The Buyer
Mattia Scarpazza: what life’s like for a sommelier in lockdown

Mattia Scarpazza: what life’s like for a sommelier in lockdown

If there is one consolation from the Covid-19 lockdown it’s the fact we are all sharing the same experiences and finding ways to get used to what has quickly become the norm for both our working and family lives. Then for thousands of people in the wine, drinks and hospitality sectors there is no working life at all, as so many businesses have put their staff on furlough. The past few weeks have been particularly challenging for those restaurant and bar staff who spend so much of their time together, working as finely tuned teams running service, on their feet, for long hours, often six, if not seven days a week. Here Mattia Scarpazza, head sommelier at Petersham Nurseries, shares his experiences of life in lockdown and what he is doing to keep himself active, both in body and in mind.

Mattia Scarpazza
4th May 2020by Mattia Scarpazza
posted in Opinion,

Here Matttia Scarpazza gives his personal perspective on what it’s like being in isolation as a sommelier and shares his and others general advice on how to get through it.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, everything has changed for me and many other people in the hospitality business. I have collected my personal ongoing experiences of the lockdown and how I’m adapting to it all. Friends and colleagues have also shared some of their thoughts.

Adapting to this new normality of being isolated at home has been extremely challenging. Like many of us, I am used to being on my feet most of the day, chatting with co-workers and customers about wine and going to wine tastings. Oh, how I miss tastings! Sometimes, admittedly, there are so many that it’s overwhelming, but now nothing is happening.

The new emptied agenda was the most frightening thing. I knew that I could easily fall into the temptation of sitting on the sofa and scrolling through Instagram stories for hours, whereas I’d normally spend mornings and evenings studying, writing and reading. Thankfully, I still do and now I have the opportunity to do it throughout the day. This meant accepting that my body wasn’t used to sitting and staring at a laptop for more than two days in a row. By the third day, I couldn’t take it anymore, the headaches and eye strain were so unbearable. I decided that it was a good idea to insert some physical activities into the day.

Yoga is one that works for me and my fiancée, who is working from home. Doing sport does help to release some of the energy that we would usually consume during our working hours. Options are available on YouTube, but I personally like Yoga with Adriene.

Sara Rossi, head sommelier of Trinity in Clapham, south London , who is taking this time to focus on her studies, says: ‘Every evening, I plan my next day.I’ll plan to study Bordeaux for four hours, and I decide that I will run 4 km’. She has also suggested creating a study group to help both with learning and to keep morale up.

Having a routine

When the lockdown was imposed in Italy 10 days before that in the UK, I spoke to my family and friends, who told me that, with hindsight, they wouldn’t have done their chores as haphazardly and as fast as they did; rather they would have organised them over a longer period.Scheduling a weekly plan for me has proven essential to be ensure that everything has its dedicated time.

There is still time to think and plan. Invest time to learn how to use your calendar effectively. Spending time organising your days helps to provide a sense of satisfaction when scratching off items from the list. I found that many hospitality workers are subconsciously sticklers for routines, with most restaurants run in military fashion.

Planning is an essential skill to master for work too. Valentin Rodasav, head sommelier of Gymkhana, says: ‘Be productive, make a plan for your future and look at what skills you need to achieve it. These could be managerial, communication or team building – skills that can help with your confidence and which sommeliers, managers or tradespersons need in order to succeed in the future.” Valentin is looking at ways to help his fellow workers, whilst providing layoff advice and consultancy to them.

Gymkhana sommelier Valentin Radosav says this is a good time to be honing and improving your sommelier and wine skills

The uncertainty

Monty Python’s Eric Idle may have been able to ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ but finding the bright side in these difficult times is harder than ever with so many uncertainties and gloomy prospects. I have woken up on many nights thinking about how to pull through, what the future will be like, and what the impact will be on me and all the people in the trade and around me. I keep telling myself: ‘It’s only two or three months. I can make it. I can invest this time to develop myself, and all my ideas for the future.’

Some positive thinking and some wine seem to be helping. Seriously, my cellar stocks have plummeted. Thankfully suppliers are helping with home delivery and special discounts for trade people. Don’t overuse them, think about your finances, I repeated it to myself at times over these last weeks!It is worth checking with your workplace to find out who your suppliers are and if anyone is doing any deal.

During quarantine, I have been cooking more than usual and enjoyed doing pairing, notably a roast lamb with roast potatoes and garden herb seasoned beetroot paired with a rather young Chiara Boschis’ Barolo ‘Cannubi’ and beef and portobello lasagne with goat’s milk bechamel matched to ‘Envínate’, Lousas Viño de Aldea.

It’s not surprising Mattia is missing life at work as head sommelier at Petersham Nurseries, one of the prettiest as well as one of the best restaurants in London

Many chefs are showing how to replicate their best plates at home. Benjamin Thornton-Smith, Petersham Nurseries’ sommelier, says: “I’ve cooked dishes from chefs that I follow on social media and seeing how each cooking technique, spice and ingredient integrates, helps me understand better what wines I can pair with it, and it’s fun.”

Thinking of family

My family lives in the worst-hit area of Italy, and they never miss the opportunity to remind me to stay home and that neither of us can travel if anything happens. I have chills every time I think about it. Many people have succumbed to the virus in the surrounding villages and sometimes I wish I could just go and see my family, but it not possible. I hardly ever leave the house, but I know that at least I’m healthy and my family and friends are too. I have to say that possibly everything is offset by the fact that I finally get to spend quality time with my fiancée and she is happy too.

I suppose many hospitality workers do have a similar joy to be able to spend time at home with loved ones. If they are far away there are many ways to feel close to them. Imagine what it would have been like if we didn’t have the means of communication that we have now!

Find something to focus on, look for your drive and decide what you want to achieve from this special time. Speak to friends, family, neighbours through the fence or even strangers on social media. Remember, we all are in the same boat.

  • If you would like to share your life and experiences in lockdown and how you are keeping busy and motivated then contact Richard Siddle at