passionate about wine every day, feeling a closeness to the product and the people I was selling to. I am immensely proud to share my passion for wine and teach people what I have learned.
What do I look for in a new brand before taking it to my restaurant?
Here at Bentley’s, we sell a lot of wine, so one of the key aspects that I need to prioritize is consistency. We get a lot of people coming in and hoping to try the same thing they had last time – whenever that may be – and they expect it to be as of high quality as ever. It is also important to me that I get to know both the producers and their reps personally, and that we get along. We are essentially colleagues after all!
What sources do you follow to stay on top of industry trends and new launches worldwide?
Drinks Business, Decanter
Image: Luigi Conca
Questions you would ask a customer who doesn't know anything about wine?
The first question would be if they wanted to discover something new vs returning to something familiar. From here we get into details of dry or fruity, light or deep. We also take our food pairings very seriously here, so that also gives a good clue as to what it is they’re after. I also think it is very important to tell people what it is they’re drinking, the history behind the wine, and the reason I’ve chosen it – to help their next sommelier!
What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier?
Passion is the most important thing. You can teach the rest of the skills needed if they have the passion to learn. Being a natural salesman also helps!
How I would train my new staff member in their first 7 days of them joining.
Every wine that gets opened in the building - they are to try! Having a detailed knowledge of the product is the most important start to the job. All our new starters spend a week shadowing one of the senior members of the team, where they can learn how best to interact with our customers. We have tests at the end of each day on everything they've tasted and what has been discussed about them.
What methods do you use to grow wine sales? Please explain with examples.
We try to use exclusivity as a way to increase sales - we work with a lot of suppliers where we are their only restaurant in the country for example, which is all part of a wonderful story you can communicate to sell something that perhaps the customer wouldn't have ordered otherwise. We also strive to have a wide variety of wines on - whatever someone might be in the mood for, we can accommodate!
Image Source: Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill
How do you self-learn and improve your skills?
Tasting as many wines as I can, speaking with as many suppliers and producers as I can, and going to events hosted by producers/suppliers/industry leaders. Making sure to keep up to date on the news too.
What's the best part of your job?
Tasting new wines every day, there is always something new arriving that I've been looking forward to!
How do you elevate the guest experience? Please give 4-5 examples and insights here.
Sharing our passion for the wine and sharing knowledge. If the guest leaves feeling like they've really learned something, or tried something new that they loved, they're going to remember it. Not always up-selling, but offering a slightly different alternative to their usual to try and get them excited about other times of wines. Do you usually order Burgundy? Here are 3 reasons why you'll also love this...
An unforgettable wine experience for you - tell us the whole story!
Going on trips to meet producers is always an unforgettable experience. Being able to see where the wine is made, trying it there, and then, pairing it with local food that it's meant to be eaten with, there is nothing better.
Your favourite restaurant in London right now?
Bentley's, of course! I also spend a lot of time at Radici, they have a great list.