Meet Your Somm: Vincent Debergé

Vincent Debergé was chef sommelier at Le Chat-Botté restaurant Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva.

With a distinguished career working across a slew of top restaurants such as Le Chat-Botté across Switzerland for the past decade, French Basque sommelier Vincent Debergé can currently be found at Chez Bacchus wine bar in Geneva. Trying a Château d’Yquem 1981 during his apprenticeship rightly captured his attention and placed him on a enological path of no-return, and while Old World classics have mostly dominated his lists, a demanding clientele at Vincent’s latest posting allows him to showcase the rest of the world as well as Switzerland’s growing industry. We first met at Cave des Amandiers in a small winery in Vallais, Fully, in 2017 drinking some delicious Petite Arvine and Cornalin (Rouge de Pays) from Alexandre Delétraz’ vineyards, so it’s a pleasure to introduce this diligent sommelier who has so much Swiss expertise. 

What’s your favourite wine region in the world?

It’s hard to say which is my favourite region because my heart swings between the sublime landscapes of the Douro in Portugal or the German Moselle, but I’ll say the Rhône Valley as a whole. Whether it’s in France or Switzerland, I’m as much an admirer of the vineyard as I am of the wines produced and in particular of Syrah.

What is your go-to beverage aside from wine?

I’ll say beer because it can be produced in different ways, with different types of hops and the various processes, beer allows my taste buds to find harmony between complexity and aromatic pleasure.

Which wine changed your life?

Château d’Yquem 1981 during my apprenticeship. I knew deep down that I had an interest in wine thanks in part to my father, but when I tasted this Sauternes Grand Cru with the chef sommelier of the restaurant where I worked (Daniel Giust at Le Relais de la Poste restaurant in Magescq), I loved the right balance between sugar and precise acidity. The aromas of candied fruit and the saffron notes only served to enrich my pleasure. That moment was the beginning of my professional development.

How would you define your current wine list?

I’ve been working as a sommelier in Switzerland for the past 10 years and I must say this has allowed me to discover the Swiss terroir. During my last few years as chef sommelier of [Michelin one-star restaurant] Le Chat-Botté at Hotel Beau-Rivage, my wine list was relatively classic. A large part of France, the rest in Switzerland and featuring a very small part from the rest of the world. Since October 2019, I’ve been working at a brand-new wine bar, Chez Bacchus, and now my list is much more international because this place’s clientele demands continual discoveries.

Which wines excite you?

There are so many… I’d say the great Syrah from Rhone, for their balance, their accuracy of aroma, their density, their deepness and above all their elegance. I’m a huge fan of German Rieslings for their righteousness, their clear and precise reading and magical ageing potential. But there are also the great Champagnes, especially the Blanc de Noirs, the great Burgundies whether they are Pinot Noir or Chardonnay and, without a doubt, the magic of the old Bordeaux vintages.

What do you love most about your job?

The discovery of new terroirs and meeting winemakers as well as the sharing with customers and friends. I especially love the moment when I pull a cork and use a drink in order to live a unique moment.

Who are your favourite wine resources and authors?

During my career I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to serve alongside great sommeliers who have been sources of inspiration for me. I think especially of Eric Beaumard and Enrico Bernardo. For the literary part, I will say Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson and José Vouillamoz.

What’s your philosophy with regard to wine and food – do you believe in wine pairings?

It seems right to me that, as a sommelier, we defend terroir, winemakers and nature’s accuracy. So it’s exactly the same for food. I’m all about close circuits in order to keep local producers alive. In Switzerland, we’re fortunate to have a lot of local agriculture such as vegetables, fruit and meat, so it seems normal to me to defend vineyards as we do agriculture. 

If you could work with any chef, who would it be?

My career in Michelin star restaurants for 20 years was only through chefs developing classic cuisine. Today, I love the philosophy of many chefs who manage to make their customers travel by their more modern, more airy technology while keeping the accuracy required to be at the rendez-vous of a great moment. For all these reasons, it would be a real pleasure to share a sommelier moment with Andreas Caminada, chef of the three-star Swiss restaurant, Schloss Schauenstein.

How do you define your style? 

It’s pretty classic. I like to be discreet in a restaurant room because sommeliers often scare customers with their knowledge. My approach remains simple and I love listening to customers about their taste and helping them to find the bottle that will please them.

I think I’m different because of my language. When I talk about wine, I like to convey an emotion and make the eyes shine.

With an Egon Müller Riesling from Saar, Mosel.

What’s the best thing that ever happened to you as a somm?

On my 25th birthday, Eric Beaumard took me on a trip to Bordeaux. We visited Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, La Mission Haut-Brion and Haut-Brion, and had dinner at the latter. For each course, Eric Beaumard was served first, followed by Jacques Dupont, a great wine journalist, and then the rest of the table. For one dish, the pigeon, the waiter served me first and everyone looked at me. He had just served me Château Haut-Brion 1982, the year I was born. It was an unforgettable moment.

Moving forward, what do you hope to accomplish?

I’ve worked at many Michelin three-star restaurants but never as a chef sommelier. Even if I was chef sommelier or director of starred restaurants, becoming chef sommelier of a three-star restaurant remains a dream at the back of my mind. 

I’ve dreamt of opening my own place one day for a long time, and that is a matter of the heart.

At new wine bar Chez Bacchus in Geneva, which has more than 40 wines by the glass.

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