George Loukakis is the current Best Sommelier of Cyprus, he won the competition in 2015. He also participated in the competition to choose the Best Sommelier in Europe. He is a candidate for the Master Sommelier and also for the WSET Diploma. From an early age he discovered that he wanted to become a sommelier and works hard to achieve all his ambitious goals.
GZ: How did you decide to become a sommelier?
GL: Very simple. It was a decision without any doubts. In 1998, my uncle was a candidate for the Best Sommelier in Greece. I went to the competition and saw all the things that sommeliers need and should know. I was impressed. Hold the glass, shake it, smell, discuss with customers, make pairings, open a bottle of wine, decant a red wine. So I thought, this is what I want to do in my life. At that time I was 16,17 years old.
GZ: You are a candidate for Master Sommelier and for the WSET Diploma. You’re working, too. How do you manage to do everything?
GL: In my opinion, if you do not create a plan, you can not keep up with this kind of pressure. Of course it is enjoyable to read, to study, because you are learning new things every day. But without a schedule or program you can not do it, you have to pressure yourself more. My day starts at 6.30 in the morning. I go to run for have an hour, go home, do some things and go to my office. Usually my work day ends at 8pm. At that time I go home and organize things for the next day. Generally during the week I read small things, mainly from internet: updates, things that are happening, etc. It’s always good to know such things as a sommelier. On Saturdays my study time is 6 to 8 hours. But in a more relaxed way. I read, I relax, I have coffee at home. Working in restaurants for 16 years was more difficult. I usually had a day off and on that day I had to study. Now I have a more sophisticated plan and I am studying without the pressure of time. I am studying for the Master Sommelier and the WSET Diploma that have completely different approaches. In the Master Sommelier you have to learn about producers, vineyards, rivers, mountains, everything that can influence a bottle of wine. In the WSET Diploma you need to study why. You go a little further. You are not reading, you are studying, you are investigating. You have to analyze things. It’s a different way of studying. The wines are the same but have a different approach to doing things. It is difficult but it is enjoyable. I always say that sommeliers are athletes. If you are not an athlete you can not stand it. You wake up and start studying. You drink a glass of wine and exercise. You have to do it every day.
GZ: You participated in the competition of Cyprus and also in the European competition. How did these two events change you and what did you learn from them?
GL: To answer you, I’ll go a little earlier in time. I have participated in some competitions over the years. In the last national before I won I was second. I made a very bad final. Since that day, I completely changed my way on how to study, how to approach people, how to do things. I used to work alone. After that contest I started to listen to everyone. What others said, I wrote it. I corrected my mistakes. To win you need to take everything to a higher level. I won but I still had not found an answer for some things. I watched videos of the final and I saw mistakes that for me are not acceptable. I worked them thinking that in the next competition I will be better. My motto of my victory and then is “Look what NOT to do”. Fix errors.
GZ: Here in Cyprus you receive a lot of tourism. Are the customers, the ones that you have in your new work and the ones you had before in the restaurants, are interested in trying the indigenous varieties or want wines from other regions of the world?
GL: It’s a mixture. In the last three years, since Cyprus wines have grown in quality, customers want to try, they want something indigenous. They do not want to try a Cabernet Sauvignon. They’ll be safe in a Cabernet Sauvignon from Cyprus because they know Cabernet Sauvignon. But they want to try Maratheftiko, Yiannoudi and other red varieties. Everyone likes Xinisteri, because it is fruity, floral and fresh. Sommeliers are influencing change.
GZ: If you could have a glass of wine with someone you admire, in the wine industry or not, who would it be?
GL: I had the honor of having a glass of wine with a lot of people I admire. It is a difficult decision. Definitely with Gerard Basset. All sommeliers who respect the sommelier profession admire Gerard Basset. You will learn with every word he says.