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GEORGE GORING - Interviewed by Joanne Simon

Published:  23 July, 2008

Proprietor & Chairman, The Goring Hotel, London. Third-generation hotelier George Goring was born at the Goring Hotel in 1938. He studied at the Swiss Hotel School and then worked in Germany at the Kur Hotel in Bad Neuenahr and the Vierjahreszeiten in Hamburg. On returning to England, he worked for British Transport Hotels before replacing his father at The Goring in 1962.

Were you really born at the hotel? I was born in room 114, and I don't think there's another hotelier in Europe who can say he was born in his own hotel. We're also quite unique, in that we're one of only two five-red-starred hotels in the UK that are privately managed, and we've been going strong for 92 years, which is quite an achievement in such a volatile industry.

How is business at the moment? I've been here for 40 years, and this is without any doubt the worst recession we've ever had. There isn't even a light at the end of the tunnel, because we don't know what's going to happen with Iraq; we don't know when the world's financial crisis is going to be over; the FTSE's down to its lowest level since 1974; and of course all of this affects our customers. Having said that, we are very busy and in a position to survive, whereas a lot of big hotel corporations are in deep trouble.

Have you ever been tempted to sell up? I remember my father saying, George, you sell one share in this hotel and you will go to hell'. And he was absolutely right, you know. I could have sold up and bought Wente out of his winery in Napa Valley, but I would definitely have gone to hell. And I say the same thing to my son, Jeremy, who will start working here in 2006.

Are you planning to retire then? People ask me, now that I'm 64 years old, when I'm going to retire, and my answer is that I retired the day I started working here in 1962, because I've enjoyed it so much. We've had brilliant staff here; the guests are lovely; and we've had some fascinating people stay here. In fact, we get a lot of people from the wine trade, because they know we're really interested in our wines.

How many wines do you have? We have 450 active bins, but we also have 350 bins that aren't even on the list yet, because we only ever list wines that you can drink now. The quantities in each bin vary from 120 bottles to 12 bottles, which means we are holding over 29,000 bottles, worth over 600,000. And all our wines are available, by the way, because we are meticulous in crossing off wines that are finished, whereas other places conveniently forget' to cross things off, just to make the wine list look good for the journalist who comes along and wants to write about it.

I see you write some tasting notes. Yes, on the wine list are Mr Goring's comments, and it's funny you should mention it, because I recently had a letter from somebody who had actually written down the comment about some obscure Burgundy or Claret, only to discover exactly the same comment in Michael Broadbent's bible', as I call it. So this chap accused me of plagiarism, which was absolutely true - I had plagiarised virtually every word Michael had written, because I personally could never taste all the wines on our list, and anyway, Michael's a great friend. But I wrote back to this chap and said, How clever of Michael Broadbent to have exactly the same opinion as George Goring of this particular wine!'

What is your pricing policy? All our wines have been cellar aged, so what we do is find out the current auction value of each wine and then add a mark-up of no more than 50. We always say that the more expensive the wine, the better value it is. In fact, people sometimes come in to ask if they can buy two cases, and I have to say, No, you bloody well can't!'

How should wine be served? The typical scenario - and I know, because I go out to restaurants a lot - is that you order a 500 bottle of Claret, and the wine waiter brings it along, and the wife says, Just a little, please'. But minutes later, the waiter creeps up and fills her glass right up! Of course there's etiquette in serving wine, but that's about 200 of a 500 bottle being wasted! I'd very often like to ask wine waiters, If you had to pay for that bottle, how would you like it served?' It takes years to learn to be a proper wine waiter, because the whole thing is such a minefield. The key, I think, is to put the purchaser of the wine completely at ease.

What about serving older wines? When it comes to any wine over ten years old, we actually ask customers to give us 12 hours notice. If wine is ordered literally ten minutes before being served, it is almost impossible to get it to the table in prime condition. It always amazes me that people are prepared to pay enormous prices for a really expensive wine in a restaurant, when seven times out of ten it will be cloudy.

The Goring Hotel 15 Beeston Place, London SW1W 0JW. Tel: 020 7396 9000 . Cuisine: Traditional French/British Head chef: Derek Quelch Covers: 65; Bins: 450 Suppliers: Justerini & Brooks, Corney & Barrow, John Armit, MMD, Farr Vintners, Lay & Wheeler, Hatch Mansfield Average spend, pp, food & wine: 65 Best-selling wine, excl. house: Sancerre les Caillottes, Pascal Jolivet, Loire, France, 32