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What it takes to be a sommelier, according to Spanish icon Josep Roca

The emotional factor, says El Celler de Can Roca’s sommelier, plays a crucial role too “because when we propose a wine, we also propose part of our personality”

Photo courtesy of Madrid Fusion

Considered a pioneer in the world of food and beverage alongside his brothers Joan and Jordi, Josep Roca is a heavyweight when it comes to the study and appreciation of wines. But, as we found out during an exclusive sit-down interview with the middle brother at the 2019 Madrid Fusion, there’s more to being a sommelier than just wading through wineries and visiting vineyards. Turns out, personality is a pivotal mark of the often-misunderstood profession.

What’s the best way to educate someone about wine?

[Usually] I think it’s in the academy to understand it better but for me it’s not necessary this way. For me the best idea is to go to the wineries and vineyards to understand wine.

Is there an alternative to that if you don’t have access to vineyards and wine growers?

The best idea I would propose is to go to the academy [smiles]. We have different options in Catalonia, Madrid and different parts of Spain. But after this part of the basic knowledge, I think [you should go] to different parts of the globe and understand different latitudes and speak with different people from various cultures beyond the wines.

For someone who wants to start a wine menu, what makes a great wine list? What are your best tips or advice?

Depends on different factors. It’s important to understand where the restaurant is and what style of cuisine [is being offered] and the situation of the restaurant… It’s not the same in the coast or in the mountains.

So there’s no formula?

No, it depends on a lot of different questions. It’s possible to be more poetic in the selection or base it on amplitude or be more iconoclast or eclectic about the selection but it’s not the same in the country or in the forest or in the city. With the fruit probably organic is more [ideal].

It’s important to understand the atmosphere behind every table with every customer and with every moment.

A sommelier isn’t just an expert at wine but it’s a role that involves interacting with guests to create a good dining experience and the chefs to craft a strong menu. Do you think there is a certain personality required in order to become a sommelier?

Yes, I think empathy, generosity, and also the capacity to understand and the ability to listen to people [are crucial]. And also probably a little knowledge about wine [laughs]. I think when we speak about the personality of the sommelier, normally the main concept is their expertise but for me it’s not the only thing that makes a a good sommelier. The emotional factor [plays a part too] because when we propose a wine we also propose part of our personality. So it’s necessary. It’s important to understand the atmosphere behind every table with every customer and with every moment.

How has your job changed in the last few years? Has it remained the same?

We opened in 1986 with only three people in the restaurant and now we have 25 persons working for 55 customers. We have six sommeliers in my team. A big team working with this part of the dedication, changing a lot in different process. But it’s the same. To show this part of culture, this part of the warm atmosphere.

Have you seen stronger evidence of more people appreciating wine now compared to before?

Yes of course. When I started, the first sommelier school was in Girona in 1984, the first sommelier certification was in Girona then in Madrid and Barcelona but after 30 years, all of these are changing. Now we have different options [o receive evaluations and certifications in London and in different parts of the world. And now it’s possible to look at sommeliers from more global concepts.

Why aren’t there more female sommeliers?

It’s a question of time. Because now the sommeliers aren’t just in the restaurants. It’s more open. Journalism, wine tourism, promotions, supermarkets, TV and media. It’s growing.

What wine trends are you most excited about?

Probably [those that are] more close to the earth or soil, to energy, to the health of the soil and also Acustic wines [from the small producers] with more sustainability. And natural wines as well.

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