Home News > May 2024 > Q&A: Vanessa Stoltz, head sommelier at Restaurant Pine, Newcastle upon Tyne

Q&A:  Vanessa Stoltz, head sommelier at Restaurant Pine, Newcastle upon Tyne

The UK wine trade is fortunate to have Vanessa Stoltz among its ranks; the Alsatian sommelier has passed both her Introductory and Certified Sommelier exams with the Court of Master Sommeliers, while her wine list at Restaurant Pine sparkles with unpretentious creativity and pizzazz. But, as James Lawrence discovers, there is more to Stoltz than a love of the grape.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a lovely village in Betschdorf - Alsace, France. Ironically, it’s in the north of Strasbourg, where there is only one vineyard - Domaine Cleebourg.

What's your earliest wine memory?

[Laughs] At a very young age, my dad sometimes took us to his place of work: Weingut Nӓgelsförst in Baden-Baden. My sister and I played between the vines. Then they let us try some of their wine — no judgement here; it was the 1990s, so it was allowed!

Being a sommelier is a very rewarding and yet challenging profession – why did you decide to commit your working life to hospitality?

My parents decided to put me in hospitality school. Little did I know I would love it so much. But I only considered wine properly nine years ago. Hospitality is more than service, food, and wine. It is an education. You meet very interesting people, and you travel the world. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t learned something. It’s a job that gives you an abundance of opportunities. Being a waitress or waiter is just a crumb in the realm of hospitality. Nevertheless, I had to return to being a commis sommelier, and then I worked my way up. I had different roles in various places before taking the head sommelier job at Pine.

So what other professions appealed to you in the formative years?

Actually, I wanted to become a translator for the European Parliament or a literary translator.

Why did you decide to become a judge for the Sommelier Wine Awards?

I decided to become a judge to gain experience. This was my first time on a judging panel, and I was excited about the opportunity. I would definitely love to do it again.

In this challenging environment, wine margins are more vital than ever. What are the key elements in a great list in 2024?

You should promote the wines/regions/countries you are most passionate about. It is a lot more fun for you and more educational for your guests. Considering the theme of the restaurant/bar is a nice touch, too. Also, the prices should be set, giving consideration to differing personal budgets, so that everyone can enjoy it. What are people requesting at the moment? What categories are hip, and what is decidedly out of fashion? Fortified wines are old-fashioned. It’s true that we do not offer a cheeseboard, which also keeps sales down. But even so, people overlook this section completely. Our guests are attracted to try things they haven't had the chance to taste yet. For example, British wines (not sparkling) have been requested deliberately and with enthusiasm.

What about demand for the fine and rare?

I don’t think it is necessary to overload a list with outrageous price tags, not only due to the cost of living – also, because it is intimidating. Let's not forget that the average person isn’t an expert and cares more about liking their beverage without considering remortgaging the house. I have a few mighty priced bottles because it feels nice to go somewhere and know you can afford to give it the “why not, let's just do it!”. From my experience, I found our guests more relaxed and enjoying themselves since my main focus is on unusual but reasonably priced wines.

Are more of your customers requesting non-wine options and low/non-alcoholic drinks?

Wine is still very much the centre of attention. However, in the last two years we have had a more significant demand for low-to-no options, which will only expand.

Finally, what are your passions outside of wine?

I really love reading. Every time I get a little time on my own, you can be sure my head is in a book, even at staff tea.