Not one to rest on his laurels, Michael Sager, the director of wine bars Sager + Wilde Paradise Row and Sager + Wilde Hackney Road, currently has no less than six projects on the go, with numerous openings ongoing, product launches and even an art gallery in the offing. Together with his business partner Marcis Dzelzainis, most recently the entrepreneur lent his talents to the drinks menu at the Bassoon Bar at the five-star Corinthia Hotel, offering signature cocktails and wines, and in October will open Fare Bar + Canteen, which will offer “Middle eastern food cooked over fire and flatbreads” all day. In addition to this, he will soon be launching an independent spirits bottling label in London, a distilled soda label, setting up a wine import business and opening an art gallery, all while making his own wine. His influence now spreads across many areas of London’s on-trade, however it was a two year spell living in San Francisco, where he met sommelier Raj Parr , that his love of wine really began. “[I] dropped my initial point of view that wine is just a lot of fancy talk with no essence justifying the spend asked,” he says. This year, he plans to launch a mezcal, putting his travels through Mexico to good use, via the newly founded el.destilado project. Here, the entrepreneur takes a breath to detail his many projects, and why London is the single most exciting wine market right now. Check out Wine List Confidential’s review of Sager + Wilde here and here.
How did you arrive at the position you are in today?
I actually never worked as a sommelier. I was always just a bartender, who then turned his nose to wine. Back in 2010 I moved to California to learn more about wine and then ended up working the wine harvest in Chile and Argentina. After that I decided London was lacking a casual approach to seriously good wine, which led me to open Sager + Wilde, which became a thought leader in how we can deal with wine in London. Not my words, but I like this idea a lot.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Empowering my employees and open up new businesses with them, so to further their careers to the fullest.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
That we are snobby.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
An ice-cold frosty beer.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
They are countless, but it’s how you deal with them. Turn all of them into something funny and empowering.
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out, what would it be?
Travel, travel, travel. Only then will you truly understand wine.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
Californian Pinot Noir of the New California wave.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
I try and top the latest with every single new one. But the single best was at Mugaritz in the Basque Country early this year. Followed by El Celler de Can Roca. Saying that, I take equal if not more please from crushing a bottle of Cornelissen Susucaru Rosé with my friends.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
None, they are all a way for me to learn, and improve their day.
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Rajat Parr, Robert Bohr, Josep Roca.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
None. I don’t enjoy pairing. I prefer to drink through a bottle with dinner and have it super fresh like that. However, I love Salumi and crunchy Italian reds.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
On a volcanic island. Maybe Tenerife.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing and why?
I am already doing it. Opening up new businesses. Diversifying. This year I am doing the below:
- Opening up a hotel bar at the Corinthia Hotel in Embankment.
- Opening Fare Bar + Canteen in Clerkenwell (@farebarandcanteen).
- Launching an independent spirits bottler label in London (@Destilado_London), starting with 16 expressions of uncertified Agave distillates and 3 sugar cane distillates. To be expanded into infinity.
- Starting a distilled soda label (Paradise Soda Company).
- Opening an art gallery (Alkë).
- Started up a wine import business (@uncharted_wines).
- Started making our own wine (@vigneti_tardis).
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
None really. But I have a strong dislike towards artificially made wine using enzymes chemicals and harmful substances.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
Every single customer I served has brought me to where I am now. Living my dream. For that, every single one of them is memorable.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier working in London?
That I am pushing the boundaries, helping my staff grow. Also, London is the single most exciting wine market right now. Travel is easy from here and we can get all wine in the world. Pretty epic.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
Literally every single wine I haven’t tried yet. My curiosity is endless.