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Daniele Chelo - Head Sommelier at Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay

Photo for: Daniele Chelo - Head Sommelier at Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay

31/08/2022 Daniele Chelo is a certified sommelier working at Gordon Ramsay's Pétrus in Knightsbridge leading their beverage department and managing their exquisite wine list.

Daniele Chelo developed his passion for hospitality back in Milan when he was working in one of the Michelin-starred restaurants. While working there he fell in love with the tasting notes, flavor, and complexity of wine when he got a chance to uncork a bottle of 2004 Amarone Della Valpolicella. Being one of the youngest sommeliers in the UK, he has worked in many Michelin-starred restaurants handling their wine lists. At present he works as a head sommelier at Petrus, by Gordon Ramsay, a Michelin starred restaurant in Knightsbridge, serving Modern French cuisine.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I was born and raised in Milan. I went to hospitality school, the idea was to be a chef, but I ended up preferring the floor. I moved my first steps in Milan, doing various stages in different realities, but the real first two important experiences were: 'Auberge du Lac', Welwyn Garden City, at the time of the stage was awarded 1 Michelin Star and 'Al Pont de Ferr', in Milan, also 1 star at that time. At the Auberge I spent my first months as commis sommelier, entering this new world in which wine was for me (especially the international wines). This left a big mark on me. While at 'Al Pont de Ferr' I had a real crush on this job. I spent almost 2 years there surrounded by incredible people and being part of an awesome team, I learned a lot. I came back to the UK in 2015 spending almost 3 years in City Social by Jason Atherton, moving from Junior Sommelier to Assistant Head Sommelier. Then from 2018 to 2020 at Clos Maggiore where, as Head Sommelier, I was looking after a beautiful Wine List of over 2,500 references, awarded the Grand Award by Wine Spectator. Since Autumn 2020 I am at Petrus, now  Head Sommelier, leading the beverage department.

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

I lead the sommelier team in the restaurant in order to provide the very best experience to our guests, both assisting them with recommendations and making sure they do not miss anything throughout their time with us. This is the best part of it, engaging with the guests, getting to know them, and, when the chance is given, trying to surprise them with a perfect suggestion. Also, I am the person in charge of wine and spirit buying, which helps me very much to keep myself updated regarding producers, vintages, and styles.

On the other hand, I am responsible for training my team and giving them the right tools, tips, and knowledge they need to work, and finally, I am a manager on the floor, happy and able to deal with any guest's need or complaints.

If not a sommelier, what else would you have been?

I think my interest in technology and informatics would have probably brought me close to that world, but I did not give myself time to explore. I find this passion very useful in my daily routine at work. I do not regret my choice, anyways. You need to make a lot of sacrifices in this job, but if you do it with the right spirit, it is probably one of the most rewarding, at least on the human side, thanks to all the people (coworkers and guests) you meet on your path.

What questions would you ask the restaurant owner before you plan your wine sales growth strategy?

It depends on the company and owner you work for. I think it is fair to ask what are the goals of the restaurant, what is the style you want to achieve if there is any specific clientele you would like to reach and how does the owner feel about the plans. Having the owner's trust is always important in this role, it does bring freedom of action and it helps to create a performing team.

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Suppliers are extremely important to us. Having them understand the business we run and the way we run it can be a key factor in the relationship with them. You can always ask them for a certain kind of item you are struggling to find, you can always rely on their availability for tastings, especially when you look for something specific and want to be 100% sure of the choice. Finally, all the tastings and masterclasses are very helpful to us. It is the best way to learn and knowledge is power.

What are the three main things you focus on daily in your role?

1. Being a team player, it is important to look after the team, make training, share knowledge, and have a connection with them. A healthy team means high-quality service.

2. Wine list and cellar management, of course, I look after wine and spirit orders, making sure we are fine with stock, I look for new additions and I make sure we have a well-kept and organized cellar.

3. Guest experience, I like to exceed guests' expectations and make sure they leave the restaurant feeling as if they have had the best experience ever, from the very first moment to the end of the experience.

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

Style of the wine is first (it has to represent the restaurant, match the food and bring our philosophy on the floor), then I look to fill any gap on the list in terms of style and appellations (there are some appellations which cannot be missing on the list), finally the clientele demand and if it is a good value.

Define a good sommelier and what qualities you would look for when hiring one.

