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All for one and one for all

Published:  23 July, 2008

There are not many hotels that can claim to have cleaners and receptions with WSET qualifications.

Candler was one of the nine who made it to advanced level three stage of the WSET course and is now reaping the benefits. "It's helped me appreciate wine more. I can now enjoy it, not be intimidated by it and understand it," he says.

The process of learning about wine has been mirrored by Candler's learning about how to run a hotel. A successful property developer, he says he knew "within 20 seconds" that Jesmond Dene House should become a hotel when Newcastle City Council put the empty, run-down building that had previously been used as a special needs school on the market in 2002.

Competing with other local property developers clamouring to turn the house into luxury apartments meant it didn't come cheap. Candler has a wry smile on his face when he says one of his aspirations for the hotel is "to get a commercial return in my lifetime not my children's".

To do that, he realises he needs to invest both in the business and the people who work there. "I think we're there on what I call the 'hardware' - the finishings, the furniture, the overall look of the place. We've set our stall out and I think we've got what it takes to be a truly great hotel. But it's the 'software' we still need to work on - how people work together, how they work for customers, the overall feel of the place. That's the hard side and that's what we're still working on," says Candler.

He's already planning to train more staff next year in the WSET courses and is looking to build a team of sommeliers working under Borwick, who has been given a free hand to expand the wine list into more niche areas such as German wines and more regional French varieties.

With its annual Festival of Food and monthly winemaker's dinners, Candler has put food and wine right at the heart of Jesmond Dene House. And if that means training the cleaners the difference between a Gewurztraminer and a Grenache, then so be it.