Se­bas­tian Crowther, mas­ter som­me­lier, 32

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - FRONT - By Max Brear­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy Josh Roben­stone

In your role as bev­er­age di­rec­tor at the Rock­pool Group, you’re a part of the team se­lect­ing the wine served on Qan­tas flights. How do you choose? We have a big an­nual blind tast­ing that is pri­mar­ily se­lect­ing wines for busi­ness and first class for the fol­low­ing 12 months. We’re look­ing at winer­ies big and small. The rest of the year we’re tast­ing for economy.

How does al­ti­tude af­fect the taste of wine? It can dull your taste buds and make the wine slightly more sub­dued. But if we can find a prod­uct that is re­ally great on the ground, we’re pretty con­fi­dent it’s go­ing to taste re­ally good in the air.

So, no tast­ing panel at 35,000 feet? I’ve asked Qan­tas a cou­ple of times if we can get a big Jumbo to fly us around Sydney for a cou­ple of days but they’re not hav­ing a bar of it.

How has travel in­formed your pas­sion for wine? I was born in the UK but my fam­ily moved to Australia when I was about six months old. My dad worked for the Aussie govern­ment and we spent a lot of time trav­el­ling. Once I started work­ing as a som­me­lier I en­rolled in a year-long wine course. I went to France and I lived there for over a year… I hired a car and drove around the wine re­gions, just im­mers­ing my­self in it.

And there was a sci­ence to it that you liked… When I started learn­ing about wine I found that it was a lot about ge­og­ra­phy. I was in­ter­ested in why cer­tain grape va­ri­eties grew where they grew, the cli­mate, the cul­ture and the his­tory.

How did you be­come one of only three Mas­ter Som­me­liers in Australia? When I ar­rived back from France in 2008 the first Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers ex­ams were com­ing to Australia. I’d been geek­ing out on the sub­ject and thought I was ready to do those ex­ams. I passed the first two on my first at­tempt. Af­ter that there’s an ad­vanced exam and then the Mas­ter exam, which you can’t do in Australia. I went to Har­ro­gate in Eng­land to sit my ad­vanced exam, which I passed.

It’s been said that be­com­ing a Mas­ter Som­me­lier is harder than get­ting a med­i­cal de­gree. Is it that bad? It’s cer­tainly deep and de­tailed and you need to do a con­sid­er­able amount of work. On my first at­tempt at the fi­nal Mas­ter exam I passed the ser­vice com­po­nent [but not tast­ing and the­ory]. I went crazy for a year and stud­ied like a ma­niac, with lit­tle to no so­cial life. I went back the fol­low­ing year and passed the rest.

Why do some peo­ple feel trep­i­da­tion when a somm ap­proaches their ta­ble? The old im­pres­sion was of this Euro­pean wine waiter who was try­ing to sell you some­thing for 10 times more than what you wanted to pay and prob­a­bly didn’t know as much as he thought about the sub­ject. The mod­ern ap­proach is more laid­back, more per­sonal; we’re not used-car sales­men. We’ve got a gen­uine de­sire to pro­vide a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence and in­tro­duce you to some­thing new.

What ex­cites you right now in Aus­tralian wine? The cooler cli­mate wine re­gions in Vic­to­ria, Tas­ma­nia and the Can­berra dis­trict, and places like Great South­ern in Western Australia, which is rel­a­tively un­ex­plored and hugely di­verse in its soils and cli­matic con­di­tions. And Tassie for pinot, espe­cially now that we’re start­ing to see a lot more small pro­duc­ers.

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