Education is key to becoming a great sommelier. Alistair Myers, owner of Rafters, Sheffield, talks about his journey.
For Alistair Myers, owner and sommelier at one of Sheffield’s most iconic dining establishments, Rafters, wine had always been a hobby. On acquiring the restaurant in 2016, a destination spot in the area, he realised that he had to raise the bar. Previously having run gastropubs previously, he knew the importance of a great wine list. Significantly, moving to a more formal gastronomic environment where the market for fine wine opened up.
“I actively read lots about wine and was excited that my wine list, and customers, might be willing to buy fine wines,” Myers explains.
“One of my visions was to grow the list sustainably, create a list I could be proud of. “
“It was an amazing, eye-opening experience,” he says, “it was the first time I had been with peers, other sommeliers. It reassured me that I was doing the right thing. After a stressful week in Liverpool I was determined to pass…and, I did!”
He admits that the whole experience boosted his ambitions for Rafters wine and drinks list. “But I couldn’t do it alone,” he reveals. The next step was to teach his team about wine.
Taking the next step
“Just like I would do for service in the restaurant, I wanted them to learn about wine,” he says, “which in turn started to get everyone interested. It was then that we began to build the very strong wine culture that we have at the Rafter’s today. ”
However, he didn’t stop there. Having passed his CMS Certificate, Myers admits that he didn’t feel that was “truly a Sommelier who could start to formally pass this knowledge on and grow an amazing list and team.” Such was his dedication that he decided it was time for the rest of the team to start taking wine exams. “Most of the team were nervous and don’t like exams. The first level of the Court sets a high standard, so we decided to use WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) for their training.”
Since 2018, when Myers started the wine education programme at the restaurant, he has helped more that a dozen of his front of house team to pass the different WSET exam levels. Bringing to life his true dedication to wine eduction.
In 2020, Rafters expanded to a – Rafters at Riverside House Hotel, a 14-bedroom country house hotel. “As we have grown, I realise that I love working on both restaurant floors. As a person who was not brought up around wine, I prefer, perhaps a more classical list but to me this is my passion and comfort zone. When I knew nothing, these were where I started my life in wine. On this journey, I have met some great individuals who have a great talent for wine, service and hospitality who share my passion and are essential to the wine list and care of our customers.”