L’Enclume sommelier wins Michelin prize
Last week, Valentin Mouillard received the Michelin Sommelier Award. He chats to db about whether good service matters more than a good wine list, and what it’s really like to work with Simon Rogan.
Working his way up from a Novotel on the outskirts of London, Mouillard joined L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria almost eight years ago, and in 2019 he would become head sommelier. In 2022, the restaurant would gain its coveted third star from the Michelin Guide.
Following on from Tara Ozols at SOLA, who won last year’s Michelin Sommelier Award, Mouillard was presented with the trophy at the launch of the 2024 Michelin Guide for Great Britain & Ireland in Manchester before jetting off to Thailand to do some work at Rogan’s new chef’s table experience Aulis Phuket for the next month.
Speaking with the drinks business, he shared his reflections on the award, and on his approach to wine.
What was your first reaction to winning the Michelin Sommelier Award?
I felt pure pride, happiness, and surprise all at once. After the initial shock had passed, I felt, and continue to feel, so grateful to work for such an amazing company with outstanding people. To be recognised by Michelin, even though we are in a tiny village in the middle of the Lake District, is really special.
What do you think stood out regarding your work that won you this award?
I think it must be my love of sharing with others. I believe that people have a tendency to take this job too seriously at times and forget the original purpose of a sommelier in a restaurant: to share beverages that enhance the experience and help people discover new horizons. These are central to my service style and are essential when it comes to helping our guests feel comfortable.
Which is more important: a perfect wine list or perfect service?
Ideally, I’d have both together. I believe you can get away with having an imperfect (but still very good) wine list with perfect service, but not the other way around. You can have the ideal wine pairing, something that is truly exceptional and elevates both beverage and dish, but if the service is poor, this will stand out, and the pairing will not become a match to remember.
You come from a winemaking family, do you think that gives you an edge as a sommelier, or does it give you regional or stylistic biases that you have to overcome?
I grew up in the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley, but a part of my family on my father’s side lives in Jura.
I don’t know if it gives me an edge, but it made me understand from a young age the effort that goes into making wine. It helped me realise that as sommeliers, we represent the winemakers who cannot be present, and it’s our responsibility to make sure these wines are enjoyed the way they would want them to be.
Having grown up between two well-known growing regions, I had the chance to see and taste two completely different styles of wine, which taught me a lot. Of course, this upbringing influenced me, and I’m proud of the wines produced in these regions, but ultimately, our wine list is one of diversity.
For me, it’s important to recommend wines that our guests will enjoy rather than ignoring their preferences for my own taste. However, if they happen to like wines from Jura or Muscadet, then I’ll have plenty of recommendations!
How closely do you work with Rogan on the wine offering at L’Enclume?
As a sommelier team, Simon has complete trust in us. We have total control over the beverage list – we just need to make sure that we don’t break the bank!
He knows that when giving us a dish, we will do everything in our power to take it to the next level with our pairing suggestion. To have someone of his level respect what we do and trust us 100% is amazing. It’s a privilege to create a programme we love, which he has full confidence in.
With the sheer number of stars his restaurants have received, and your own win, would it be fair to say that Rogan is a ‘Michelin machine’?
People might say that he’s a machine, but I don’t think the word is quite right, as it feels mechanical and doesn’t fit him or his ethos.
I believe his restaurants are so successful because he cares a lot. He cares about what is on the plate and everything else around the plate as well, including the people, the provenance of his ingredients, and the environment. Part of this success is because his team also share the same emotion and passion.
We like to do things in the way we think is right, making sure we give the best possible experience to our guests. I have realised over the years working for Simon, that we constantly push ourselves, evolve, and try to make the service better every single day.