On lockdown: Matteo Bernardi, sommelier

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

14 May 2020

We virtually caught up with Matteo Bernardi, sommelier of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Calandre near Padua, Italy, to talk smiles as uniforms, dusty books, and special-occasion wines

Lockdown and social distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic mean that most hospitality professionals across the globe are now spending their time at home.

To understand how they're coping with the challenge we've launched a brand new series of interviews. For the ninth in this series, we virtually caught up with Matteo Bernardi, sommelier of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Calandre near Padua, Italy.

When will restaurants reopen in Italy?

Italy is currently at the beginning of the so-called ‘stage two’: many businesses are reopening apart from a few sectors. As of 1 June all businesses should reopen, including restaurants.

There have been talks, recently, about a potential earlier date, but it’s just hypothetical.

What effect will the pandemic have on hospitality, and what are the possible solutions?

For now we can only make assumptions about how this pandemic will change our industry. We hear so many theories that I don’t feel I can speculate much, but we will have to focus more on quality, for sure.

Service, undoubtedly, will have to adapt… for the sake of everyone’s safety. And after all this distancing, we’ll need to find new ways to generate warmth, to make people feel welcomed… In the first period masks will be covering the smiles of those who work in restaurants, those whose smiles are part of the uniform.

What about the wine sector?

In these weeks I’ve had the opportunity to hear different perspectives from within the wine industry. It’s a sector that has experienced a significant slowdown in sales [as] the on-trade is such an important outlet [over here].

In the first period masks will be covering the smiles of those who work in restaurants, those whose smiles are part of the uniform.

Fortunately, it’s not the only source of revenues: many reinvented themselves and started selling to private customers. The pandemic caused public places to close but didn’t quench our thirst.

How is this crisis affecting your life, and those of other people in hospitality?

I miss my job, I miss contact with people. The pandemic has changed the meaning of the question ‘how are you?’, making it more real.

Fortunately, no one in my family was touched by this virus, but I often hear of acquaintances who haven’t been so lucky.

Having said that, it’s the financial side that creates the most issues. Furloughs, in most cases, have not been paid yet. This has left many families with no income whatsoever for two months.

How did you spend your time during the lockdown?

I would have loved to do a thousand things. Instead though, I dedicated all my time to my family. Together with my wife, we tried to help our four-year-old daughter get through the lockdown as she was the most affected by having to stay indoors [Italy has been on full lockdown, with no going out allowed for several weeks until 4 May].

Furloughs, in most cases, have not been paid yet. This has left many families with no income whatsoever for two months

At the beginning of the lockdown I put three books on my bedside table… they’re still there getting dusty. Some games, movies, a little exercise, chats from balcony to balcony… these are the activities that kept me busy.

The positive thing is that perhaps social distancing has brought us a little closer.

Within the Alajmo Academy project we organize meetings on Zoom to explore the world of spirits and wine. We contacted friends, producers and distributors, who joined in to talk about what they do, their life, their lands.

It’s a great means to keep studying and to keep in touch. We started this training course almost by chance, but as it developed it's seen the participation of the likes of Gaja, Gravner, Bertani, Dr Loosen, Tortochot and Quinta do Noval.

What wines have you been drinking during the lockdown?

I had so many wines I had set aside for special occasions which never seemed to arrive. During the lockdown, every opportunity was good.

I’m tasting a variety of things and I enjoy making food from the wine I want to drink. I mainly drink Italian to do my part to help the industry, but also something foreign because if we all drunk our own wine and nothing else, there would be no exports. My thirst allows me to do no wrong to anyone.

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