COMFORT & JOY No.12 - Travels of a Sommelier

Our Annual Summer Party (and 17th birthday) is right around the corner on the 25th May and we are very excited to welcome the French established wine subscription company, Le Petit Ballon.

Christabel from Le Petit Ballon, who originally worked at C&R, went to pursue her amazing wine career abroad and will be hosting the wine tasting at our party. We will also be announcing a competition where you can win a prize of a month's subscription for free.

We will publish more details this Wednesday, so keep your eyes peeled on the blog, newsletter, Instagram, Facebook & Twitter.

Le Petit Ballon is a very unique company, so we asked founder and Master Sommelier Jean-Michel, to answer a few questions for us..

Jean-Michel – how did you meet your partner in crime, Martin? And tell us more about how the company came about and what it does?

Le Petit Ballon is a unique wine subscription, with every month being a different theme. We aim to make the learning and tasting of wine fun and enjoyable - without any of the usual waffle that can sometimes be related to the world of wine!

The beginning of the Le Petit Ballon story starts with Martin, one of the co-founders of Le Petit Ballon. He’s always been an epicurean; a lover of good wine and food, but knew little about wine and wanted to change that. After enrolling in wine tasting classes, he quickly found that they weren’t for him - they were quite boring, difficult and expensive. So, the idea came about of having a wine subscription that was fun and didn’t take itself too seriously, without compromising on quality. That’s when I met him. He was looking for an expert to select the wines for this new idea of his. I was keen to have the opportunity to get closer to the customer and focus more on the enjoyment of drinking wine.

Our very first meeting lasted 15 minutes, and that was it, it was settled that we would start this venture together! Six years later and we’re a team of 25 people operating in 3 countries (UK, France and Belgium).

I loved the simplicity of Le Petit Ballon. It’s down to earth and unpretentious yet the quality and selection of the wines we hold are excellent. The point of Le Petit Ballon is to help people discover wines, so as well as people’s favourite grapes and appellations, we also find lesser known vineyards and wines that have been made uniquely for our customers. It’s about being open to new things and to always keep discovering.

What made you decide to dedicate your life to wine? Is it difficult to become a Master Sommelier and tell us a little bit about how you become one.
It was less of a decision, and more of an accident. The plan was to become a French teacher in France, but I missed my diploma and ending up going to Toulouse Catering School instead. I came to England to learn English and needed a job in order to pay for my tuition so I started working at Café Royal as a waiter. Shortly afterwards, one of the wine waiters retired and it was suggested that I should take over - their reasoning was that, as a frenchman, I must have known about wine. I told them I’d accept if they paid for my wine training. They did, and that was that!

Being a sommelier is the most beautiful job in the world. I’ve worked at all levels, in bistros and in Palaces. I’ve met kings, presidents and stars, that I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet in another job. When it comes to wine, you learn about geography and history but also about friendship and trust.

At Le Petit Ballon  I like to see it as if i’m the personal sommelier to each and every one of our subscribers Being a sommelier is about building relationships and gaining the trust of the customer.
It’s hard work to get here, but the end result is very rewarding.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up travelling some of the most beautiful parts of the world to find the most delicious wines.

I was born in the Armagnac region in the south west of France. My parents were not in the wine trade, far from it. My mother worked in a library and my father in a hospital. Perhaps that’s why the original plan was to become a French teacher, it seemed like a suitable, sensible job!

These days I taste more than 10-12,000 wines a year, going to the vineyards and meeting the winemakers. It’s important as a sommelier to be involved with the provenance of the wine and build lasting relationships with our winemakers. This means I get to travel to some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. Recently, I went to Chile to the Las Ninas estate and collaborated with them on one of the wines, creating a unique wine especially for Le Petit Ballon customers.

You can see the wine here - Las Ninas for Petit Ballon

I’m trying to bring the winemakers closer to the people who drink their wines. It’s important to know what you’re drinking and where it’s come from, and people are becoming increasingly interested in this. I am the link between the two; I get to visit the vineyards and try the wines, but without the winemakers and the customers this isn’t possible.

People talk of pleasure and enjoyment when they talk about wine, that’s all they’re asking for, and that’s what we at Le Petit Ballon provide.

And our quickfire questions..
What would you do if you weren’t a sommelier?
A gardener or something near nature
Who would play you in a film about your life:
I think I could play my own role because as a sommelier we have to be a kind of comedian

Last supper:
Fresh and seasonal ingredients, a lot vegetables, fish... I try to respect the product and to be as simple as possible.

Your dream dinner guests x 8:
Poutine, Trump, Macron, Merkel, May, Trudeau, Abe, Xi Jinping. We’d talk about wine and I’m sure they’d all be happy - for a few minutes

Most treasured possession:
A bottle of La Tache from Domaine de Romanée Conti 1928 bought in London while I was working at the Café Royal

Chocolate or vegetables:
Vegetables for sure

Desert island luxury:
A very light and easy drinking Champagne like the pure Chardonnay growth from Pierre Moncuit.
Most expensive purchase not including your house
My car, a Prius from Toyota

One wish – what would it be:
A world without war

What does a subscriber to Le Petit Ballon get?
A subscriber to Le Petit Ballon receives 2 bottles of wine a month complete with tasting notes on how to serve, drink and preserve the wine. Inside the box is also our monthly gazette with recipes, articles and other thoughts. Every month is a different theme, so you’ll always find yourself discovering new things. Subscribers enjoy at least 20% off all additional bottles they may want to buy from the online bottle shop.

You can ask Jean Michel any questions on Twitter using #askjeanmichel

Visit their website here!

xx C&R xx

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