A Riesling star

Award winning sommelier, Lidwena Weh, has been in Dubai for three months. She talks to Caterer about her challenges at Jumeirah Beach Hotel and her experiences as an apprentice in Germany.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  February 8, 2006

Award winning sommelier, Lidwena Weh, has been in Dubai for three months. She talks to Caterer about her challenges at Jumeirah Beach Hotel and her experiences as an apprentice in Germany.

Did you always want to be a sommelier?

Not always, but once I began my apprenticeship I realised I was in touch with the wines and their history. One of my teachers explained to me that wine is multifarious so I began to focus more and more, taking part in special training, working at different restaurants and wineries and also tasting a lot of different wines. However, the more you get to know, the more you realise there is even more to learn!

How long did you have to train to become a sommelier, and where did it all begin?

Even now I feel that my training hasn’t finished as I am always learning. It starts off with an interesting wine book close to you and your wine, and some likeminded people who you can discuss it with. Maybe you become a sommelier when that interest turns into a passion?

For me though, it is very difficult to know the exact point when my career started, but a very important time for me was at the Restaurant Graues Haus, owned by the Riesling Estate Schloss Vollrads, which has a very old wine tradition in Europe. We had many Rieslings on our wine list, even some dating back to the 19th century.

What is the most expensive wine you have ever served?

It was when I was working in Germany at the Schlosshotel Buehlerhoehe in the Black Forest. It was a 1947 Cheval Blanc.

What awards have you won and how has this helped develop your career?

I’ve won the Trophee Baron Philippe de Rothschild twice, been voted the best waitress in Germany and I have also won the Challenge Côtes du Rhone. These awards are very important to me but they stretch the nerves, you have to improve, develop and perfect your skills day by day. But mistakes you make during an award will never be made again, because you never get a second chance.

On a personal level though, taking part and winning these awards has helped me develop my character, as well as helping me to act and react under extreme conditions. But most importantly, I have met some wonderful people and made some very important contacts at these competitions.

Is there any difference working in a leisure-based hotel compared to a business hotel?

In a business hotel the wines are more focused on the labels. Saying that, when there is a business lunch people want to enjoy wine with their food, so it is a kind of leisure in a sense.

However, working in a leisure-based hotel like Jumeirah Beach Hotel the guests are very relaxed and open for new experiences. They also have the time to talk and be entertained, so these are great opportunities to recommend new wines.

What challenges do you encounter being a sommelier in the Middle East?

Guests here are very international and well travelled so it is not very difficult to meet their needs. However, the main challenge is adapting to the different culture and its dealing with alcohol. It is a different market, and there is also a multicultural mix of nationalities working together in one place.

What is your average day like?

I do a lot of training with the staff, meet and deal with suppliers, and organise and create wine lists for the different outlets. Managing and overseeing so many wine lists is a challenge, but how do I do it… well, that is a secret!

The hotel’s fine dining outlets include Al Khayla, Carnevale, La Parilla, Marina Seafood Market and Villa Beach. Because they each cover a special kind of kitchen and cuisine they each have an adapted wine list, so that occupies a lot of my time as well.

Which nationality do you think is most knowledgeable about wines?

Most people would say the French, but very often they only know about their own wines. Personally, I think people from Switzerland have the greater knowledge because they have a high consumption of wine and they are also very open to all the different wine growing areas. People from the UK, however, drink a variety of wines; some of them have very good knowledge but they don’t spend a significant amount of money on wine.

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