June 15, 2022 – Published in Design & Decor Spring-Summer 2022 issue
Introducing Fabien Etienne – Sommelier and Wine & Service Consultant
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in France, in the beautiful region of Brittany.
Is your family in the wine and hospitality industry?
My family from my mother’s side is in the hospitality business. Most of them were chefs and one of her cousins was a sommelier, but I wasn’t really close to them, so it didn’t influence my choice of study.
Where does your passion for wine stem from?
When I started studying the hospitality business back in 2000, we had some wine lessons and that’s where I got involved with wine. I spent a full year in the Saumur wine region learning how to become a sommelier. I had no background of wine at all, I just liked it. The more we were studying, the more I got passionate about it. Taking part in competitions confirmed for me, that it was my vocation.
What was your first wine related job?
When you graduate from school, the first position in the sommelier ladder is a commis sommelier, which consists of making sure the mise en place is up to standard, picking up the bottles ordered by the guests, essentially learning the process of being a sommelier. It was my first job in 2005.
How long have you been in the wine industry?
I started in 2005, so it has been 17 years (already!)
At which point in your life did you realise that you wanted to develop your love for wine into your career?
Right after I started the sommelier school in Saumur, I knew this would be my vocation as I really enjoyed learning so much more about the different wine regions, the complexity of grape varieties and the way wine tasted different depending on so many factors.
From all your past work experiences, which was the most life changing and career developing one?
In 2005 I moved to the UK and started my first job in the wine industry at The Vineyard Hotel (www.the-vineyard.co.uk). This was where I learned everything: organising a wine cellar in a restaurant, setting up a 2 Michelin stars restaurant as per standard, learning about new world wine. On top of that, this is where I learned English. This time was pretty challenging, but it only confirmed that I wanted to pursue my career in the wine industry.
If you could choose just one person who you looked up to as a mentor and who taught you invaluable skills within the wine industry, who would it be and why?
Joao Pires. I met him at the Vineyard, he was Wine Director. He is the one who taught me everything about wines and we worked together for 6 years. He is the one who introduced me to Court of Master Sommelier, one of the most difficult exams in the world; only 270 people have passed this exam since 1969. Later this year, I will try to be the 271st Master Sommelier!
Talk to us about a moment in your working life which you are most proud of.
Tough question! There are quite a lot of moments that I am proud of.
In 2014, during my time in Thailand, I received 3 awards from Wine List of the Year Thailand. (Best National Wine List / Restaurant & Wine Bar Award / Best wine by the glass selection). This was a great achievement!
Before coming to Malta, how many countries have you lived and worked in, and which has been your most favourable one?
I have lived and worked in four countries before coming to
Malta: London is definitely the best place to learn about the hospitality business.
What made you develop your own wine and service consultancy in Malta?
I always wanted to educate and share my knowledge. Early in 2017, I had a vision that it was the time to do it. I felt that the hospitality business was lacking on service and wine knowledge and I took the advantage to start.
What services does your local consultancy business offer?
Wine tasting, Master Class, creation and development of a wine list, wine pairing for dinner menus at home, staff training, mentoring sommelier for competitions and exams.
From your time living and working in Malta, have you noticed a change in local people’s attitude towards the wine industry?
Yes, I have noticed big improvements which is a very good sign!
People are more willing to learn about different wines, they are
a bit more adventurous when choosing what they want to drink.
Do you organise any wine related events? If so, do you have any upcoming events planned?
Yes, I do! I organise wine tasting, wine master class and wine dinner events. There are a few wine dinners coming up from April. At the beginning of May, an exciting journey to ‘Giro d’Italia’ will take place at Fernando Gastrothèque in Sliema, where every month I will talk, serve and pair wines with dishes.
Now that most of the COVID restrictions are lifted, wine tastings and masterclasses will be back. Stay tuned!
Which is one of your all-time favourite wines and why?
I have tasted so many wines over the years that it is very hard to select one particular favourite. But I am a big fan of Champagne and Portuguese wines.
If you are introduced to a person who has never tried wine in his/her life, which bottle would you first open for them to try and why?
Many first-time wine drinkers like simple sweet wines, which have their own charm. Something like a Moscato d’Asti from Italy or a Spätlese Riesling from Germany. Given that everyone’s palate varies for various reasons (environment, culture, dietary and many others), each person’s palate and perception are very different.
You have already passed your Master Sommelier in the tasting and practical elements. What is next?
Yes, I passed the blind tasting part in 2018, the practical part in 2019. I had only the theory part remaining to pass and unfortunately last October 2021 it didn’t go in my favour, so I will start again this year!
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their professional wine journey?
This is a complex question. You need to have passion, a great attitude, be open minded and stay humble. Be adventurous, curious and travel around the world to expand your knowledge. To any young sommelier who wishes to grow, my recommendation is go and work in London for a few years.
Fabien Etienne is a professional sommelier and wine consultant based in Malta. He organizes wine training, private master class as well as other bespoke wine services.