Katie Exton began her career helping at English winery Breaky Bottom, followed by a stint at Majestic Wines. She has worked for over 10 years as a sommelier in London, both as head sommelier at Chez Bruce and The River Café, and opened her own restaurant, Lorne in 2017. Described as a “consummate professional with a sense of fun, contagious love for wine and an ability to explain it to almost anyone” by Wine List Confidential content editor Douglas Blyde, Exton offers a list that is fresh, balanced, affordable and highly drinkable at Lorne, offering over 50 wines at or under £40 per bottle. Here, she sheds a light on how she became a restaurateur, and her journey in wine.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier?
I remember watching a TV programme when I was younger that featured a sommelier and I thought it looked like such an exciting job. After university and a short time at Majestic, I met Terry Threlfall who was head sommelier at Chez Bruce, and he really is responsible for my career as a sommelier.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love visiting producers, seeing the vineyards, hearing their stories and then coming back to Lorne and sharing all that I’ve learnt with our guests.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
That the sommelier is there to encourage upselling and the guest will feel embarrassed or forced into buying a more expensive bottle of wine than they wanted.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
A glass of a fresh Italian white after work. Terlaner Classico, Cantina Terlan, is a go-to fave.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
I remember when I first started as a sommelier I was nervously opening a bottle at the table and realised I was using my waiter’s friend to try and open a screwcap bottle.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Take photos and make notes of everything you’ve done and tasted, because your memory is not as good as you imagine!
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
The first fine wine I tried was a 1999 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Pucelles and it just stopped me in my tracks. I could have smelt that wine for days. I’d never tried anything like it and remember just thinking, ‘this is a perfect glass of wine’.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
I’ve been lucky enough to have taken many incredible trips to vineyards and producers all over the world. The most fun I’ve had was going to Commando G’s first Fiesta de la Floración – dancing in a dusty field in the beautiful Spanish countryside outside of Madrid with fantastic wine in my hand and wine friends from all over the world.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
The River Café, and so Ruthie Rogers and Rose Gray. Their approach of simple preparations of the best sourced ingredients really underpins what I love and value in cooking and eating.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
I really love good jamon with a glass of dry oloroso.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
I love the sea, but every time I go to Piedmont I am blown away by its beauty. So could we pick up Piedmont and drop it by the coast?
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
Ergh, that’s a tough question. I was always obsessed with food since I was young so I think somehow someway I would have found a path leading me to the food or drink business. I wish I had become a PT, so I could balance out all the eating and drinking I do!
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
I have never really had a wow moment with a Malbec or a Rioja.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
Harrison Ford was a pretty awesome guest to serve. He said to me, ‘choose me the best bottle of wine for $100 and if that means it costs $200, that’s great’. I never knew what he meant by that, but he loved the Fuglini Brunello I chose.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier in London?
The diversity of food and restaurants at every price point in London makes it such an amazing gastronomic city, which I’m very proud Lorne is a part of.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
I really want to go to Pinot Camp one day in the USA.
What wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?
Well, Lorne is closed right now because of a flood we had, but when we re-open it will be grouse season, so I’d say our Yorkshire grouse, celeriac puree, savoy cabbage, elderberry and bacon with a glass of 2013 Carmignano, Villa di Capezzana. Why? Because I’d like to have that right now!