Michelin-Starred Fera is Claridge’s take on modern British cuisine inspired by the changing seasons. While Head Chef Simon Rogan proudly uses the finest organic ingredients, Restaurant Manager and Wine Buyer Raphael Rodriguez sources some of the rarest wines, ensuring that every meal at Fera is perfectly paired. In this interview he tells us where his love of fine wine originated from, trends he is seeing in London at the moment and the secrets to his success.
Congratulations on being featured in the World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?
It feels great to be recognized by experienced professionals who traveled the world and dined in the best restaurants. It gives us a thrill, acknowledges our hard work and encourages us to push further.
Where did your love of fine wine originate from?
I grew up in southern Rhône valley and Provence with vineyards around. My family loves sharing great bottles of wine during our meal. I guess it is in my blood.
Was it always your intention to work with fine wine?
Actually it was not. I studied engineering and ended up repairing planes for some years. It was only after a six months break in London and a stint as a commis sommelier that I decided to change my professional life over. I went back to school: The Wine University of Suze-La-Rousse (near Cairanne and Vacqueyras). Then I became a sommelier.
What is the secret to your success?
My childhood and being exposed to fine food and wine at a young age helped. Then it is all about passion, drive, integrity, hard work and most importantly having fun!
What trends are you seeing in London at the moment?
There are more and more places focusing on serving interesting wines in a relaxed environment. Fine wine has become approachable and young generations show a lot more interest. Wine drinkers want to know what is in their glass: they ask for traceability as per their food. They want to know how the vines are tended and which additives are used or not used through winemaking. They want to hear about the Vigneron behind the label, the native grape varieties and underrated appellations. There is a demand for small production - artisanal wine is growing exponentially.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
Character and imagination are the most important in my eyes. The best lists are often made when commercial pressure is minimal. It allows buyers to express their self, follow their convictions and get off the beaten path.
Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?
Wine is all about sharing it with people you love so there are many memories. My favorite is the first time I got struck by the beauty of food and wine matching as a teenager. We were at home, dining alfresco during a hot summer evening, my father poured a luscious white Trévallon (Les Baux de Provence) with some Brousse du Rove, a local fresh goat cheese. My taste buds were moved by the explosion of flavors and I got hooked!
What is next for you?
It is all about Fera at Claridge’s. We are only one year old with so much to achieve!
What is your fundamental philosophy on fine wine?
I believe fine wine is alive and Terroir-driven: it tells a story and where it is from.
It is made from a ‘clean’ viticulture, eschewing chemicals as much as possible, and with a non-interventionist philosophy during winemaking.
What makes your wine list special?
It is our emphasis on scarce artisanal wines along with the diversity of regions, native grape varieties, styles of winemaking and mature vintages.