His mentorship is sought by many aspiring sommeliers, his impact in the industry unquestionable and unrivalled – Franck Moreau MS is this year’s recipient of the Len Evans Award.
Each of the previous 12 winners of the Len Evans Award have been involved in different ways in the wine industry. It is not as clear cut with this year’s winner: Merivale Group Sommelier Franck Moreau MS. Yet the excitement among the judges when his nomination was mooted was palpable. His work has been rightly lauded, and the quality of his leadership a key feature of that work.
Franck Moreau was born in Mâcon in southern Burgundy and grew up among the vines and cellars of Beaujolais. He studied hospitality in Mâcon, did specialist wine courses in Dijon, and began work at Michelin star-rated La Rotonde near Lyon. At the age of 21, he became Sommelier at La Tour d’Argent, another Michelin-rated restaurant. Its 500,000 bottles stretching deep into the 19th century were generally regarded as France’s finest restaurant cellar. After 18 months he moved to London where he worked at two of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants: as Assistant Sommelier at Claridges and as Head Sommelier at Savoy Grill.
A fascination with wine has seen him travel to vineyards and cellars throughout the world and, in 2004, saw him appointed Head Sommelier at Sydney’s Pier Restaurant. The following year, he became Group Sommelier for Merivale. Over the next 10 years, he participated in sommelier awards with considerable success. Most importantly, in 2011, he became the first Australia-based person to pass the Court of Master Sommelier’s diploma examination – entitling him to use the letters MS.
“Working with strong characters forces you to push yourself, to learn more.”
Merivale currently has more than 60 venues in Sydney. What amazes and delights is just how different each of them is from all others; how well the wines suit the theme of each restaurant and especially what clever fit they are with its food. The size of each list varies with the nature of the restaurant and its clientele, for instance Ms. G’s has a small list while Felix and Mr. Wong are sizable.
No matter what, the lists balance the familiar and the less well-known; local and overseas, (and when appropriate, fresh and youthful with mature and full flavoured). In all cases, the choices offered are carefully considered and are supported by knowledgeable sommeliers.
The success of Merivale restaurants over the past decade in Australia’s Wine List of the Year is testament to the care and rigour that underlie its wine program. And Moreau’s work – when he’s looking for a staff member to work on the floor, he’s looking for someone with personality who can engage the customer. If he’s looking for a sommelier, he wants someone who knows wine and is prepared to work hard to learn more about it. In most cases, Merivale lists have more than one sommelier involved in their creation or development.
One key element of Moreau’s management is that he wants the person with prime responsibility in each venue to take charge of the wines by the glass, to stamp their personality on the list. He trusts his sommeliers, is prepared to stand back and let them shine.
While a great believer in professional development who takes responsibility for the Court of Master Sommeliers examinations in Australia, Moreau is not prepared to push his sommeliers down this path. If they are enthusiastic, he’s supportive; if they have another way to further their knowledge and understanding of wine, he’s happy for them to take that responsibility.
Moreau gives credit where it is due. When asked who was involved in the development of the list at Est. – winner of Australia’s Wine List of the Year for 2019 – apart from the current sommelier, Bhatia Dheeraj, he mentioned Emmanuel Cadieu, Jean-Charles Mahe and Adrian Filiuta MS. Of course, he had been involved in refining the list over many years but chose not to mention that.
“Working with strong characters forces you to push yourself, to learn more,” says Moreau. Not only is there room at Merivale for two of Australia’s five Master Sommeliers, Moreau relishes his professional relationship with Filiuta. “We are entirely comfortable working together, looking always for the best decision.” The situation is similar with the large number of extraordinarily talented sommeliers with whom he works. As much as anything, it defines his leadership style.
Photography by Dimitri Tricolas.