The recipient of the first annual ASI Gérard Basset Lifetime Achievement Award, Mr. Serge Dubs has seemingly done it all throughout his illustrious career, including ASI Best Sommelier of the World (1989), Best Sommelier of Europe (1988), Best Sommelier of France (1983) and Master of Port (1988). Yet, even after 43 years of service at the famed Michelin-starred Auberge de L’Ill in Illhaeusern restaurant in Alsace, France, the head sommelier is the first to admit that “I was overwhelmed upon hearing the news. With emotions, and happiness, and honor. I’ve never felt anything like that in my entire career before.”
Following the announcement, ASI had a chance to sit down with Mr. Dubs and ask him a few questions about his views of the sommellerie, his time with Gérard Basset, and both his advice and hopes for the generation of sommeliers to come.
How did you feel upon first hearing that you won the first annual Gerard Basset Lifetime Achievement Award?
SD: The first image that came into my head when I heard the news was Gérard. For me, this wasn’t a competition as much as a recognition. It was an honor to be considered at all, and what I wanted more than anything was to share this very special moment with all of the finalists.
What was the most important lesson on or off the floor that Gérard taught you?
SD: When Gérard had a goal he fought for it, but that doesn’t mean he always won. And because he knew how much he wanted to win, and how much it hurt when he didn’t, he taught me to always reach out with a hug for the second and third place candidates. He showed me what that meant. And he always had a smile, even when he came in second. Perhaps especially when he came second. And he never forgot to say thank you to his wife, Nina. She and Romané came to every competition, that was wonderful to see. He knew that without her, he never could have achieved what he did.
You once described Gérard as “a man of intelligence, tenacity and passion.” What for you today is the single most important quality as a sommelier and why?
SD: It’s not so much about a single quality as it is a way of life. A guest functions as the backbone of the restaurant. And it is the job of the sommelier to make that guest happy. Each day our guests present us with new, different, and often difficult situations. It’s up to us to find solutions. That’s our job, more so than just pairing wine and food. To make people happy, really is there any higher goal? Be humble, be shy, be gracious. And if you do your job with all your heart, you will win the world.
Gérard was an inspiration for many. Having received the award in his honor, can you please tell us a bit about how you plan to inspire the next generation of sommeliers?
SD: The sommelier today needs the help of a partner to thrive in all the challenges and sacrifices required by the job. Because it’s not just for 1 year, it’s for 10, for 20, 30 years. Without my wife, Béatrice, I never could have achieved what I have. She is always with me, even today. She is the light of my life, and I am so grateful for her and all she had done. Whether you are in competition or in a restaurant, you can’t do it alone. We all need help, someone behind the scenes helping us get things done. It doesn’t have to be a woman supporting a man, as it was for many years, today it can just as easily be a man supporting a woman. This partnership, no matter how it is formed is something very special.
If you could have Gérard back at your table one more time which bottle would you open and why?
SD: Many years ago, Gérard, Nina and Romané — he couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old at the time– came to dinner. Béatrice, my wife, had prepared an incredible meal. I knew Gérard had a perfect palate, so whatever we drank was going to have to be very special. We opened a number of great wines that night, but one bottle was truly amazing. A 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle from Gérard Jaboulet. It was the first time that Gérard had ever tasted that wine. Given the chance, I would open the same bottle and share it with Nina and Romané and Béatrice all over again, because that time together was beautiful.