The following sommelier I want to introduce to you is Serbian top sommelier Đurđa Katić. Đurđa proves once again that the world of sommeliers is not only a ‘male’ world, but that more women are finding their way to this wonderful job. Technically speaking they are also better sommeliers as they have a better smell and tasting pallet. What makes Serbia extra special for us in Belgium (especially in the sommelier world) is that this is where we got elected to host the 2019 ASI Sommelier World Championships :-)
Already at young age Đurđa came in contact with wine at her grandfather’s Dalmatian vineyard where she used to help out a lot (a highlight during the many years of war in the area). You could see it as wine chose her and not the other way around :-) Đurđa graduated at the Faculty of technology in Novi Sad, indeed nothing wine related… Coming from a war zone her first objective was to finish her studies, which she did and after University she decided to follow her ‘heart’ and that wanted to learn more about wine and the world sommeliers and registered herself at a Belgrade-based sommelier school.
The biggest influence in her career as sommelier was working at the famous Belgrade restaurant Madera where she learned lots about wine sales, making wine lists and o be a good psychologist and to be able to estimate her guests' profiles :-). After a few years of experience Đurđa decided the turn a different direction and start working as sales manager at the Milijan Jelić winery that is based in Valjevo.
Đurđa confirmed and showed how big her motivation is for being a sommelier by winning the national sommelier competition 2 times in a row . Not only did she participated on National level, she also represented Serbia during International competitions with very satisfying results and a big recognition for herself, but also for her country.
Today Đurđa works as wine consultant , winemaker, promoter of Serbian wines, judge during National and International wine and sommelier competitions and vice president of the Serbian Sommelier Association. The thing Đurđa tries to achieve with all her jobs is recognition and motivating (and giving them opportunities) young people in her country and learning them wine is not only for the rich people.
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
It is hard to pick just one. When you limit yourself to just one favorite wine or favorite region you put yourself in a 'danger' zone of not progressing and exploring anymore in your profession. My character makes me feel unsatisfied and I'm always pushing myself to explore more and more
I love Tuscany because the strength of the terroir is so impressive. The same for Bordeaux, not to mention the Loire Valley or Russian River Valley. Wines from Georgia are very exciting made with rare grape varieties you can only find in the Balkan.
I like to work with wines from regions that express originality and character of grape, soil and climate no matter where they are from.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
Great knowledge in wine would come on the first place. But only knowledge is not enough. You have to be well educated and informed in basic everyday culture and be polite. Have good energy in what you are doing. Exercise as much as you can. Physical strength and good condition is very important because being a sommelier can be very hard and exhausting job. Be elegant and stylish. Be brave to create new styles in wine service and food pairing. Explore the wine world wide and create the wine list according to it. Offer new and different experience to your customers and make them to want more.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
In Serbia we promote(d) the profession of sommelier in a great way in a last 15 years. Much more people are following sommelier courses all over the country and wine educated people are working in the restaurants now, but it is still a rare thing that restaurants that have employed sommeliers . Much more then 10 years ago, but still not enough! Usually sommeliers are combining both the job as waiter and as sommelier.
We still have to work on promoting the profession so the restaurant owners (at all levels) see sommeliers as a must have just like they have to hire waiters or bartenders . For those who are working as a sommeliers right now, they are valued correctly.
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
Probably since I was born. I was born in a wine region and my family owned a small vineyard and produced wine every year. But the real passion started when I went to college for winemaking courses and sommelier courses where I discovered all the magic of the wine world. I Instantly knew that this was THE job for me! Initially during my years in college it was my hobby and as the time was passing by I was more and more involved in the wine-sommelier world and leading to following and organizing more wine tasting, wine workshop etc... So a hobby that got out of hand ;-)
In 2008 I won National sommelier competition in Serbia and my life changed overnight. Everything was focused on wine. I was the firs lady who won this competition and it put a lot of attention on me. I was getting lots of invitations from the wineries, restaurants and wine fairs as well as a lot of business offers came overnight. Sometimes I have feeling that this profession had chosen me more than I had choses the profession :-).
Now, I am 10 years in a wine business and would never change it for anything. It is hard but amazing profession.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Enrico Bernardo was my role model. When I was preparing myself for the European and World competitions I watched Enrico’s competition video from when he became world champion over and over again. I think I have watched every scene for thousand of times and practiced it in a front of the mirror.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
Besides the basic rules about food and wine pairing, although I am always looking to do 'terroir' pairing as well. Basically pairing local food with local wines.
Once I did an experiment about food and wine pairing according to their colors, and trust me it has a sense. Finding connections in temperature of food and level of alcohol in wine are connected to.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Serbia of course. We have a lot of diversity to offer to any wine lover or professional. Interesting local grape varieties, different wine regions and what I am very proud of, great wines created by young winemakers.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
This is very strange question. All I want to taste always finds a way to me :-) No sacrifices needed.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
I have never gone to a professional hospitality school. I graduated college for wine making. But, I remember when I was on a sommelier course, I was studying like crazy. I fell in love with wine on the first sight, Every day when I finished my classes I went to wine shops to buy wines from specific regions. All money I had I spent on wines, I ran out of money very fast... but the reward came very soon. My heart was so full of joy first time I have recognized on blind tasting the variety and region where the wine came from.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?