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Time to put the legends in the spotlight: Louis Havaux

It is always great to be able to do interviews with sommeliers from accross the globe, sometimes we are lucky enough to even interview legendary sommeliers like Louis Havaux, who is often called the 'father' of sommeliers because of his long life support towards sommeliers (and wine in general) around the globe.

Louis Havaux during the Jurade in Saint-Emilion

Louis Havaux is a man of many talents who started his career at his family's professional printing company Havaux of which he eventually also became CEO. It wasn't until joining the Belgian Sommelier Gilde that his intrest for wine started growing to a point that a life without the wine would seem unpossible. In the 1983, when Louis was organizing the very first "Mondial du Vin de Bruxelles, only months before the planned ASI Best Sommelier of the World contes in France, the treasurer in office disappeared with the money from the treasury. Louis immediatly proposed them a solution to host it at the Mondial du Vin de Bruxelles. The Belgian Guild even advanced the membership fee of France for them to be able to participate... funny enough it was also one of the Frenchmen who won the competition that year (Jean-Luc Pouteau). Therefore the real first 'Mondial de vin de Bruxelles was held 1 year later in 1984. Next to that he was also founder of "Salon de la gastronomie, Megavino (1998) - the largest wine Expo's in Belgium ) and of course since 1994 the "Concours Mondial de Bruxelles".

Louis, Alain Demol, le professeur de Bordeaux Pascal Ribéreau  Gayon, le journaliste Française Claude Journo et Jean-Luc Pouteauu

Louis has also always enjoyed writing about wine and spirits initially as a journalist, afterwards as editor, chief editor and eventually founder of a very important and well known wine and spirits magzine in Belgium Vinopres/ DMvino. It doesn't stop yet, he is also vice-president and founder of FIJEV (International Federation of Wine and Spirit Journalist and Writers), for about 8 years presenter of various television programs and documentaries on wines and spirts from around the globe, including “Millésimes” at RTB.F, RTL-TVI (in Belgium) and TV5 (worldwide). Wait for it, not finished yet, he's also been Belgian Chancellor of the Jurade of Saint-Emilion since 1986.... and to think I've only mentioned a handfull of the MANY things he during his life!!

Obviously not forgetting to mention that he's been a very devoted member and board member (for over 25years) of the Belgian Sommelier Guild since 1975.

What can be admired from Louis is the fact that after all his amazing and sometimes world changing accomplishments he kept his 2 feet on the ground and always kept supporting others with the same passion and dedication as in the beginning of his career. We thank him for all of this support!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

All of them :-)

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

A good sommelier’s love for wines must be a passionate love!! Next to that, he must be curious to discover original wines, be informed. Visits, books, tastings, TV shows, meet professional, etc... Have very regular contact with cooks to keep themselves informed and to study special wine pairings. Meet the winegrowers and producers on the spot, because there is always at least one man or woman behind the label. He must be a "shrink" and reserved when dealing with customers. It is not he who should be valued, but the wines he serves!

Taste as often as possible to acquire an indispensable ‘gustative’ memory (can be learned and must be maintained) but with wisdom and rigour. It is a permanent training.

I have noticed that there are very few "alcoholic" sommeliers in this profession, which is nevertheless full of temptations. This is fortunate.

I have very often noticed how important it is for the sommelier to be happy in his private life. You need an indispensable understanding (shared and accepted) for a demanding profession. You need to be "two" in order to commit yourself and develop in this profession.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Very often the sommelier is underestimated". Hence, the importance of taking part in sommelier competitions, preferably obtaining a title or recognition, a certificate based on one's knowledge. The same applies if he is invited to a major international competition. If he is accepted, he will have a special relationship with the sommelier, because the selection process is very rigorous.

In order to promote the participation of sommeliers in the "great international wine competitions" (I was co-founder of this association) I was the first, often against the opinion of certain organisers at the time (notably among oenologists) to admit their presence I am proud of it! It has changed a lot. Ask my friend Jacques Orhon...from Quebec

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

My passion for wines came when joining the Gilde and during my oenology courses. Before that, I was interested in wine like most Belgian bourgeois families who owned a cellar that was indispensable for the way of living in Belgium on all occasions (at that time) …

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

Impossible to say, but I can tell you in all modesty that I have met many people that get my admiration and from who I have learned a lot…

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

My approach to associating wines with dishes is to analyse (before) if possible with the chef. Above all, balancing out to bring out the perfect harmony between the two.

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

My first thought would be Saint-Emilion, the Valais, but the majority of vineyards are located in the most beautiful landscapes in the world. How to choose between them...

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

I have never tasted the Cheval Blanc 1947, so maybe …who knows, maybe someday :-)

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

My greatest memories in tastings would be those of the European Grand Jury (of François Mauss) for more than 10 years (since 1996) I have really tasted the most wines in the world (without exception, it's crazy!). In Asia (Le Raffles in Singapore), USA (Bellagio in Las Vegas), France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany ... (with B. Burtschy, M. Bettane, T. Desseauve, A. Duhr, O. Poussier, St. Derenoncourt, E. Bernardo, Ph. Bourguignon, Tan Kah Hin, M. Rolland, A. Dutournier…).

What can you tell us about the 1983 ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest?

From the 7 countries of the ASI, we welcomed 16 (32 finalists)! With hindsight, it was the triumph of the sommelier profession and the opportunity to support the ASI and its revival for a recognition of the profession of sommelier. In fact, I was told that the ASI really took off after this (I’m very proud that I could be part of this)... All the following years have each time been more spectacular and today well known across the globe .... We have received ambassadors and personalities from the world of wine ... (Chile, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, South Africa...). We have organised visits to various regions of their country. The closing dinner by the Hilton of Rome was unreal and one of those things one will never forget. After the competition, there was a trip foreseen all to the Champagne region. The sky was the limit.

My colleague, the French journalist Claude Journo, helped me a lot with his contacts in France. Alain Demol was also very active especially in the smooth running of the competition with the Portuguese President F. Conçalvès (very authoritarian). We were also very happy to have Giuseppe Vaccarini as a guest, as he was the Champion in the previous edition in 1978 held in Portugal.

It speaks for itself that in a competition there can only be 1 winner and during the 1983 World Championship it was Frenchman Jean-Claude Poutea who to my modest opinion was the best by far. Second place went to José Brito Fernandez from Portugal and 3rd place was for our very own candidate Herman De Dapper from Belgiu. There was also a big turn-up from journalists from all over the world. In France there was even a very famous TV programme "Incroyable mais vrai" that got dedicated entirely to Jean-Claude Pouteau, who blindly and without making a mistake recognised a dozen of different wines live on TV. A true revolution at that time.


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