Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Matteo Furlan, The Dorchester London

Published:  14 August, 2023

Mid way through 2023, Harpers is taking stock of yet another turbulent year for the drinks trade, with plenty of highs and lows, so far. We continue our series with Matteo Furlan, head of wines, The Dorchester London, to find out how the year as gone so far, and what the remainder may bring.

How has business been for you in the first half of 2023 and how do things compare to where you were last year?

Business is looking great, sales have increased in our sector, the demand for fine wines and luxury goods remain strong.

Yet, we face significant challenges, particularly in the realm of human resources. The scarcity of skilled sommeliers and wine professionals, especially when seeking talent from overseas, poses a potential threat to the consistent delivery of top-quality service.

    • Read more: Bibendum appoints Valeria Rodriguez as head of Fine Wine

Additionally, navigating the intricacies of logistics, deliveries, and supply chain dynamics has become a pressing concern. Importers are grappling with backlogs from London City Bonds and the impact of Brexit-induced rule changes.

Nevertheless, we should approach these challenges with determination and a commitment to innovation. I believe in the power of collaboration and teamwork, and I am sure we will overcome these hurdles.

How has the cost-of-living crisis played out across the year and what – if anything – have you been able to do to mitigate that?

In the luxury sector, our business has remained resilient. With the weak pound at the start of the year, we welcomed back American tourists, and the opening of Asian borders brought back many Chinese and Japanese clients.

Despite rising cost prices for wines and increased alcohol duty, we've chosen not to alter our prices. Instead, we've extended our selection of wines below £100, ensuring greater accessibility for all our guests. We take pride in maintaining top-notch quality and supporting our trusted winemakers, who face similar challenges.

What are you most proud of achieving this year? Have you managed to achieve any specific goals?

This year presented my greatest challenge yet: leaving the Ritz after nearly six years to step out of my comfort zone and take on the role of head of wine for the Dorchester Hotel. The pace at the Dorchester is exhilarating, with the reopening of the ground floor in January and the successful relaunch of The Grill by Tom Booton in June. Now, the first and second floors have been beautifully revamped, and we're eagerly working on refurbishing the remaining seven floors.

Together with my team, we've given the hotel's wine program a complete makeover. Excitingly, we'll be launching our wine dinner series this Autumn, featuring Gaja's exquisite wines paired with delicate white truffles. Our wine collection has grown significantly, boasting over 1000 references, thanks to some incredible finds.

I am also keeping busy with learning and personal growth. Currently, I'm working towards the WSET educator course, a stepping stone to running courses to our staff later this year.

I'm thrilled and honoured to have been recognised as the UK's second best sommelier by a prestigious panel of judges at the latest Sommelier Edit Awards. This recognition fuels my passion and motivates me to keep pushing boundaries in the world of wine.

And what is the biggest cause for concern?

The sight of Europe grappling with devastating wildfires, hailstorms and unpredictable climate events is undeniably alarming. These challenges are taking a toll on winemakers and their heritage, posing significant threats to vineyards and wineries.

In regions like Italy's Emilia Romagna, wineries have suffered immense losses due to floods, while wildfires have ravaged iconic wine regions in California, Greece, Sicily and beyond. Moreover, hail has wreaked havoc on thousands of hectares of precious vineyard land in northern Italy.

The impact of these natural disasters extends beyond just the loss of physical structures and crops. The heritage and cultural significance attached to these vineyards and wineries are being eroded, leaving winemakers facing an uphill battle to preserve their traditions and legacies.

Addressing and mitigating the effects of climate change has never been more crucial. It calls for collaborative efforts from governments, industries and communities to protect our environment and support those who work tirelessly to nurture the earth and produce the wines we cherish.

What are the biggest drinking trends at the moment, and how do you expect that to change going into the autumn?

There is a growing interest among wine drinkers in exploring local and indigenous grape varieties. Consumers are increasingly seeking out unique and exciting wines from lesser-known regions around the world, appreciating the value and distinctiveness they offer.

Greek wines, particularly those made from Assyrtiko and Xinomavro grapes, have been gaining popularity, as have wines from Sicily's Nerello on the slopes of Mount Etna and Hungary's Furmint grape.

English wines have seen a surge in demand, with guests often choosing to celebrate special occasions with a bottle of locally produced sparkling wine. Let’s not forget the excellence of English Chardonnay and the elegance of locally grown Pinot Noir, which are becoming noteworthy contenders in the wine market.

Is Covid now a distant dream, or are you still seeing lingering effects?

Covid is a distant bad dream, I am very busy catching up meeting all the producers who are back in London and I am traveling to see them around the world. I have just come back from an amazing trip to Washington state and I will be traveling to South Africa later this year. I will also spend some time around vineyards in Greece and I can’t wait to visit the Langhe during the truffle season.

Any predictions for the second half of the year?

We expect a very strong second half of the year, we have exciting projects for the festive season and much news to reveal. I am sure we can predict we will be very busy!

Quick fire questions…

Old World or New?

New World, I am looking for value and exiting projects in Chile, Australia and South Africa.

Cocktail or slow sippin’ spirit?

Lately I have to admit that I have rediscover tequila and mezcal, which I often drink as a Margarita or Old Fashion.

Vermentino or Vermouth?

Hard one… vermouth, it’s fundamental for a nice Negroni.

Low or No?

I would say No, as I don’t understand Low…

Three star or bistro?

Bistro, I love local cuisine, easy simple food without fuss.

Best variety/wine style for pairing across multitude of dishes?

You can’t go wrong with Champagne.

Desert island tipple?

A cool fresh beer.