By Dans Sims
From The Wine Guide
Australia has come a long way in recent years when it comes to producing world class Sommeliers, and right at the top of the list is Kim Bickley. Since joining Luke Mangan at glass brasseriesome eight years ago, the awards, accolades and achievements continue to add up. When you look at just what she has achieved, whilst remaining so inspiringly humble, you cannot help but be impressed.
So let's mention just a few …
Len Evans Scholar in 2008, Sommeliers Australia Scholar in 2009 as well as an inaugural Lorenzo Galli Scholar that same year, winner of Best by the Glass List in 2011 and Best International Hotel List 3 times in Wine List of the Year Awards, Landmark Tutorial Scholar in 2010, voted 'the wine trade's overall favorite Sommelier' in the Weekend Australian Magazine in 2010 as well as show judging positions at the Sydney Royal, Alternative Varieties Show, Hunter Valley and a number of others.
Yes, she is one talented Sommelier indeed. Add to this she's studying for her WSET Diploma, sits on the National Committee of Sommeliers Australia and is an inspiration and role model for the industry in which she works.
And we have no doubt the best yet to come.
How long have you been working as a sommelier and what compelled you to travel along the wine route? What made you want to be a sommelier?
Wine inspired a passion in me as soon as I started working in fine dining restaurants; I was fortunate to be working with great, passionate people. It was while working as a young waitress that I had the opportunity to taste DRC La Tache 1989 one evening….I was intrigued and excited, not only by the wine but by all the fuss made. Then I knew I wanted to work with wine and be a sommelier. I moved to Sydney to seek out and surround myself with inspirational mentors and have learnt and continue to learn from them even now.
How long have you worked at Glass Brasserie? Tell us briefly about it.
I have worked for Hilton and Luke Mangan for over 8 years, first in Luke's glass brasserie as Assistant Sommelier with, industry veteran, John Clancy. I now write the wine programs throughout Hiltons Sydney & Surfers Paradise, from the signature restaurants to the Room Service wine selection. It's a huge task and I enjoy the challenge. More than anything, with all the extra administration work, I find myself loving working the floor in the restaurants like never before, my favorite part of the job is still talking about wine to other people who love wine or who are just discovering wine.
Briefly describe the philosophy of the wine list you manage/work with? How big is it? Highlights? Philosophy?
The flagship wine list is glass brasserie in Hilton Sydney, it's my baby and I lose sleep over that list! There are 1000 selections that change perpetually. It is highlighted by all my vinous loves…a large selection of Aussie wines, Rieslings, a vertical of DRC and Madeira dating back to 1910. I strive to have a wine list that I am proud of and that offers something for everyone.
Being able to offer good value wines that are delicious is very important to our concept; and I believe it's imperative to listen not only to what the guests are asking for, but for what the rest of the wine team would like to see as well and offer wines that they are excited about. I'm also passionate about the environment and sustainability so we offer a wine selection of bio-dynamic and organic wines.
As a proud Aussie, I consider myself an ambassador of Australian wine and enjoy nothing more than introducing our guests to our world class wines.
When choosing wines by the glass, what are the key factors you look for?
Value for money, appropriateness to the list and to Luke's cuisine and just something that's new and exciting.
Is there one wine style/variety that sells the most on your wine list at present?
In Sydney it's great to see the sales of Sauvignon Blanc finally slowing down. Chardonnay has made a strong comeback. Pinot Noir is huge and Shiraz as always, is driving sales. We also see little 'runs' on Malbec and often Pinot Gris/Grigio.
In Surfers Paradise, it's still Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
What's your favourite food & wine match on the menu at the moment and why? And any tips for beginners?
Luke Mangan's signature Organic Egg Omelette with blue swimmer crab meat and miso mustard broth matched with 2009 Schloss Lieser Kabinett Riesling, what a combo! So unsuspecting, it's a dream meal, the slightly sweet Riesling lifts the sweetness of the crab meat and the crunchy acid compliments the broth and the egg so well.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, right? Is there a wine region/country in which you struggle with when studying?
I always struggle studying the regions that I find myself less interested in. However, that said, usually when I get deep into the study, I develop a real interest in the region and by the end of that component of I'm looking out for wines from that region that will interest me. Hungary for instance most recently.
Is there one wine book you can't live without? What's your favourite?
The books I really cannot live without are my collection of moleskin tasting notes that I've collected over the years. I also love my old copy of Busby's 'Journal of a Tour', that book really transports you back to the development of Australian vineyards; also Halliday's 'Varietal Wines', David Bird 'Understanding Wine Technology' and of course Johnson & Robinson's 'World Atlas of Wine'.
What wine/region/country is exciting you the most at present?
I'm currently studying Champagne, that's exciting as always; and I love Burgundy like every other wine aficionado. But I'm really excited about what we are surrounded by in Australia, the interesting varietals that are arising and even the resurgence of Australian Chardonnay – it's never been better.
What's the most exciting Australian wine you've tried recently and why?
There are SO many exciting Aussie wines right now, we are so lucky to have such a great industry in our country. There are some great 'alternate' varietals, especially the Italian ones. But one which really Impressed me lately was the 2009 Kaesler 'Alte Reben' its certainly a big bold Shiraz but one which I know will be exciting for the guests in the restaurant. There is nothing more fun than finding a wine you know your guests will be really impressed with.
Have you an all time favourite wine and/or region? Was it a 'light bulb' moment?
That would be DRC La Tache, it's my favorite from the Domaine and will always have a great memory for me for igniting my passion in wine.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the restaurant/hospitality industry at present?
A lack of passionate, talented staff. It's a tough industry and you have to put up with a lot from guests that have extremely high expectations and can be quite challenging to deal with when they don't get it. Hospitality burns people out rapidly if they don't have a thick skin.
How can a guest get the most out of their wine experience at Glass Brasserie?
Ask to talk to the sommelier, ask what wines have they discovered to be exciting lately and what they would order if they were on a budget of ….'x' amount.
Where was the last place you had dinner?
The Wine Library in Sydney last Sunday. Tonight, I'm dining in glass brasserie for the first time in four years – very excited.
Favourite lunch spot? Favourite luncheon wine?
Sydney Botanic Gardens, picnic style. Riesling or Chardonnay... or Riesling THEN Chardonnay.
Funniest/most embarrassing moment working in hospitality? (And you don't have to name where!)
I was eighteen and working in a busy restaurant with lots of regular guests, I made the mistake of saying to a regular gent 'Nice to see you again Mr ….' He was with his wife that night and she freaked out, saying 'oh come here all the time do you!' they had a huge row and she walked out.
Live and learn.
Career highlight so far?
Being voted 'the wine trade's overall favorite Sommelier' in the Weekend Australian Magazine in 2010. What a privilege.
What's the single most important piece of advice, on wine, you've ever been told?
I'm fortunate to have been surrounded by great wine people and have had amazing mentors, In the restaurant industry and with wine show judging. But, my favorite bit of advice that comes to mind was … 'You don't understand DRC. You need to drink more DRC' - James Halliday on my score of a certain blind wine at the Len Evans Tutorial in 2008.
Finally, do you have any tips/advice for budding young sommeliers looking to get into the industry?
Be humble. And find a restaurant with a mature and knowledgeable Head Sommelier and work under that person for at least a year, watch everything they do, how they conduct themselves with the guests to how they deal with the kitchen, learn all you can from them and ask as many questions as you can (there are no stupid questions). There are fewer and fewer of these people in our industry and any future employer is more likely to take on someone that 'did their time' rather than someone who just did a few courses and now wants to be Head Sommelier.