A new year always brings new and exciting changes and for us 2016 is no different. We are thrilled to welcome our new sommelier Marcel Saavedra to the hotel and as a result, have some new wines to look forward to in our cellar and on our menus this year.
Marcel was born in Hamburg but comes from a Chilean family who were deeply passionate about good food and great wine as an integral part of daily life. With family still in Chile he has travelled there extensively over the years and really seen the food culture develop there. Travelling also throughout Germany he has been able to experience and compare high end gastronomy between the two cultures, especially over the last 5 years.
“It’s always great to see what other people are doing, to think about how I can make my work better and form new ideas by being inspired by others”
Marcel originally wanted to be a chef and began his career at 16 with internships in restaurants in Hamburg. His family’s passion for wine was instilled in him from a young age and subsequently his interest in wine flourished as he spent more time in hospitality. While doing an internship at the Park Hyatt he started to study wine in his spare time and knew he must be around the best of the best to truly become great at what he wanted to do. After finishing his internship he moved on to the famous 5 Star Superior Hotel Traube Tonbach in the Black Forest, where he met his greatest teacher and mentor – the sommelier Stephané Gass – while working in the 3 Michelin Star Restaurant there, Schwarzwaldstube.
“When I did my apprenticeship I knew I wanted to find the best people I could to work with and learn from – the best chefs, best sommeliers etc. I started to work at Hotel Traube Tonbach and showed very much that I was interested in wines. The chief sommelier at the hotel – Stephané Gassé really motivated and encouraged me very much. I was able to observe his work and learn, then he gave me more responsibility. I worked more with him later in the final year of my apprenticeship and he gave me the opportunity to do the work of a commis sommelier – tidy up the cellar, sometimes sell and explain wines to guests at the table. This was a very interesting experience for me as he showed me some very good wines and explained to me what made these wines so good. He inspired me very much at the time and continues to now, even years after my internship.”
After his time at the hotel, Marcel was able to secure a 6 month stay at the famous winery of Joachim Heger in the region of Baden in Southern Germany. Here he went back to the origins of wine and learnt everything from growing, picking and harvesting to working with the wine in cellar, making the wine, cleaning and tidying afterwards – every stage of the process. He was able to understand through this how much work was involved in making a bottle of wine and from this gained a respect for the craft and therefore the business.
“You should always respect the work that somebody has done for the wine to be made – regardless of the price its sold for in the end. There are differences between a €3 bottle of wine and a €60 euro bottle but a good sommelier understand this and respects the wine regardless.”
With the fundamentals in place and a commitment to continuing to learn and be better, Marcel returned to Hamburg and began working in a 1 Michelin Star restaurant. He advanced through various roles in the restaurant to become sommelier and for the first time was able to bring his own touch to a wine list. Again his learning continued. Now he was engaging with merchants, curating the selections for the list, and introducing himself as sommelier to guests to give them advice and guidance on their wine selection. As a well trained and experienced sommelier, the next step for him was to move to Berlin and in 2013 he did just that; working alongside renowned sommelier Gunnar Tietz at the 1 Michelin starred First Floor restaurant in the Hotel Palace.
“I worked with him for 2 years and after half a year took over talking to the merchants and engaged fully with the buying of the wine and the organisation of the list. This was one of the best experiences with a huge wine list and a great position globally.”
A meal at Restaurant Le Faubourg in 2015 changed things for Marcel and he was so impressed with the style and ambience of the restaurant he decided he wanted to work there! The position for new sommelier became available and by February he was embarking on a new career direction.
“It’s not always about the stars and the fame, its also about classic and modern things. Previously I had been in private and family run operations so it was important for me to work for an organisation like the Sofitel – to see how things work in a global hotel chain. Sofitel has always been an interesting brand to me too – more smooth, more cool. Understated but elegant.”
The important thing for Marcel is the customer’s experience of the wine – not necessarily selling them the most expensive option, but understanding what they like and then offering them something similar but more interesting than they may have had before.
“Knowing the character of the wines, knowing what the client wants and being instinctual about choices is my passion. My first question is always about what the guest drinks at home. When a guest is in the restaurant they should feel at home, they should feel comfortable. Many people feel like they have to order a certain kind of wine or an expensive bottle of wine at fine dining restaurants I want to encourage guests to drink they wine they like and to have a wine they will enjoy.”
Marcel will be implementing changes to the existing list in the coming months as he phases out some of the previous stock and starts to bring in some new wines that are a reflection of his skills and experience as a sommelier. He will be searching for wines that other places in Berlin are not currently pouring, as well as making sure the classics are in place. Most importantly he will bring his own unique style to the list to personalise the Sofitel’s offering. Marcel’s favourite regions are directly connected to his experiences and his training. Of course his passion is in German wine – particular those from Baden where he worked but he also loves the diversity of Burgundy wines. The important thing is that the wine list is accessible and not intimidating, comprehensive yet personalised, with a good selection of price points. Marcel wants to make wine more accessible to people, to share his passion and help people understand the basics to appreciate it as much as he does