Mikaël Grou, France
Gaggenau: How did you begin working with wine?
Mikaël Grou: I was studying hospitality in France because I wanted to be a chef. Then I met a teacher on the course who was also a sommelier and he really gave me the passion for the job.
Gaggenau: What was it that he did that made you change course?
MG: His enthusiasm about wines and all the job’s elements was infectious. He said to be a good sommelier, you have to know how to act on the floor as it’s a performance, and know the whole theatre around the wine. He pushed me to go to the right places, like Le Cinq in Paris, where I stayed for seven years, starting as a trainee and ending as assistant head sommelier.
Gaggenau: What makes a great sommelier?
MG: You have to have humility – no one knows everything. Also, being able to really taste the wine properly and break down every detail and the appellation of the vintage. You have to understand your guests, and explain the taste and colour and budget of wine. And all within a very quick time because more often than not, you’ll probably be in a busy restaurant or bar.
Gaggenau: What does this award mean to you?
MG: Representing my home country in an international competition is something I’ve always thought about – it’s really special. I’ve represented Australia before because I was working over there, so had their flag behind me in a competition, but being able to do it for France is amazing.
Gaggenau: What advice would you give to a sommelier starting out?
MG: Exactly the same as a chef: start your career by listening and studying, not just doing competitions. There are many ways to study – one of the best is to visit the vineyards and to start at the bottom. Whether you work in a no Michelin-star restaurant or a royal palace, it’s important to understand that being a sommelier isn’t just taking orders and pouring bottles. It’s more about taking time to really listen to guests and the head sommelier.
Gaggenau: What does wine mean to you?
MG: When I think about it, I love the historical aspect – the monks who identified the best terroirs and cru. Can you believe they did that without any technology long ago and we still have the same borders and areas today? Whether it’s from the new world or not, the technology still hasn’t changed. For me, wine is always about the stories, elements and people behind a glass. In fact, it’s everything but the liquid!