A good sommelier has to be a psychologist, humble, passionate, team player. Psychologist because it is essential to read who is in front of you to come up with the perfect suggestion. Wine and food combination makes the pairing, but understanding who sits at the table and what they are looking for makes the perfect experience. Humble is essential to growing in life, in any job, does the name Steve Jobs ring a bell? Passion is what fills your day, if you miss that, this is a very very hard, almost impossible, job to do. Plus, I would not follow a sommelier's recommendation if I do not feel the passion behind it. Am I wrong? Team player because this is teamwork and there is no way to make it by yourself.

What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of a wine program?

Definitely the customer response, it is more important than anything else. I always look for feedback and how our philosophy is perceived. On the business side, it is good to keep an eye on the numbers, this gives you an idea of the trend in the restaurant and what you can or should do about it.

If you had to pick one red and one white wine as your personal best, which wines would they be?

That's always hard to answer. Too many gems and producers (with their hard work) would be cut out. Still, I have a very bright memory of a bottle of Miani Friulano Buri 2007 which, back to my very beginning, I used to sell and was the first white to ever blow me away.

For the red, it gets very hard. I will say that one of the best reds ever had was a Romanee St Vivant 1971 by Arnoux-Lachaux tried in their own cellar while still covered with mold and dust. But I do feel like betraying Nebbiolo when saying this, it is a grape I do love and I am very attached to it!

Wine involves a lot of storytelling, what’s your go-to wine story?

I try to tell different stories every time, I love talking about wine trips and wine encounters the most. It is something that sounds absolutely normal to me, but for some guests might be something very special when you tell them about that time you tasted in the winery a wine that you have, afterward, selected for the restaurant. And I love to tell the philosophy of winemakers I have met through tastings, wine dinners, and trips.

Is Price = Quality in Wines? What’s a value-for-money wine that you would recommend?

Not every time Price matches Quality. But here is where a good sommelier comes in help. Knowing wine prices and what the market offers, help you to know when and where to buy. I love to look at bin end lists, it makes it easy to buy great wines for the right price. What to recommend? If you have a nice wine shop or trusted wine supplier I would suggest a great Timorasso from Piedmont as white or an Alfrocheiro from Tejo as red (Portuguese wines are so underwhelmed). If you cannot source such lesser-known grapes I am in the re-discovery phase of Aligote from Burgundy as white (some cuvees are exceptional, very versatile to match the food, and not expensive) and Spätburgunder from Germany as a great alternative to Burgundy.

What price points are hot for your customers?

It depends on the period and guest's taste, but we are looking at around £80-100 per person as an average in terms of drink.

The best and worst part of your job

The best: meeting a lot of people and getting to know so many different cultures, traveling and, of course, getting to taste many amazing wines.

The worst: you do not really have much time for yourself (therefore love your job!!!!)

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions?

I think one of the pairings I have been most proud of was our Tarte Fine with Isle of Wight tomatoes, Rove des Guarrigues and Romesco paired by a very crispy and fresh Riesling Hallgartener Hendelberg trocken 2016 by Weingut Peter Jakob-Kühn from Rheinhessen.

Another one you should try is my mushroom risotto, very well paired with a lovely Vigne Marina Coppi 'Sant Andrea' Barbera. It makes me look like a proper chef!

Which varietals or countries are in demand these days for your business?

There is always a high demand for France and Italy but it is nice to see a growing interest for other countries and regions. Between them, I have spotted great interest for Austria and South Africa. I think, talking about varietals, that the common knowledge and taste is expanding, which is awesome. I believe this was, partially, fuelled by many online masterclasses over the various lockdowns and, also, by the growing presence of local Wine Shops. Guests are happy to let you suggest new discoveries and alternatives to what they normally drink. Some of the most requested varietals at the moment are Cabernet Franc, Silvaner, Saint Laurent, the very classic Nebbiolo, and Pinot Noir.

Favorite Song, Podcast, and Book.

Song: I listen to many different genres, but probably a song that will never leave my playlist is Not Afraid by Eminem. 

Book: Not the biggest reader in this world, but Harry Potter made my childhood, Ken Follett is probably one of my favorite pens (amazing detailed storytelling) and at the moment I am enjoying my journeys back home with a chapter of 'The Juice - Vinous Veritas' by Jay McInerney. I do recommend such a read!

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