Interview with 2018 UK Sommelier of the year – Alexandre Freguin
Alexandre was born in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1989. He began his career as an apprentice at Michelin-starred Restaurant Pierre Reboul, in Aix-en-Provence (2009-11), and has since gained experience in many prestigious establishments (L’Enclume, Casadelmar and Jean Sulpice) whilst studying to become Master Sommelier, after recently passing the Advanced Sommelier with the CMS.
Alexandre has been working as Head Sommelier at Moor Hall, in Lancashire, since May 2016. Since joining Moor Hall, he placed second in the finals of the UK Young Sommelier of the Year 2018, in March, and won the Taittinger Sommelier of the Year 2018 in July 2018, having been a semi-finalist in 2017.
Q: How did you decide to start working in the world of wine?
Alexandre: Over 10 years ago, when I was 18, I was studying law and actually liked it, but I wasn’t really passionate about it. I started to help a friend in his family vineyard, next to my hometown of Aix-en-Provence. I thought that it was much more fun than going to university and that’s pretty much where everything started! I loved the atmosphere, the people, and especially how food and wine could bring people together.
I decided to quit university and started working in a traditional restaurant, just to see what it was like to work on the floor. I loved it and, the following year, I started at the École hotelière de Provence, near Marseille. At the same time I was doing my apprenticeship at chef Pierre Reboul’s restaurant in Aix-en-Provence, and it was a revelation. The food was spectacular, and the sommeliers and chefs and everyone were there for the same reason: giving guests an amazing experience!
This is when I started to read and study about wine, mostly on my own. I was observing the sommelier and thought that what he was doing was fantastic, so I was asking him a lot of questions. 2 years later I moved to Lyon and took my first Head Sommelier Position in a more traditional one Michelin Star. Since I didn’t have a sommelier diploma, this really helped me get a bit more credibility and legitimize all the work I’d been doing behind the scenes.
After that, I moved to England and worked at L’Enclume in the North of England for a year. I discovered modern British cuisine and had another revelation with a wine list open to every country, with no boundaries – and that’s something I love. That’s where I met my current chef-patron, Mark Birchall, who was then head chef at l’Enclume.
After working in two 2-Michelin Star restaurants in France, I returned to England in 2016, to take part in Mark’s project named Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms in Aughton, Lancashire. We opened in March 2017 and quickly got our first Michelin star.
I study wine and drinks in general every day. It’s a central part of my life. I am fully committed to going down this road and working as a sommelier because of my passion not just for wine itself, but for all the amazing things in the long journey of wine, from vineyard to table.
Q: What are the benefits or challenges of your job?
Alexandre: Every day, this job gives me the possibility of sharing moments with my chef, my colleagues, and then with our guests. We are lucky enough to come to work not just because we have to, but because we are passionate about it, and because of that, I’m happy every day at work. New wines, new dishes, new guests: we are fortunate to learn a bit more every day. Of course some days are more difficult than others – long hours, studying, training, late nights – but that’s my own choice, so I can’t complain. Also I’ve met some great people on the floor and in vineyards, and some of them have become close friends over time. There are some fantastic, inspirational personalities out there.
Q: How does it feel to have won the UK contest in 2018?
Alexandre: I entered a competition for the first time in 2017, and it was amazing, so I decided to carry on. I really wanted to push myself to the next level. It’s amazing to get to know yourself through those moments when you are under pressure. I was feeling good on the day of the finals, relaxed and really happy to be there. Winning was one of the greatest joys of my life, not just for me but also for the people who gave me such close support during the preparation. It’s a great achievement that gives you so much motivation for the future. I would be honoured to represent this country in the future and would give 200% to go as far I can.
Q: How is the title of UK Sommelier of the Year changing your life?
Alexandre: Of course, since the competition, a lot has been happening, but to be honest I don’t see why I would change. I think I won it by being myself, with my personality and my habits. You receive a bit more solicitation, but I think the profession is like wine: you need to be patient to produce amazing wines, so I will stick to being patient. I want to keep working on the floor, looking after every one of our guests, and making sure they are having a unique moment with us. The only thing I see changing is my training: I want to do more.
Q: How is the sommelier profession in the UK? What can be improved?
Alexandre: The sommelier profession and community in UK is really dynamic and led by some iconic, world-renowned sommeliers. It’s a great opportunity to be in the UK at the moment. There is a real family feeling in the profession. Training together makes us stronger, and many of us benefit from past winners becoming mentors. I feel very grateful.
Some great restaurants around the country are promoting great diversity in terms of food and this leads to diversity when it comes to beverages. The guests are also very supportive and very open-minded, and that allows us to create wine lists that explore the world in a large spectrum.
As for improvement, I think we could be better promoting our profession to hospitality students. I’m sure that some of our best sommeliers could explain to them that a sommelier is not someone drinking wine all day! That’s also why I like the competitions, because they help people understand the array of skills required in our environment.
Q: You have great knowledge about food and wine. What can you do to promote your national beverages and gastronomy?
Alexandre: England is moving, changing, improving. Of course there are the wines, especially sparkling wines, and I’m lucky to promote some amazing examples from high quality producers, every day at work.
There is also a craft beer explosion, with talented brewers giving us sommeliers a whole other range of things to explore for us and our guests. I often use beer pairings on our menu, and the result is fantastic. This also applies to cider and perry of course – I love what’s happening in Wales, on that level. Gin is so big at the moment in England, and we’ve built a list of over 50 different styles of gin. It’s a great way to rediscover the complex art of distilling!
The food scene in England is strong, with chefs all over the country coming up with refreshing ideas and concepts. Working in the north of England, alongside someone like Mark, my chef, who is especially attached to the origin and the quality of the product, you realize how good British Cuisine can be.