Even if you know someone well in the trade it’s only if they happened to come for an interview that you get to find out so much about their career, their past experiences and what they could potentially bring to your business. Which is what the Onwards & Upwards series is all about. Giving people a platform to share what they have done in their career. This week the vastly experienced sommelier and wine buyer Guillem Kerambrun talks about his life in hospitality working in some of the best restaurants in the world, experiences he now wants to share through his new consultancy business.
Guillem Kerambrun has stepped back from his last role heading up fine wine at Berkmann Wine Cellars to go it alone with his new MyFrenchSommelier consultancy business. If you would like to share your Onwards & Upwards story then contact Richard Siddle at email@example.com. (Main photograph by Marie de Chesse @mariedechesse).
Can you share your background and how you got into the hospitality and drinks sectors?
I now have 20 years of experience in the wine and hospitality industries across numerous international markets, and alongside major players such as Alain Ducasse and Richard Caring. I was most recently director of fine wine and private clients for Berkmann Wine Cellars, one of the most renowned wine importers in the United Kingdom. Before that I served for two years as group wine buyer and head sommelier for the prestigious restaurant company Caprice Holdings & Birley Clubs.
Before working in London I spent 13 years with the legendary chef and entrepreneur Alain Ducasse as deputy wine director alongside Gérard Margeon with whom he managed, 27 restaurants, 70 sommeliers around the world and selected more than 6,000 wines in eight countries. This experience allowed me to manage the opening of numerous restaurants and organise incredible events worldwide. I was also at this time in charge of the oenological program of the Ducasse Cooking Schools based in Paris.
I then spent two years in New York as general manager of bistro Benoit and global beverage director North America before, in 2016, ending my intense and rich journey with the multi-star chef .
The diversity of the experience I had working for Alain Ducasse, along with the extensive network I have been able to build up, hopefully gives me the essential knowledge and openness needed to be an influential player in the wine industry.
What is it about hospitality that most interests you?
I was considered a complicated child because from a very young age, the vast array of scents, tastes and flavours interested me, I knew what I liked but did not know how to explain it. Of all the drinks, wine is the one where there is the most diversity and subtlety. It is a constantly evolving environment, in which it is imperative to know how to question your level of knowledge in order to remain relevant and interesting.
How did you become a wine buyer?
Within the first six months of beginning of my career at Ducasse, Margeon invited me to the Plaza Athénée and offered me the opportunity to become his assistant as a group deputy wine director. That was impossible to refuse when you haven’t even turned 24 yet …
What have been the key highlights of your career so far?
My experience as a sommelier at the Lemuria Resort in the Seychelles Island or at La Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris were important but it was definitely when I pushed the door of the Ducasse group that my career was launched. I thank of course Richard Caring and Lilly Newell for their trust during my two years at Caprice Holdings & Birley Clubs, but also Rupert and Joseph Berkmann for allowing me to understand what is happening on the other side of the pond with this new tailored position of director of fine wines and private clients.
Why did you enjoy them so much?
The chance to be able to live from your passion is boundless. I have had this opportunity for 20 years and I intend to continue to use it. All my experiences have allowed me to learn from fascinating people who are just as passionate as me.
What have been the biggest challenges you have found in your roles so far?
The decision to move with my wife and my children from Paris to New York and then to London was the most challenging thing for us. But they have each been an experience. Getting out of your comfort zone is not easy but so enriching when you do.
What responsibilities did you have in your last role at Berkmann?
My position at Berkmann also allowed me to understand how to manage a company and its different services. Having the possibility to be involved in marketing, purchasing, budgets, events, strategy or PR was extremely rewarding. My main mission was to build the private clients department and improve the fine wine one.
Berkmann is a fabulous wine distributor for the on-trade with a nice selection of fine wines, but is also much known for its core and middle range wines too. The Berkmann family hired me to reposition the company as one of the most interesting on-trade fine wine distributors, but also brokers for private clients.
Very quickly, we realised it was necessary for me to be involved in all areas of fine wines, from the relationship with the domaines, the PR, marketing, purchasing, finance strategy and, of course, sales.
