Why are sommeliers getting younger?

Werner Zahnd and Barbara Keizer run the “Bodega Peninsula - your shop for wine and books” in Bern as a congenial duo. For her, the two topics complement each other perfectly, because both are pleasure for the senses and soul, sometimes stimulating, sometimes calming, and definitely touching. Werner Zahnd is not only a wine merchant, but also a hotelier and restaurant owner, tasks that of course complement each other and give him even more leeway for his passion for wine. It is not for nothing that he completed his sommelier training in addition to his wine academy training. And should the wine get too much, then sport is the perfect balance for him - and he is ambitious there too. He plays in the Swiss "Nati des Vignerons", how could it be otherwise?


Interview with Werner Zahnd
by Nadja Oehrlein and Bruno-Thomas Eltschinger                                                                               

“Bodega Peninsula - your shop for wine and books” - how that?
Because it's a great combination and a lot of fun.

How did you come up with the not necessarily obvious combination?
When a sommelier and a bookseller open a shop together, this combination comes about. In addition, both have to do with enjoyment, muse, interest in new things and culture in the broadest sense.

And how do you combine the two aspects - there are certain criteria for the wine and book selection that yoursFind customers at your place? Are you responsible for everything together or is one responsible for the wine and the other for the books?
We sell wines from Europe. Accordingly, the authors of the books come from the countries from which the wine comes. This limits the offer of both, makes it manageable and comprehensible. In most cases, we choose the wine together; the bookseller is responsible for selecting the books.

And how does it make the concept work?
With a hundred percent willingness to be always up-to-date for the customers, with a beautiful presentation of the products and competent advice.

And you are also a hotelier and restaurant owner - a perfect addition to the Bodega Peninsula?
For the Bodega Peninsula, the integration into a gastronomic network is definitely an advantage, for us as humans it admittedly means more work, more challenges, but also more joy.

What are the three most important characteristics of a sommelier for you?
Friendliness, expertise and the ability to recognize the wishes of guests and customers and to translate them into a suitable recommendation.

Are sommeliers more entertainers or salespeople who should sell something for guests?
The sommelier is a consultant for wine and much more for the benefit of his guests.

Why should sommelier be a trendy job?
If it is not yet, it can still become. The younger sommeliers are, the more relaxed they appear in their demeanor and are more likely to hit the nerve of the times.

What should a sommelier never say?
A sommelier never says 'no'. 'Doesn't exist, doesn't have, never will' have no place in everyday life and in the sommelier's attitude. Rather, he indicates possibilities with positive statements.

What is a sommelier's hardest job?
To design the bridge between the host and the guest so that both are happy!

How much should a sommelier in Switzerland at least earn?
That depends on his work environment and his tasks.

What was the most formative experience in your career as a wine merchant?
The realization that well-informed and alert people let themselves be taken again and again by the discount offers of the wholesalers.

Which sommelier do you admire today?
Paolo Basso

How big is your range?
Our range includes between 200 and 300 wines and about the same number of books.

Is it exhausting to always have to drink wine for work?
That would be great, but of course it's a cliché! For professional reasons, I taste the wine professionally, that is, I spit the wine out again after the analysis. In my private life, however, I definitely value a good wine with a fine meal.

Does ecological viticulture play a major role for your customers?
Organic wines are an increasingly important factor in the wine trade. For our customers, however, the organic label is in most cases just one of many other criteria. In most cases they choose their wines according to other criteria.

How do you sell natural wine or orange wine to your customers?
We don't sell either. So far there has been no demand.

What role do Parker points play in your range?
It doesn't matter because most customers don't care.

What criteria do you use to recommend the right wine to go with your customers?
In any case, after the main course, or according to the sequence of courses. My suggestions are based on the classic pairings of wine and food, on geographical aspects and on the personal preferences of the customer.

In your opinion, what should come first: first the choice of wine and then prepare a corresponding dish - or determine the dish and then choose the wine or get recommended?
In most cases, the customer will first determine the food and then have the wine recommended. For our events and theme evenings, however, we definitely choose the wines first and then build the dishes around them. This requires appropriate literature or research on the Internet, but it is very enriching and exciting because you also come across other information on the topic.

What questions do your customers usually ask?
If the wine is strong, it has a lot of acidity, where does the wine come from, which wine goes well with my menu.

What is the secret of a good wine?
Its versatility and its complexity.

Are Swiss wines well priced in the wine trade?
In my opinion, there is room for improvement. For me, the price level is often at the upper limit. However, this has less to do with the calculation of the trade than with the price specification and the conditions of the winegrowers.

What trends do you see in young people's taste in wine?
I don't see any real trend, but I have noticed that many young people are very well informed and develop their own tastes early on.

Which wine regions or regions are the future positive surprises?
The northern regions of Switzerland, Germany and the countries east of us all the way to the Black Sea.

What are your wine favorites for Swiss wines?
A good Swiss wine is always a favorite.

Which is the best Swiss sparkling wine for you?
The 'Scampagna' by Peter Wegelin from Malans, a Riesling Silvaner and the 'Refolo' by Moncucchetto from Lugano, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Which wine do you have the most of in your private wine cellar?
Which private wine cellar? The wines are better stored in the air-conditioned cellars of the Bodega Peninsula and the selection is larger :-)

Which two wines would you take with you to the desert island?
'Luigi e Giovanna' and 'Polvento', both from Umbria. With the two top wines, I have great experiences with friends and the family from Orvieto.

Which winemakers do you prefer and why?
The Spaniards because they always cause surprises, because of the language and the relationships with them. Basically, I love all innovative, careful and independent winemakers.

What is your personal favorite wine country, apart from Switzerland, in Europe?

What is your hobby?
Soccer, traveling and skiing

Your favorite music?
Rock, country and light classical music

Your favorite food?
Pulpo Gallego, country and Mediterranean cuisine

With what personality in the world would you drink a bottle of Petrus?
With no personality, but with family and friends. It's just as fun!

What is your motto in life?
The question is not, 'Do we do it?' But, 'How do we do it?'

What do you think is your greatest asset or your greatest mistake?
My knowledge. To eat and drink.

What kind of luxury do you occasionally afford?
Wonderful, nice and quiet vacation

What is it that annoys you?
A ladder is easier than climbing.

What is your favorite compliment?
Compliments from happy customers.

How did you make your first money?
With an ax and a shovel!

You win a million Swiss francs, what would you do with it?
Create and multiply.

What do you particularly appreciate about the Swiss Sommelier Association?
The very good cooperation on the board, the professional appearance on the various occasions.