Name: Mark Protheroe
At the moment: Australia, Melbourne
Currently: Head Sommelier
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Any particular mentors at that time?
I was lucky enough to start my career in hospitality in 1997 during a wave of new wineries setting up in Beechworth. Producers like Castagna, Savaterre and Battely were in their infancy and there was a buzz around the region. During this period Barry Morey at Sorrenberg was a great mentor, allowing me to come past each Monday on my day off and spend a few hours with him helping around the winery and vineyard. Rick from Gioconda was regularly in the restaurant drinking benchmark examples of wines from around the globe which looking back now, exposed me to some amazing labels that I did not fully comprehend at the time.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with that qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
Humility is often spoken about but rarely encountered. Hard work, persistence and a sense for hospitality are key elements. Working in a restaurant environment needs an empathetic approach to the guests needs that puts aside your own desires and politics. Ronan Sayburn is one person I was lucky enough to work with that had many of these qualities.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e) i.e. Commis Sommelier(e) where to look finding an adequate position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
Don’t rush it! Become a good waiter in a great restaurant, then look to move across to the sommelier role. You can still spend your time learning in a team environment with experienced Sommeliers. If you have access to vineyards and wineries nearby, get to them and often. Listen to what people have to say but use it as impetus to do further research not just digest it as gospel.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what's in your opinion would be the best approach?
Listen to their needs. Find out budget and take on board stylistic likes and dislikes. Use the food and find a way to give the client a unique experience.
What's your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well known brands or are you considering new brands as well and how do you determine?
We use an Australian designed brand called Plumm. We are always looking for the best way to serve wine within the confines of a practical business environment. I would love to be able to use Zalto but can’t seem to find a way to get breakages low enough to make it cost effective. Glasses are important but temperature is even more important and often overlooked.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve. What components of the dish do you want to complement or contrast. Acidity, texture and intensity are the best places to start.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on some ridiculous pricing on wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
The list should match the cuisine, pricing and overall theme of the restaurant. Pricing is often determined by the KPI’s you operate under and report back to the owners and/or management. In order to understand what prices you need to charge, it is important to know what products will be driving the program and find ways to maximise their impact on revenue. Having great supplier relationships that are beneficial to both sides are crucial in delivering the best value product possible to the guest.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
Twitter is a great place for the wine trade. Having a selection of RSS feeds from publications in a number of countries is also handy. With social media information can move so quickly. News of a hail storm on the Cote de Beaune can reach around the globe before the hail melts away.
How would a new vineyard get the attention of someone like you to notice their wine and what's the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
I am always happy to look at new wines. Ensure the story and product is authentic, I don’t need any more ‘noise’ to sort through. Let me assess the wines in my own time (i often place potential new listings against a line-up of their peers).
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
Carignan from Berlou in St Chinian. I am very happy to be left alone to find my bearings and get on with life. I enjoy the warmth but like cool nights. Happy to be near to the Sea but not necessarily within walking distance of the beach. I suspect my best work will happen somewhere after 50 years age.
What are the top 3 types of wine (your faves) would we find in your home wine collection and what's your desert island wine?
Desert island wine would be Pol Roger 1990 Sir Winston Churchill
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platform?
Alquimie magazine is a year old and worth taking a look at it’s first 3 issues*.
GuildSomm is an awesome tool for research and study.
*disclaimer: i have contributed to this magazine and am friends with the owners.
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers - www.sommeliers.at