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Meet the Expert - Marco Pelletier

Marco Pelletier SommelierWinemaker. Mentor. Longtime Chief Sommelier at world-renowned bastions of gastronomy in Paris.

A native Québécois, Marco quickly made a name for himself in France, and had sommed at two prestigious Paris restaurants when he was offered — aged only 34 — the position of Chief Sommelier at the city’s legendary Hôtel Le Bristol.

Favorite wine region? Burgundy for the people, and Bordeaux for my heart because of my little vineyard there.

Favorite wine story? At the beginning of my winemaker and sommelier career, one of the greatest winemakers of all time told me: “If you make your own wine one day, make sure you do it as you like… If you don’t sell it you will have to drink it yourself!”

Light-bulb moment? In Champagne, France in 1997, I was a Canadian beer drinker. One evening someone brought out a Château La Louvière 1985. Wow…

Last meal? 36-month-aged Comté with a Château Chalon 1952 from Jean Bourdy.

Desert island wine? Chablis premier cru Montée de Tonnerre 1986 from Raveneau.

If you could live anywhere in the world… San Francisco, without any doubt! For the friends I have over there, the climate, and the people — plus a little bit the wines.

Bucket list? To own a bottle of Jurancon Clos Joliette 1970 [a so-called “unicorn wine”] and also a vineyard in the Loire planted half with Cabernet Franc and half Chenin Blanc grapes.

If you ruled the world, what would you do on Day 1? I’d help the artisans — and by that I mean not only winemakers! Artisans reflect our culture and savoir faire. If we don’t help them in today’s profit-obsessed corporate-dominated market, they’ll disappear — and with them all the authenticity that makes a country unique.

Greatest achievement? Making wine is the greatest achievement I think. Giving pleasure to people every day is what we do in our business, and it’s something very useful for our society.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Producing Champagne... it is my dream! I am working on a project at the moment so we will see soon.

THEN How did a Canadian beer-drinker with a degree in civil engineering become one of France’s most respected wine experts?

For Marco, the starting point was 1997, when he left Quebec to spend a sabbatical working in a small cafe in the Champagne region. Workers from local wineries would stop by for meals and a glass or two of wine, and Marco came to appreciate the ancient art and labor of love that is winemaking. He remembers his epiphany: “One evening after we’d drunk many beers, someone brought out a Château La Louvière 1985. Wow! Wine could be something way more than the cheap counter wines I’d had before. Hallelujah!”

On his return to Canada, Marco couldn’t shake his memories of France and its wines. Realizing his true vocation, he embarked on sommelier training, earning the Relais & Châteaux internship that brought him back to France and the attention of leading vintners and restaurateurs. Michel Rostang hired him as Assistant Sommelier at his eponymous 2-star Paris restaurant in 2000. From there he moved to the wine lovers’ paradise that was Jean-Claude Vrinat’s Taillevent, a 3-star with an astonishing 425,000-bottle cellar. And in 2008 the world-famous Hôtel Le Bristol offered him the challenge of overseeing its distinguished collections. By the time he left in 2016, he had increased inventory from 450 to 2,500 vintages and helped elevate the hotel’s Epicure restaurant to Michelin 3-star status.

Ironically, the restaurant sommelier in the land of égalité and fraternité is still typically just one step down from God. But at Le Bristol Marco strove to democratize wine. While his lists were justly praised for what Fine Wine magazine’s “World’s Best Wine Lists 2015” called an “extraordinary range of French wines,” he was applauded for paying equal respect to the country’s vignerons [small grower-producers]. Knowing that not all wine enthusiasts can afford 3-star dining, he also created an informal pairing program called “Winemaker Mondays.”

NOW Marco divides his time between Paris and Domaine de Galouchey, the tiny Bordeaux vineyard that he started with two friends and where he makes “Vins de Jardin” of power yet expert balance. In Paris his “restaurant wine embassy,” Vantre, which opened in spring 2016, allows lesser known winemakers to share their wares and gives sommeliers the chance to get hands-on experience in the craft of winemaking.

NEXT Marco would like to devote more time to Domaine de Galouchey and is also eager to realize his dream of producing Champagne: “I’m working on a project at the moment so we will see soon.”