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Photo for: Goodman’s Shane McHugh on what a good sommelier should be all about

Interviews

Goodman’s Shane McHugh on what a good sommelier should be all about

07/01/2022

Shane McHugh feels like he has fallen on his feet working as a sommelier. Not only does he love wine, but he likes sharing his knowledge and insights with his guests.

Can you tell us about your background and how you first got into wine?

I started out working in bars and primarily hotels in the west of Ireland, for my brother Martin who I now ironically work with at my current company. I decided to jump into a hospitality degree and was windswept by the wine module - I was all over it. This led to a summer opening hilariously expensive wine on Long Island, New York which then prompted me to jump into the world of wine in London in 2014.

Why did you want to be a sommelier?

I had that scary day where I finished my degree in Bar & Restaurant Management and realised I wanted to do neither. I consulted with my wine lecturer about careers in wine, was given some flattering and encouraging words and booked a one way ticket to London, which is probably the smartest thing I have ever done.

How did you progress into your current role?

I joined in the summer of 2019 to “help out”. I fell head over heels in love with Goodman and felt so at home from the start, this led to me becoming buyer for Goodman early last year and then buyer additionally for Zelman and Beast in May of this year. This company has given me a lot and put me in a place I didn’t expect to be at this age.

Shane McHugh, Group Wine Buyer at Goodman Restaurant Holdings Ltd

What is involved in your current role and your main tasks?

Sourcing and buying wines for our lists, carrying out tastings for and with my team, monitoring stock checks - that are done every Monday - and constantly meeting and keeping relationships with our supplier base, and sorting out things for future listings and so on. I still do a couple of shifts on the floor on the week, as if I am not talking to customers I haven’t a clue what to buy for the sites.

How have you devised the wine list and wine programme at Goodman?

I write the by the glass list for the sites and then my kids take care of the rest, I meet all of them regularly to talk development and ensuring where it’s going reflects that of the needs of the good folk walking through the door. All of them have been trained from day one to get to know the regulars, monitor what sells and what doesn’t, and most of all acknowledge what the guest asks for that we may not have.

What are the key factors about the list that help and drive the bottom line?

I make my better gross profit margin on what I pour by the glass, as our bars are very traditional post work destinations, that goes for key, classic bottle listings also.

The kicker to that is I place all fine wine on cash margins, one to make fine wine accessible for a larger crowd and to be competitive with those around me, ultimately things balance well from a financial aspect.

What do you most look for and want from wine suppliers to help drive sales?

Understanding there’s people that look at us and our concept and they completely overcomplicate it and make their own lives very hard as well as ours. The best suppliers are the ones that monitor our orders and see what sells and then adapt what they come to us with, and and offer us something new that is of great benefit for us. That way it means we can offer our loyal regulars something new and delicious.

Goodman Restaurant

How do you determine if your wine range is successful? What criteria do you use?

As a crazy sports fan I think I have taken the mentality of not being satisfied and always looking to what’s next, which I do, but as I get older I realise that can be a bit of an empty outlook. For me I judge it by the happiness of our guests drinking the wines we have chosen and love and my guys being just as happy while serving it.

What are the criteria you look for in a wine when deciding whether to include it in your wine range or not?

If as soon as I try a wine and I don’t think about a plate of food from one of my restaurants, whether that be a prawn tempura starter or a bone in ribeye, it doesn’t get listed. Second, is the second glass vibe, if I don’t want a second glass of what I am drinking, I doubt I would get away with serving it by glass or bottle for that matter.

Goodman Steak

What do you see as being the key skills and talents needed to be a good sommelier?

Desire, honesty and humanity. Wake up every day with that level of desire to succeed at what you love to do, be honest with yourself, your colleagues and most important, your guests.

Having a sense of humanity helps you establish a better connection with everyone, if you establish better connection, it will mean better communication and it means you will choose a better bottle of wine for that person.

Have those changed at all during your career?

Never. And when they do, I’ll have to think about a career change, country singer or centre midfield for Bolton Wanderers. I’m not sure which is less realistic.

What do you most look for when interviewing sommeliers that makes them stand out?

Can they be the host with the most. Being a sommelier is not just about wine, I want them to be able to choose food and then pair the wine, and throw in spirit and coffee service at the end. I want the whole package. And if you are not, that’s cool. Reason being if you have the personality, I can teach you. If you have knowledge but no personality, I cannot be of much service I’m afraid.

What wine buying trends have you seen since lockdown in terms of styles of wine and regions?

Adventure. They open the list and go on a virtual holiday, I feel like nothing is off limits really. People are interested in more fun pairings for red meat rather than just red wine which is a fun challenge, in terms of regions, wines from Veneto, the Rhone and Lodi have exploded.

What are the sweet spots in terms of price points?

That varies by site and is something that fascinates me. I’ll give you three: £45-50, £70-85 and £90-120, it can be any one of these, for any site, on any given day. You may think the lower bracket would be somewhere like our Canary Wharf site, which the odd time it might be, but it is sometimes our flagship Mayfair site.