The Ritz London and champagne house Perrier-Jouët have teamed up to create a one-of-a-kind commis sommelier position, and recruitment is now open.
The idea for the Perrier-Jouët Commis Sommelier position came from a conversation between head sommelier Giovanni Ferlito (pictured, top) and Perrier-Jouët's Tom Quinn, born from the long-standing relationship between the two houses – and Ferlito's feelings that proper training for sommeliers is lacking in the UK.
'We have many schools such as the WSET or the UK Sommelier Association that are really good in giving basic knowledge on sommelier aspects, but not really from a service point of view,' Ferlito told Imbibe. He added that the catering schools of Italy and France were better at providing practical training, rather than theoretical knowledge.
He continued: 'I experienced this myself last year: it was quite hard to find a commis sommelier who was already trained. I'm not expecting someone fully professional, ready to go take the orders at the table, but at least someone who knows how to move in a fine dining environment, how to do mise en place, how to organise their daily tasks.'
The position, which is now open for applications and is expected be filled by March, is a paid one-year contract. The successful candidate will join the seven-strong Ritz sommelier team and take on a number of operations and service duties, along with some specific social media responsibilities. They will take part in in-house training in wine and service but also in other internal trainings with the hotel, in aspects such as IT and health and safety.
Additionally, they will spend five weeks in Champagne with Perrier-Jouët, spending time with cellar master Hervé Deschamps, but also learning more about winemaking and visiting the vineyards.
Jonathan Simms, UK ambassador for Perrier Jouët, said: 'As a quality-driven champagne house we are keen to support training within the hospitality industry. Aware of the need for more opportunities for sommeliers in the UK, Champagne Perrier-Jouët decided to create this bespoke role with The Ritz, where we are incredibly proud to serve our cuvées.'
Ferlito's main aim with this is to give a young, largely inexperienced sommelier the chance to train in a top-end fine dining environment and, crucially, learn service the Ritz way. He said they would take away a very precise attention to detail, have the opportunity to work 'with an exciting team of sommeliers who have a lot of knowledge to share', and mostly, would learn to engage with customers in a personalised way.
Life of a sommelier
This comes as The Ritz recently launched a new wine list, adding 150 bins to a now near 800-strong list. That's a way to attract the younger generation into the world of sommelierie, Ferlito said. 'It was a great wine list, but it needed a bit more balance. We refreshed it; I didn't take any wines off, but we added new regions, new wines and some crazy stuff.' The craziest probably being orange wine, but he says customers are loving it. 'It's working because it's available by the glass – and people are very curious.'
Reacting to our columnist Hamish Anderson's most recent article on the evolving role of the sommelier, Ferlito said he doesn't believe the sommelier position will go away. 'It's not about the wine list – it's about the experience,' he said. 'I hear that some places are now using iPad wine lists instead of sommeliers. I understand the idea but you miss the personal engagement. The most important thing when you sell wines is not money, it's to tell a story.'
The most important thing? To go out to wine regions and meet producers. 'I went to Hungary and when I came back I was selling Tokaj to every single table!' Ferlito is hoping the commis sommelier will have the opportunity to travel at least once with one of the Ritz's suppliers.
And while this is a one-year position, there's potential for more. 'There is a lot of opportunity to grow in the team if they're willing to learn and follow the leadership,' said Ferlito. His current deputy sommelier, Matteo Montone, started out as a commis just two years ago.
The ideal candidate will have basic wine knowledge (circa WSET Level 1 or 2) and good social media skills, experience in a fine dining environment would be welcome, and the candidate should be willing to travel and to learn. Applications are now being accepted via The Ritz's website, and will be open until 4 March.