As the group head sommelier and wine buyer for The Birley Clubs, Clement Robert is responsible for the wine lists at some of London’s most prestigious restaurants. In a portfolio that includes Matteo’s at members club Annabel’s, Robert is charged with the task of satisfying some of the most discerning palates in the city. If that was not enough work, earlier this year Robert helped to launch the group’s latest project, The Birley Wine Club.
Launched virtually in June 2020, The Birley Wine Club immediately became one of the leading clubs in its field. Using encyclopedic knowledge and an extensive list of contacts, the club is able to offer its members access to some of the finest and rarest wines in the world. We speak to Robert about his passion for wine, the inspiration behind The Birely Wine Club, and what we can expect from it once the world returns to normal.
How did your life in wine begin?
I wanted to become a sommelier from a young age. My love for wine was inspired by my father, who was very passionate about wine. I grew up fascinated by the culture that surrounds wine and was captivated by the array of scents, smells and flavors that different wines offered. I started a sommelier apprenticeship in a Michelin Star Restaurant in France and later moved to England to learn the language and to pass my Master Sommelier exam.
You became group head sommelier and wine buyer in early 2019. What specific parts of the job drew you to it?
I loved the idea of managing the wine program across five Birley Clubs with such different character. The various projects that I have been able to lead on at Annabel’s was a huge draw – in particular the opening of Matteo’s was exceptionally exciting and of course, the most recent launch of The Birley Wine Club.
What has been your biggest achievement in your role to date?
It would have to be the opening Matteo’s, the newest Italian restaurant at Annabel’s which opened last year. The restaurant hosts the largest list of Barolo in Europe and the world’s most extensive list of Sassicaia and Masseto. This was an incredible list to curate and an opportunity to work with some of the best producers in the world. It was great fun and an opportunity to develop a true ‘wine and sommelier culture’ within the Birley Clubs for our members that has only continued to grow.
And what has been the most challenging moment?
The first lockdown in March due to the global pandemic brought challenges to our clubs as it did to all hospitality venues. However, we adapted to ensure that we could still offer fun and engaging content to our members within the comfort of their own homes. We launched The Birley Wine Club with a virtual tasting and the concept is continuing to grow and evolve in both virtual and physical forms.
Tell us a bit about the concept and founding principles of The Birley Wine Club.
The Birley Wine Club is an opportunity to experience the best wine producers in the world, gain insight into the winemaking heritage of global regions and receive expert advice from wine connoisseurs. The club wine list features some of the rarest and finest blends available to purchase at incomparable prices for its members. Members will also have the opportunity to purchase wines ‘En Primeur’, allowing them to purchase wines before being bottled and released onto the market. Such as the Sassicaia 2017 now available to order through The Birley Wine Club.
You had to launch the concept virtually in June. How has lockdown changed the way you interact with members?
The excellent in-person service received across the Birley Clubs is challenging to emulate in a virtual form. However, in this case, it has allowed us to add an extra element to our wine program as part of The Birley Wine Club. We work with the best experts in their field, across the wine industry, to create beautifully shot content for members to enjoy, alongside featured bottles that they can order from the wine club straight to their door. The level of service is not compromised and means they can still experience a part of their club from home.
And what can members expect once the pandemic is behind us?
When permittable, we will be organizing and hosting wine trips and exclusive experiences to the best regions of production around the world. We have already hosted some opulent, unparalleled dinners in the clubs with the world’s best estates such as Sassicaia, Gaja, Lafite Rothschild and Insignia. The Birley Wine Club also aims to involve members in some of the exciting behind the scenes processes of these top producers.
Giovanni Gaja is due to host a dinner on November 18. What makes his wine a good fit for the club?
Gaja is one of the most renowned wine producers in the world, chiefly producing Barbaresco and Barolo, a true pioneer in making world-class Nebbiolo. When the market wasn’t looking at Piedmont as being a great wine region, Gaja managed to bring international fame to it. Due to their incredible work and efforts through five generations, today Piedmont is considered to be the top region for wine globally.
How do you/will you select the vineyards that members visit? Is there certain criteria they have to meet?
They have to be considered as the very best in their categories/regions. They have to make great wines, but also deliver an outstanding level of hospitality for our members. Additionally, we want these experiences to educate and engage our members in a way that surprises them and lastly, we always want there to be an element of fun and enjoyment.
You oversee the wine list in many of London’s most exclusive restaurants. How do you ensure each list reflects the restaurant’s individuality?
It is imperative to understand the restaurant concept, the type of cuisine but most importantly the tastes of members and their guests. It is all about delivering an exceptional and unparalleled wine program tailored to the restaurant and club.