Meet Roberto Lafforgue, Wine Manager at Meeru Island Resort & Spa

Wine Manager at Crown & Champa Resort’s Meeru Island Resort Roberto Lafforgue, 31, has lived in Spain, Canada and Mexico. Prior to working in the Maldives, Lafforgue worked as head sommelier at Waldorf Astoria, Ras Al Khaimah, hired by the sommelier who worked with Gordon Ramsay. He speaks to Hotelier Maldives about what it is like to be a sommelier on the resort, the challenges of ordering wine during a pandemic and gives us an insight into the most popular wines in the Meeru wine cellar.

HM: What does being a sommelier entail?

RL: Head sommeliers lead other sommeliers and bartenders and maintain a high standard of beverage service to the guest, while keeping the cost in line with the budget. We assist guests by suggesting wine and food pairings and ensure guest satisfaction by giving courteous, efficient and knowledgeable wine service. We ensure the wine and drinks lists are current, clean, complete and diverse in variety. We are fully aware of the calendar of events and group bookings of large parties to ensure that wine is ordered on time and within accurate quantities. We maintain and upkeep beverage equipment and glasses within the restaurant and recommend improvements and upgrades to the wine list. We demonstrate a strong knowledge of menu dishes and wine and spirits to offer food and wine and drink pairing suggestions. We always meet restaurant standards, keep all wines at the correct level to avoid spillage, comply with company health and safety, hotel security and fire regulations and procedures. We lead staff training and in-house wine tasting and ensure that all the team are following the up-selling standard. We communicate with and assist the waiters in the service of all beverages and manage beverage stock and maximise the sales.

HM: What it is like to be head sommelier on the resort?

RL: Being a head sommelier in the Maldives involves a lot of logistical challenges to supply beverages as we bring new products from abroad and forecast. It also brings the opportunity to improve the system and develop your team. Moreover, you must be overly cautious when your team is handling alcohol because we are in a Muslim country.

HM: Why did you decide to become a sommelier and how you came to be in the Maldives? 

RL: The Maldives is a luxury market misunderstood because of its youth and with vast opportunities for improvement.

HM: What do you love most about the resort you work at?

RL: I love to be part of a young team willing to collaborate and ready for improvement.

HM: Meeru’s wine cellar and what wines you have on offer including vintages and champagnes. How big is the collection?

RL: Meeru island resort has 150-200 wine labels from 15 countries and growing every day.

Here are four wines that represent our resort:

  • Inglenook Rubicon Napa Valley 2014 from USA
  • Chateau Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol 2005 from Bordeaux, France
  • Almaviva, Almaviva by Baron Rothschild 2012 from Chile
  • Magnum Armand Brignac Brut 1.5L Blanc de Blanc NV from Champagne France

HM: What is important to understand about wine and how do you select the perfect wine for your clients?

RL: You only really understand wine when you understand the characteristics of the place it comes from (soil, climate, location, surrounding culture and folklore also call Terroir). When I choose a wine for my clients 90 per cent of the work is expertise in understanding what means this occasion for the guest is: birthday, business, family or romantic occasion. Only the remaining 10 per cent will be related to food pairing and wine service.

HM: What is the most expensive wine on offer at the resort?

RL: Magnum Armand Brignac Brut 1.5L Blanc de Blanc NV from Champagne France $2,500.

HM: How do you keep the wines at the right temperature?

RL: Using quality storage and wine cellars and wine fridges.

HM: Do you do wine tastings?

RL: I only taste wine when we receive new samples that need my professional advice or when the wine we are serving does not seem right. We also do private wine tasting experience for a maximum of four couples per session.

HM: What hobbies do you enjoy when you are not at work?

RL: I’m passionate about everything I do, and I enjoy playing sports or going to the gym and crypto currency trading.

HM: What steps did you take to become a sommelier and why did you choose the Maldives to work?

RL: Study, taste thousands of wines and admit you know nothing and keep yourself up to date with world wine news. I chose Maldives because of the opportunity to meet a new market.

HM: What has been your biggest challenge along the way?

RL: To finance all the wines that I have tasted is way more challenging than funding your studies.

HM: What advice would you give to people entering the industry?

RL: If you love drinking wine, you are already a sommelier at an early stage of maturation. Good luck!

HM: Tell me about the wine experiences available for guests?

RL: Four different wine lists with four different concepts, private wine tasting during sunset, wine pairing dinners, blind wine tasting game where guests taste a wine and guess the grape variety and country to win a bottle of sparkling wine.

HM: What changes have you seen in the industry during the time you have worked at the resort?

RL: Shortage of stock due to Covid-19 pandemic

HM: How do you import wines in a pandemic?

Making a forecast for the coming two-four months of consumption and relying on the supplier to deliver on time.

HM: What is the most popular wine?

RL: Sauvignon Blanc and pinot noir from New Zealand

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