The celebratory glass is firmly in the hands of Gerald Lu, winner of the recently concluded Singapore National Sommelier Competition 2017.
Gerald Lu, 32, caught the vinous bug while working at a bar at age 16. Fast forward to the present—and the charismatic wine talent has gone from carving out his career at the IndoChine Group, to his present post as head sommelier and general manager at Praelum Wine Bistro, while also juggling duties as vice chairman of the Sommelier Association of Singapore.
Making his mark early as the youngest champion at the Singapore National Sommelier Competition when he was 25 years old, Lu has since attained accreditations in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Programme and the Court of Master Sommeliers, and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Sake Sommelier (SSI). On 10 October, Gerald literally came one full circle with his latest win as national champion at the eighth Singapore National Sommelier Competition 2017. Edging out eight other top sommeliers during the event held at Parkroyal on Kitchener Road, Gerald’s next task will be to fly the Singapore flag high, representing the nation at the Southeast Asia Best Sommelier Competition 2018.
I was first captivated by the ‘cool’ vibes of being behind the bar, but became really curious about the science behind wines after two years into the job. One book led to five, and look where I am now!
The combination of science, history and culture simply captured me, and that’s how I chose to be a sommelier over bartending. I still enjoy watching the bar guys work at their craft, but I’ve somehow remained hooked on wines for a decade now. The friends I’ve made on this journey are some of the best a man can have now and a long time more.
It’s not new, but I’m drinking a glass of Tasmanian Pinot Noir at the moment. They definitely deserve more attention.
When people ask about the best thing about being a sommelier, the correct answer is that I get to meet people and friends daily, and that I always learn something new. But the real answer? The free wine (laughs).
Many people misunderstand sommeliers to be uppity, snobby people who only put drops of gold in our mouths. I love food from 7-Eleven.
I prepared for the Singapore National Sommelier Competition the same way I always do: I slept little, studied non-stop and tasted [wines] daily. My family, friends and peers supported with tons of love, and I cannot emphasise the importance of this last point enough.
The goal was to make the finals so when my name was called [together with Jacques Chua from Galaxy Entertainment Group Macau, and Alvin Neo from Singapore Airlines], I was pretty contented. Going into the finals I had nothing to lose, and after the performance I knew I’d given my best and that it should be enough. Thankfully, it was!
The theoretical aspect of the competition has always been the hardest—it’s insane the amount of information we try to cram into our heads. Preparing for theory still intimidates me; it feels as if despite all the time and effort spent as a sommelier, I still know very little.
To be a good sommelier, I believe that you must have a genuine love for people and an unconditional love for food and drink. You must also be prepared to sleep very little and work a lot.
My advice to those who want to enter the industry: work hard and do not give up even in the face of failed competitions and/or exams. Surround yourself with sommeliers who exude good energy, remember to rest and spend time with loved ones because they will provide you that extra strength to soldier on.
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s November 2017 issue – Happy Hour, ‘Sommelier’