Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Gerard Devos
Gerard Devos is a person who just could not miss in my list of sommeliers to put in the spotlight. First of all as he's already member of the Belgian Sommelier Guild since 1984 (I was 1 year old back then :-) )So basically fix value of the Guild and I might even a behind the scenes. Gerard has been for many years part of the technical comity and the person who makes sure ethics and regularity are respected during the completion of Best Sommelier of Belgium. he also judges during many other competitions.
Until recent (he retired) Gerard was the creator of top talent as during his years as teacher in the Hotel management school of Cardinal Mercier lots of his student were finalists or winner during junior and senior wine/food competitions. Basically he's been a inspiration for lots! What I always find wonderful about persons like Gerard is their humbleness and drive to transmit this passion and knowledge to others! No matter how many times he has to explain it or find other words to make it understandable he'll keep going for it :-)
Before teaching Gerard has gained lots of experience working in renowned restaurant and wineries in Belgium and France. As confirmation for his skills Gerard has been awarded many time with time as 'maître Sommelier ' and receiving the 'Prix Lanson. He has also been writing articles for many year in specialized magazines. So never judge a book by its cover!!
I won't keep you waiting any longer. Here is what Gerard has to say on my 10 questions:
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
Without hesitation it are 3 regions I love wokring with. The 3 regions might make different types of wines but they share a mutual philosophy. They make assemblies, very characterized wines and vintages. I'm talking about Champagne, Porto and Jerez. Although I must admit I rediscovered the Austrian wines. I had lost track of them for a while because of the glycol crisis. But I don't mind admitting that after rediscovering them a while ago I became a fan!
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
Having an open mind is I think the first important characteristic one should have. On the other hand not being prejudice , dare to experiment and definitely don't think you're the best and that you know everything are not of a lesser importance.There is always something to learn and discover! He/she should question himself (with regards to wine) towards the customer and listen what he has to say.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
This depends I think of the restaurant you work at. Some are very open minded and do see his added value and therefor give the respect he deserves. A good sommelier can make a positive difference in a restaurant's revenue. On the other hand you also have restaurant owner's who don't see the added value, mostly because they want to economize. So basically Yes and No :-)
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
The passion was already present from a very young age. Even though I was only 8 years old (different times back-then) my parents let me sip and taste the wines they drank . The real BIG passion however came during a fieldtrip with the hotel management school we did to the Champagne region. N I remember it like it was yesterday... We were welcomed by Colonel Bonal (Chairman of the CIVC) at the Briqueterie in Vinay. That day we were served a menu accompanied with the correct Champagnes from which 2 vintages blew me away the Winston Churchill by Pol Roger and the Grande Dame by Veuve Clicquot. Since that day I've never looked back :-)
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
There are many persons who influenced me over the years. The first name that comes to mind would be Louis Havaux who introduced me to the Belgian Guild Of Sommeliers and brought me in contact with many important wine makers and people from the wine world from that time. You also have Eric Boschman with whom I've followed and passed the Maître Sommelier course , great moments of joy and laughter. Last but not least Marc Wattier who back in the day (when I was young ;-) ) was THE reference in the world of sommeliers . (2nd at the contest of Sommelier du Monde in 1989)
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
I've got 2 approaches depending the moment and who I'm with. The first one would be the 'traditional' approach where you'll serve a wine according to the 'force' and taste of a dish. When I'm with wine lovers/amateurs I don't hesitate to look for contradictions or experiment. I sometimes even just put a bottle of red and white wine on the table. like bait for the sharks :-) As I just know this will lead to very interesting discussions about why one or the other is a better match.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
I would recommend the Douro valley as it is simply enchanting (I've had the luck of teaching a class in Porto and visiting the valley until the Spanish boarder). It has the most spectacular landscapes and I recommend travelling through it by train. It's not the only region I recommend, but definitely one of the most memorable.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
'Les plus grands coups de folie' would be a horizontal tasting from all the 'grands crus' from Sauternes and another vertical tasting of Krug et de Veuve Clicquot champagnes. And maybe if possible.. one day ...a vertical tasting of Pingus et Vega Sicilia. My mouth is already watering just by the thought of it.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture
As a teacher the most beautiful moments were the many finalist places of my students during 'junior sommelier' competitions, especially the victories of Christophe Vandam and Xavier Faber! Who on top of that also became Best Sommelier of Belgium afterwards.
As student the many wonderful convivial moments at table and in the basement of the hotel school in Liège with mr Théâtre!!
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
The convivial meal with Jacques Péters, Philippe Thieffry and Yvan Tonneus at the du Marc hotel where everybody brought their preferred bottle of wine to have a blind tasting. I was very happy and proud to introduce them a 20year old Clos Saint Hune that still had a wonderful freshness