Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, recounts her recent visit to Bordeaux with a party of the 2013 Gold Service Scholarship finalists
The Bordeaux vineyards are the accumulation of 2,000 years of history, covering alternating periods of great prosperity with recessions that have shaped the land and made the wines what they are today.
The wine area of Bordeaux lies between the left bank of the Garonne and the Gironde (gravel and sandy soil, ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon) and the right bank of the Dordogne (limestone, sand and gravel, ideal for Cabernet Franc and Merlot). Further south, between the Garonne and the Dordogne, the soil is a mixture of clay and limestone. To all wine lovers, this geography and soil, together with the temperate oceanic climate driven by the Gulf Stream, have created a wonderful, distinctive terroir.
But it's a joy for any group interested in hospitality, which is why it was such a treat to join a party of the 2013 Gold Service Scholarship finalists on a visit to Bordeaux.
We were guests of the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux), which represents some 10,000 Bordeaux producers and 400 négociants. The CIVB espouses a dynamic view of Bordeaux wines, modernising the outdated image of a Bordeaux stuck in the past. Its winemakers have risen to the challenges of the 21st century and, while maintaining all the best traditions built on centuries of experience, are constantly adjusting to new viticultural and vinification techniques.
We were seduced by the region's wealth of diversity, its aromas and tastes (subtle and elegant) and the message was loud and clear: despite its worldwide reputation for icons such as Châteaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion, there are Bordeaux wines for every occasion, taste and price. Over three days we enjoyed wall-to-wall visits and tastings at some grand and several small estates, all producing wines in a unique style.
We were chaperoned by an old friend of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Douglas Morton, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the area is remarkable, and wine guru Alex Hall, who clearly takes great joy in sharing his love of Bordeaux with a narrative that was completely absorbing and further widened our acquaintance with Bordeaux.
In two-and-a-half days of travelling, we covered miles of enchanting countryside across Entre-Deux-Mers to the Médoc, Pomerol and St-Emilion to Graves and Pessac Léognan.
It all began with a session at the famous CIVB wine school in the centre of the city. ‘School' is a bit of a misnomer. Instead of desks, we sat at individual tasting stations with their own spittoons; and instead of a blackboard, very professional slides demonstrated the history, appellations and wine-making processes, many accompanied by samples.
Then it was off to the vineyards. We discovered the new-style Bordeaux white (so clean, dry and crisp), visited biodynamic vineyards, tasted a range of Bordeaux sweet wines, which reminded us all of how good they really are, and saw substantial investments in new fermentation vats and cellars which, with greater emphasis in grape selection, are contributing to the constant improvement in quality.
We returned to London unanimously enthusiastically and vinous-ly richer for the experience. Bordeaux has got it all; and what â¨a sterling addition to the rewards for finalists in the annual Gold Service Award.
The attendees: Gold Service Scholarship finalists 2013
•Rebecca Dibben, restaurant supervisor, â¨Deseo at The Gleneagles
•Daniel Crump, chef de rang, Restaurant â¨Gordon Ramsay
•Steve Driscoll, graduate trainee food â¨and beverage, The Berkeley
•Ben Robinson, sommelier de rang, â¨Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
•Devid Isabella, assistant restaurant â¨manager, the Ritz
•Ivo de Beus, bartender, Claridge's
WHAT THE GOLD SCHOLARS THOUGHT
Daniel Crump, chef de rang, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay Not only do I now feel I have gained a better knowledge and understanding of Bordeaux, the people that live and work there, the wines and how they are made, I feel this was the start of some great friendships.
I feel I have gained a real feel of Bordeaux. From all of its appellations, the grapes, the terroir, the history, the people, all of those beautiful chÁ¢teaux, the wines and how they are made and the vineyards - there really is just so much to learn.
Ivo Debeus, bartender, Claridge's
No matter the size of their vineyard, the techniques they use, the passion for their wines and the local food was second to none. This is best illustrated by Stefaan from ChÁ¢teau Vilatte, who traded his precious wine for his neighbour's goats cheese, and still opened bottle after bottle for us to taste.
Rebecca Dibben, restaurant supervisor, Deseo at Gleneagles
We witnessed first-hand how much of a risk these winemakers are taking to produce their wines and it really showed their passion for what they do. Personally, my French wine knowledge is pretty limited, but from what I do know it was great to put theory into practice and be right at the thick of it.
Devid Isabella, assistant restaurant manager, The Ritz
Every minute of the trip was absolutely magnificent, from the company to the scenery and the priceless knowledge I acquired. It's been an unforgettable experience and I do hope to return to Bordeaux in the future.
Ben Robinson, sommelier de rang, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
One of the many highlights for myself was the first chÁ¢teau we visited - it was just so rustic. The host worked every day to provide a great experience to the guests - this man just encapsulated the whole ideology of hospitality.
THE GOLD SERVICE SCHOLARSHIP
Rebecca Dibben from Deseo at Gleneagles was the first winner of the Gold Service Scholarship. This year's winner was James Fleming, chef de rang at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire.
The Gold Service Scholarship was launched in 2012 by a team of enthusiastic and committed service hospitality professionals determined to champion and raise the status of service and make it a career of choice. Among the founders are Willy Bauer OBE, Silvano Giraldin, Sergio Rebecchi, Edward Griffiths, John Davey and Sara Jayne Stanes, and chaired by Alastair Storey, chairman at Baxter Storey. The Gold Service Scholarship is managed by HALM managing director David Battersby.
The Gold Service Scholarship is one step further towards the Master of Culinary Arts and the journey to a potentially outstanding and rewarding profession in hospitality.