What did you particularly enjoy working there?
There are stunning wines in their cellar that hardly anyone dared to sell, we’re talking about emblematic Domaines of Burgundy, such as Coche-Dury, Leroy or Mugneret-Gibourg. So imagine when I was given permission to sell them. I made a lot of sommeliers happy. Berkmann’s selection of Bordeaux was almost zero, so I took great pleasure in developing this part of the portfolio.
You have now moved on and set up your own consultancy. Can you explain what you are looking to offer?
I never imagined staying idle. So I decided to start building a website to offer my services – www.myfrenchsommelier.com. Whether in the creation, monitoring and revitalisation of wine programs in hospitality, but also for distributors training waiters or sales teams, coaching sommeliers or restaurant managers. I am also keen to offer my expertise of the UK market for any wine or spirit’s brand looking to distribute here. And, of course, happy to help create and make up cellars for private customers.
You are also looking for a permanent role if the right one comes up. What sort of position are you looking for?
It is important to be pragmatic and if a consulting assignment turns into a full time job then I would certainly take it. I loved my time in distribution, but my roots are in hospitality and it is most certainly in this part of the industry that I would like to return. But rather than take on a position of group head of wine I would like to continue to be in touch with the wine industry overall and consumers.
The world of technology around wine is on the move so I would be interested in that as well. I am currently working on the launch of a private concierge application around wine – VintageCellar – which brings together buying, cellar management and live advice from dedicated sommeliers.
What specific skills and experience do you think you can offer?
I am fortunate to have worked with sommeliers from all over the world and talked about wine with an equally diverse clientele all of which has helped make me very open-minded. I have not lost the rigour of the 3 Michelin stars, or the energy you need to have in a bistro, but I now know how to combine them so as to provide the best guest experience in an efficient and creative way while being profitable on a financial plan.
How would you describe your personality?
The ordeal of this crisis and most certainly having to go through quarantine allowed me to learn, to step back, to ask myself the right questions before making a decision.
As with my choice in music, cinema or art, I am eclectic in my love of wine. I enjoy discovering a Pinot from the Finger Lakes as much as tasting a vertical from a super star in Bordeaux. It’s the same with a brand new French Gin (Melifera) made from helichrysum flower or the diversity of teas from Lalani & Co.
What is your management style?
I like to think I am a good person to work with, rarely have the wrong temperament and am especially keen to help my colleagues make the most of their skills and capabilities. I like to trust them and let them take the initiative. I sit down with them regularly to make sure we are moving in the right direction together.
What do you look for in the people you most like working with and for?
I always take pleasure in working with people who bring me the same sincerity that I can give them. Reciprocity is for me an important driving force in collaboration. Whether in the results, the recognition of a job well done and the communication you have together.
What do you see as being the key skills and assets of a good wine buyer?
We must not stop just at the quality of the product, but take into consideration the entire ecosystem that there is around its production. A good buyer must be interested in all aspects, the economy, geopolitics, history etc.
Who have been your mentors in business through your career and why?
I cannot forget the 13 years of extreme training I was able to have from Alain Ducasse, who was for me more a tutor than a mentor. On the wine side Gerard Margeon, his executive head sommelier whom I assisted for 10 years and Philippe Faure-Brac who has kept a watchful eye on me since our first meeting in 2001. Both are mentors in a much broader spectrum of the term, both professionally and personally.
There is also Jean-François Casanova, chief executive of the Dogus Group who continues to guide me and has done for the last 15 years.
What have been the best most moments working in the wine trade?
There are so many that I don’t know where to start. So many visits to iconic areas to open bottles with clients or friends. Like a bottle of Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru Domaine d’Auvenay 2010 tasted at 11am with an egg benedict, or 94 bottles of Petrus 1999 prepared for a wedding, or an incredible selection of wines from my year of birth (1980) made by the Bernard Family during my first dinner at Domaine de Chevalier.
- If you would like to contact Guillem Kerambrun then you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org and through his website.
- If you are looking for a new role and would like to share your story and your experiences on The Buyer then please contact Richard Siddle on email@example.com.