Arnaud Bardary is a Master Sommelier, wine judge, and currently group sommelier at Black Sheep Restaurants in Hong Kong. Born in Jura, Bardary comes from line of winemakers in his family – both his grandfather and uncle produce wines under the iconic Chateau Chalon appellation, regarded as the unofficial Grand Cru for the revered Vin Jaune wines in the Jura region. His studies in catering and wine led to extensive travelling and working around many places in France and the world, including wineries in Gaillac and Pernand Vergelesses. He has sommed at a number of notable establishments, including five years as head sommelier of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant, managing a team of 14 people. We invite Arnaud to share his broad experience in wines and hospitality and also talk more about his travels with us.
1. How was it like growing up in Jura? What were your fondest memories and has it led to you wanting to promote the wines from this region more?
Even though I was born in Jura (Lons Le Saunier to be exact) I moved a lot, following my parents who worked in the F&B industry. I travelled to Orleans, Le Mans and Les Sables d’Olonne, all of those cities along the Loire Valley wine region.
My deepest memories are and always will be based in Jura, where my grandfather owned a tiny plot of vines. At a very young age I would already follow the family harvesting in Chateau Chalon. I can still remember my grandfather bottling his Savagnin, as well as the tastings comparing vintages as old as 1875 Chateau Chalon.
This naturally led me to promote the wines from the Jura area even before they were recognised as they are now. I really like the biological ageing in these wines, the long aftertaste it gives and their complex aromas.
2. You’ve moved around a lot for your studies and your career. Even within France you have lived in places such as Le Mans, Nice, Toulouse and Gaillac. Could you tell us more about your travels and what you have enjoyed about the different places you’ve lived in?
Each time I moved, it was indeed to study and complete my diploma. First in Le Mans, then Nice where I achieved my ‘BTS Diploma’ and in Toulouse where I specialized in wine.
Each region has a different culture, history, architecture, gastronomy and wines. I guess you shape your own way to live around it. I remember cooking with butter in Le Mans and using olive oil in Nice, simple facts that make your life taste different.
Traveling helps to open your mind and understand the philosophy of an estate and of the winemaker. It also helps to facilitate the understanding of any map we study in our book. They become real. You can feel the ground and smell the air. Most importantly, winemakers will tell you stories that none of the books will. Small details about their vineyards, region’s history and the differences from one plot of vine to another.
I can’t say I enjoyed one place more than another. I enjoyed all of them; each area has been an extra piece of knowledge added to my career and my life.
3. How has your experience working in wineries doing harvests and vinifications helped towards your qualification as a Master Sommelier?
It helps a lot, not only for the Master Sommelier qualification but also for any conversation you can have with winemakers as this would allow each person to have their own ideas of winemaking in their respective areas.
I believe it helps me even more today when running my wine training program for sommeliers and other staff members. It is easier to help them understand as I have experienced making wines myself. Harvesting is always a good moment – hard work for sure, but an amazing experience.
4. Tell us about working with the legendary Gordon Ramsay – is he really as hot-headed as he appears on television?
It has been brilliant working with him for five years. He is humble, a very good businessman, but never forgets the kitchen side. He can be seated in a meeting and suddenly realize that something is going wrong in the kitchen.
A lot of people will ask me the same question about Gordon Ramsay and my answer will usually be that most of us would react in the same way if we were working the intense services he is doing on TV. Shooting 20-minute shows on two-week partnerships or more, will, of course, show everyone the most epic moments.
5. How would you compare the wine scene in Hong Kong with other cities you have worked in? Is there a big difference in culture and appreciation of wine?
Yes of course there is a big difference. I think the most shocking thing in the beginning when I arrived in Hong Kong was that no one drinks wine for lunch, or very little. But then it is easy to understand why.
On the other hand, Hong Kong being a non-producing area drives the import of wine and enables merchants to have the best selections. It is also increasingly common to see sommeliers in restaurants, who also on their side are doing the best they can to curate the most exciting wine list. This pushes consumers to be more curious in discovering wines they would not usually pick themselves
This makes Hong Kong one of the leading wine markets in the world.
6. Is there a wine that you would make a big sacrifice just to taste?
Many of them