Food For Thought: Robert Gilliland

by Tania Jayatilaka 12 May 2017
Food For Thought: Robert Gilliland

I come from a very academic family; I left school at 16. I’ll never forget when my dad told me that he wasn’t worried about what I did in life, as long as my goal was always to be the best I could possibly be. Later on, I read about this amazing wine bar in Sydney called WineBack, and I went up there assuming they’d give me a job, which they didn’t. So I took a job at the café across the road from them and went in every day asking them to hire me. After six months, they eventually caved in and gave me a job.

I ended up managing the bar there. They already had a sommelier, and I kind of followed him around, wanting to learn everything I could. Then I did the TAFE Sommelier Course and the WSET wine courses. The first wine that truly wowed me was the 1997 Guigal La Landonne. It just blew me away. I went out, bought Robert Parker’s Wines of the Rhone Valley and read it cover to cover (though it was really dry). But it gave me this crazy interest in how and why a wine could be like that.

When I was a sommelier in Australia, I tasted maybe 150 wines a day. Now, I taste 10-20 wines a week. Ten years ago, I was on the other side of the fence: I was the importer, not the buyer. I once thought that importers were way ahead of consumers, that what they offered was more diverse than what restaurants or consumers would have wanted. Now I’m beginning to think it’s the other way around. I’m amazed at what people are interested in, their general knowledge of wine, and what they’re willing to spend on it.

For me, people are everything. We’re all a long way from home; the people here are what get me out of bed every day. I have amazing partners, incredible staff, incredible customers, suppliers and residents. You’re only as good as the people around you, right? We don’t serve food or wine, we serve happiness. Everything – the wine, food, music, lights, place – everything facilitates you having an amazing experience. If your amazing experience is doing a vertical tasting of different sub-regions of Burgundy, we can do that. But if your amazing experience is drinking margaritas and passion fruit mojitos or eating chat potatoes, we’ll do that too.

Source: Expatriate Lifestyle Magazine May 2017

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