In times when full-time on-the-floor sommeliers are growing, they still face a bit of an identity crisis. Usually, it is the Beverage Manager or a server with a keen interest in wines who dons the title. But Charles Donnadieu, the corporate sommelier for The Lalit Group of Hotels, is an exception. Apart from heading the beverage portfolio of twelve major properties across India for the group, he trains his staff, hosts tastings, dinners, evenings, and is the go-to man for all things wine.
Charles started his journey in France, later moved to Ireland, and now India is glad to call him one of our own. Team IWBS learns his inspiring + motivating journey, and documents it for the young and budding beverage professionals in the country.
What inspired you to become a sommelier?
I started my first job as Food and Beverage Manager in resort in Connemara, Ireland, right after completing Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management in 2004. Later, I realised that I have lack of knowledge in wines. How to recommend and understand the preference of our costumer and suggest wines accordingly was a difficult task. I decided to go back to school to study wines again through one-year “the mention complementaire sommellerie” program at l’Etincelle, Nimes, France. I did a three months’ practice in the vineyards during harvest and six months theory & practice in school itself. Lastly I ended up with a three months’ training in a Michelin Star restaurant.
My teachers transmitted their passion & knowledge to me, thus, making me a better sommelier and a beverage professional.
What struggle did you face during your initial days working in India? And how did you overcome them?
My English was poor. It took me a little time to communicate properly. Indian wine market itself was very difficult to understand, between wine offers, and availability, which keeps on changing every six months. Promoting wine producer rather than the brand isn’t simple to implement. Indian market is more brand driven and, for a sommelier, it’s very important to discover new wines and appellations to make his wine offers more attractive than the market itself.
English with practice became better. Boutique wine programs have been implemented years after years with a good response from our costumer. Every six months, a lot of wine enters in the market and other leaves. This acts as an advantage for a sommelier to taste a lot of new wine every other month. I think this is very important, in order to educate our palate and improve our knowledge.
What are the commendable things you see in India as a young wine-producing region?
In the last six years I have seen a lot of improvement in the key wine regions – Nasik, Karnataka, and Hampi Hills. Year after year it’s still a surprise to see how they sustain quality and make their own styles. For example, full body & spicy oak barrel Cabernet-Shiraz from Nasik, or aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, or Chenin Blanc with a refreshing tropical style that defines some of the Indian wine producing regions.
More and more wine from India are being awarded at international competitions. This means India is about to be on the world wine production map. For mere 40 years-old history, it’s such a good recognition
According to you, what qualities should young professionals have to become a successful beverage professional?
I think it’s very important to be humble and passionate. Taste as much as possible, get your hands on every beverage, and never get drunk, in public or even in private
What are your favourite tipples after a tiring day?
A post-work Mojito at Kitty Su before heading home is still my favourite.
What’re the advantages of working in India?
India is a young market. There are many activities happening around wines which makes every day different from the other, and working more enjoyable.
Charles, would you please share your daily work schedule?
As corporate sommelier, my journey starts at the office around 11 am to ends at 7 or 10 pm. What I do on a daily basis is:
- Dealing with wine supplier – mainly tasting wines, updating and finalising menus, and planning upcoming wine dinners.
- Plan and deliver internal trainings to all staff members to make them familiar with our wines.
- Wine promotion across the hotels, wine dinner programs, and pairing concepts to make our guests enjoy wines during meal, rather that just before, or after.
- Updating wine list across 12 hotels.
- And of course, each day is different from the other.