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Mathieu Roche - Chef sommelier/matre d'htel, Longueville Manor

Published:  23 July, 2008

You grew up in Bordeaux but learned about wine in Jersey. Isn't this a bit back to front?
I suppose it is. For some reason, the wine courses at my catering college were very complicated - maybe I didn't really click with the teacher or something - but when I arrived at Longueville, I was encouraged to learn about wine in depth.

Training and investing in people is hugely important, and the management here understand that. Also, in Bordeaux we would only ever drink French wines, never any from the New World. I think I've really benefited from learning over here because there's far more exposure to wines from all over the world and, as you can see from the list, I have no bias towards France or anywhere else.

There's quite an extensive wine list at the Longueville. Is this your influence?

Yes, partly. When I arrived there were about 250 bins and now there's more like 400.

It can't get much bigger as I don't have any more room in the cellar! I have to say a big thank you to my manager Pedro for allowing me to make changes to the wine list and also for the competitions we've been encouraged to enter, which have helped gain recognition for the list.

Pedro, myself and my current assistant have all won the regional Ruinart Sommelier of the Year competition, which has taken each of us in turn through to the semi-finals in London.

That must have been interesting, because I doubt you're able to attend events in London very often.

It is difficult to go to London, I admit. Working and living in Jersey, getting off the island can be a bit of an expedition sometimes.

To try and compensate for this, I tend to organise in-house tastings and masterclasses for both our own staff and for other sommeliers on the island. I really enjoy this and I think I've discovered in myself a certain capacity for teaching, which is something I'd like to continue in the future.

And it's not as though there's any shortage of wines to taste - I get samples nearly every day from Jersey suppliers. Considering the size of the island [9x5 miles; population around 90,000], you would be surprised about how many wines are available, I hardly ever have to deal directly with England.

Some of the finer wines on your list are pretty good value. Is this intentional?

We've had so many comments on the prices that we have actually put some of them up recently, but they're still very reasonable.

The fact that we are in Jersey means we don't pay VAT, and we would like our guests to see some of the benefits of this.

If you look at any page in the list, you'll see that it's well-balanced and there's always a wine for around 25/30 and then a few more expensive bottles. I believe our mark-up is around 3.5 % on the less-expensive wines, but then it's much less for the fine wines.

One guest actually bought a half case of Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru, Domaine Ramonet from us at list price (59 per bottle) because they thought it was such a good deal.

You have one wine from Jersey on the list. Is it any good or just for tourists?

Er I think it's good now. The 2004 vintage showed a big improvement on previous years and I really thought, 'Wow, I like this'.

Before that, I admit I thought it was a little average and too expensive for what it was, but it's better now and I think it's important to include it on the list.

Jersey always seems like such a well-behaved place; have you ever had any problems with a guest?

Not really, although in my first month here a lady sent back a bottle of Meursault which she had ordered, saying the wine wasn't any good.

I tried it and to me it was fine because it was an older style of Meursault, which is fuller bodied and maybe more buttery than she may have been used to, but I wasn't sure how to deal with the situation and just gave her another bottle of the same wine.

She still wasn't happy, and before my manager stopped me, I think I'd managed to practically empty the cellar of this wine - there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. I learned to suggest an alternative after that.

You seem to like Jersey. Do you think you'll stay or is a return to France on the cards?

I really enjoy working here because in general the English are very courteous, whereas French people can be really arrogant, especially if they have a bit of money.

Also, because this is such a small hotel on a small island, the sort of things I've been able to achieve in eight years would probably have taken more like 20 in France.