Sebastian Crowther, master sommelier, 32
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.