Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Julie Dupouy

Here is my Christmas gift to you guys :-) an interview with Julie Dupouy one of the top young (she is as old as me) lady sommeliers around for the moment. Julie was born in a little French town called Agen (somewhere between Bordeaux and Toulouse), where funny enough didn’t go to hotel management school… Julie only found her passion at age of 16. So you see how your life can sometimes take ‘strange’ turns and that even if you were studying something else….life has something totally different planned for you :-)

It was also not in France, but in Ireland that Julie has build up her career where she has worked in some of the best restaurants like Patrick Guilbaud Restaurant** and The Greenhouse Restaurant* where is currently working as head sommelier. Next to that Julie is also wine consultant both for Horeca as for private people who want trainings, tastings, introductions, etc… in wine.

Julie as also been a buys bee competition wise as besides in 2009 winning the title of Best Sommelier in Ireland she has been 3rd Best Sommelier in the World 2016 (Mendoza-ASI), 8th Best Sommelier in Europe 2013 (Sanremo - ASI) and 15th Best Sommelier in the World 2013 (Tokyo- ASI)… so when I say top leading lady in the world of sommeliers I wasn’t exaggerating I guess? Who knows, maybe she’ll win the title of Best Sommelier of the World in 2019 in Belgium? I’ll keep my fingers crossed (and for our own participant

I must say that I enjoyed reading her answers of which some I was surprised … like that she likes white wines from Santorini. I think I haven’t tried one yet, but I’m sure gonna try one now :-)

Enjoy the read!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I don’t have one but many favorite wine regions to work with and it keeps evolving with my learning process. I love surprising customers and breaking prejudices so at the moment I work with white and red wines from Valle de la Orotova in Tenererife, red wines from Austria and Germany, dry German Rieslings, Madeira wines, white and red wines from Savoie in France, white wines from Santorini, etc.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

I think it first takes passion. If you are not passionate you cannot be a good sommelier. Being a sommelier is not just going to work, write a wine list, recommend and serve wine and once you leave the restaurant, your day of work is over. I think it is nearly more a way of living than a job. You must keep up to date with new information, spend some of your free time visiting vineyards, tasting wine and sharing with other wine lovers as it is the only way to progress.

Another two very important qualities of a good sommelier are humility and communication skills. It is important to be able to convey knowledge with tact and social skills.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Definitely! First of all, at least in Ireland, very few restaurants hire sommeliers. There is a big emphasis on having a great craft beer selection, cocktail selection, interesting, innovative food options, but the wine list is still too often left aside. A lot of wine lists are still selected and written by wine companies selling wines to the restaurants because restaurateurs don’t see the point of paying someone to do it and then to sell these wines. Very few restaurants dedicate the wine and beverage service to one specialized staff member but prefer having the waiters serving everything, and very often they do not even have a basic wine knowledge.

There are still so many basic things which could be improved such as the use of decent glassware, temperature of service, conditions of storage, etc. Wine and the service of wine are too often the fifth wheel of the kart. Restaurateurs don’t realize that in many cases, a better wine list with a proper wine service and wine management can lead to more profit at the end of the year but also to a better customer experience and reputation.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

My grandparents used to make wine for their personal consumption and I remember harvesting with them as a child. I tried wine from a young age, or shall I say I tried water blushed with wine, and it was always the “treat” of the Sunday lunch going to my grandmother’s.

However, I had to wait until my 16th birthday to be allowed a glass of wine. My grandfather had opened a bottle of my year of birth: Chateau Marquis de Terme, Margaux, 1983. I can’t tell you if the wine was good but I was amazed by the idea of a 16-year-old wine. A few days later I went to a job orientation centre and spent a few hours there reading about the different professions in the wine world.... I came back to my parents that evening to tell them I wanted to be a sommelier.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

They are a many people who has been inspiring me since I started working and competing. I entered different national sommelier competitions when I was a student but when I started working in 2002 I started reading about Enrico Bernado’s results at the European competition. I was amazed that someone so young could do so well. He is the person who inspired me to compete at higher level even though I never really met him. Then in 2012, Gerard Basset judged the National Sommelier competition in Ireland and it was an unforgettable encounter. He gave me a few advices during dinner that evening and I will never forget them.

More recently I got to attend to a talk given by Markus del Monego in Barcelona and I was really impressed by his humility, charismas and way of capturing the audience. That was another big lesson for me. I suppose I feel very lucky because I more and more get to meet amazing sommeliers and wine lovers who become source of inspiration for different reasons.

What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?

I generally look at the main component of the dish and then 2 or 3 of the other main tastes, flavors and textures. Then I consider the different options when it comes to pairing: do I pair by matching or balancing? Can I look at a local or classical pairing or shall I suggest something a little more adventurous and original?

Then I suppose it is very important to be able to work closely with the chef and taste because regularly, what works in theory on paper, turns out to not be ideal once you taste it with the food.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

I would suggest to visit the Western Cape in South Africa. The landscape is stunning, the access to wine tasting is extremely easy. Many places would welcome you without booking in advance. The food is delicious and the quality of the wines keeps on improving.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

They are plenty of iconic wines which I never had a chance to taste yet but I think the wine which I would dream the most of tasting is Vosne-Romanée “Cros-Parantoux” by Henri Jayer. I won’t be picky about the vintage!

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

I am afraid I have never been to a hotel management school.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc...?

I think people should go once in their life to Japan and taste as many things as they can. I regret I only spent 5 days there as I would really like to explore the cuisine in more depth. Many flavours and textures are so different to what we are used to it in Europe that it felt I had to calibrate my palate again. It was a little challenging at time but overall it was an incredible experience. I would love to go back and this definitely has to be one of the top priorities on a “to go list” for people looking for an extraordinary culinary experience.

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