Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Pascaline Lepeltier
New York New York :-) yes indeed that's where our next top sommelier is from. The sommelier first sommelier I'm putting in the spotlight in 2017 is Pascaline Lepeltier head sommelier of the Rouge Tomate in Chelsea (New York) who grew up in in a little town in the Loire Valley. So it won't come as a surprise that she is a big Loire Valley wine ambassador and deeply in love with Chenin grapes... who could blame her ;-) :-) :-) (I'm also became a big fan after my bike trip through the Valley with Interloire)
What I find very special about Pascaline is that she actually has a master diploma in philosophy and has been a teacher at university..; so not your average Sommelier profile I'd say? right? Although I'm sure the philosophy could be useful when trying to understand customers ;-) Nevertheless Pascaline has walked a fine path career wise. One important step in this career was without any doubt working for Jacques Thorel in his 2 Michelin awarded restaurant L’Auberge Bretonne. Although being trained by the one and only Eric Beaumard from George V' Le Cinq sounds a chance not given to many people :-)
At young age Pascaline was also named “Best Loire Valley Young Sommelier”, “Best Brittany Sommelier" and was finalist (2nd place) during the 2008“Best Sommelier of France” competition. She also has a degree as Master Sommelier. A little bird also told me that she was a very important mentor of current Best Sommelier of the World Arvid Rosengren.
A year after her 2nd place she made the move to the other side of the Atlantic where she started working as sommelier for the Michelin awarded American branch of the Belgian restaurant Rouge Tomate (formerly owned by Belgian Emmanuel Verstraeten) . The little spare she has, she spends writing for French epicurean guides Fleurus and Gault Millau. So my next question would be if she ever has time to relax? :-) Then again when you do something with passion is feels less like an effort...
Feast your eyes on her interview :-) Enjoy!!
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
The Loire region, over and over again. The most complex, vast, underrated, ageworthy - endless it is, and especially now with all the energies coming from the organic, biodynamic, natural movement. It is also so human, and humble.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
the sense of service, being first here for the guest, the restaurant and the team. Humility - you can't know everything, and great bottles are not necessarily famous labels. Patience - it is a lifetime passion
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Today, I think it is over-valued, compared to either other restaurant positions (like GM, or chef, or even captain) and to the winemakers themselves.
We don't create anything, we don't save life.... So the intense focus by the press is a little too much. I am not saying it was not important at one point, as the guests and the public could finally the profession - and it was deserved, and necessary. But today it because too much... we are no star, unless our choices lead to have an impact on the farming, a certain economy, ecology, etc. If we are active buyers with an ethic, then our job takes a whole other dimension, and we can help, as part of a chain, to build a more sustainable world for the future.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
When I decided to stop (momentarily) my philosophy studies - I found wines in my mid-twenties, and the wine world gave me a practical, tangible field I could explore 'ad vitam eternam' like philosophy, but without my head in the sky... but with my feet on the ground. My life changing bottle was Yquem 1937 - that day, I decided to become a sommelier.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Josep Roca - what he achieved at El Celler de Can Roca is an immense example for me. Decades of patient work, exploration of all the aspect of the wine world, tremendous respect for the producers, and the same kindness, humility, today, as he overlooks the cellar of one of the very best restaurant in the world - giving back to the society, by teaching at the local school, providing jobs to the local communities, developping program of nature preservation in Catalunya, being a Ambassador of Good Will by the United Nations. He is an extraordinary sommelier, a master on the floor and on tasting, and one of the nicest person I know.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
I work first in structure - structure of my dish (savor, texture) and structure of my beverage (alcohol, acidity, tannins, gas, sugar). If I want to be safe, they will match, or one element of the wines will balance one of the dish (fat and acid, spice and sugar, etc etc). I like the idea of complex wine, simple dish, and vice versa - no competition. I also need to know if I want to showcase more the dish, or the beverage, as it is very hard to have both shine at the same time. Once I have my balance in structures, I will look for the aromatics - they always come second. For example, a scallop 'crudo' with white truffle will call for high acid, pristine, salty wine probably a little age on it, like a mature champagne, while the same dish with a yuzu broth added will probably called for high acid, pristing, salty but more exuberant, floral, like a dry aged Riesling.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
So many regions - one is impossible - all of them, because usually where there are vineyards, there are beautiful landscapes and great food.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
It would not be a wine, it would be a Chartreuse from the early time of Tarragona.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
My first harvest with my mentor and a vigneron that will soon to become a dear friend and which whom I will make wine.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
Harvesting, sharing the harvest lunch with a bottle of wine, tasting the first juice out of the press, be part of something millenial, going back to a certain idea of community....