By Jim Boyce | Lu Yang has become the first master sommelier from China. Hong Kong-based Lu, the corporate director of wine for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts during the past five years, was born in Xinjiang, spent his teenage years in Shanghai, and studied in Canada, where he earned a degree in viticulture from Niagara College in 2007. This weekend, he passed an exam by the Court of Master Sommeliers to become one of fewer than 250 people with the master sommelier title.
Lu, previously sommelier at Peninsula Shanghai, won the inaugural Penfolds China sommelier contest, co-organized with ASC Fine Wines, in 2008, as well as the second China National Sommelier Competition, organized by Tommy Lam, in 2010. His Chinese translation of “How to Taste” by Jancis Robinson went on sale in 2011. And, as noted in this Wine Business International article earlier this year, he is one of several people involved in establishing an official national sommeliers association.
Grape Wall first interviewed Yang while he was at the Peninsula and asked him what makes being a China sommelier unique:
The Chinese market and culture is unique, and that makes being a sommelier in China unique. But I think it is normal everywhere: being a sommelier in Japan or Thailand must be unique as well. Peninsula is a top hotel, and the business we handle is different from most other hotels and restaurants, so I cannot speak for the general market but one thing I think is crucially important for sommeliers here is to learn how to give “face” to certain types of local guests.
“Face” is a very important part of our culture. You need to positively affirm a guest’s ideas if they are right, and correct them in an extremely subtle style if they are wrong. At the same time, you need to showcase your own knowledge in a humbly confident yet very delicate fashion, to somehow positively link your own proper knowledge with what they have just told you and what they believe, even though they might be wrong.
If you are able to do this, you will gain their trust, and more importantly, their fondness. This is a subtle art, and guests will keep coming back if you can master this. Also in China, sommeliers really need to be careful about the serving order for certain type of guests. It’s a big thing here.
The first master sommeliers exams were held in 1969, with the Court of Master Sommeliers officially established eight years later. The organization is led by president Gerard Basset, who is also a Master of Wine and a wine ambassador for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, and founder and chief executive Brian Julyan.
Yang graduated from the Sommelier Diploma Program of the International Sommelier Guild in 2007 and passed level 2 of the Court of Master Sommeliers exam in 2008, both firsts for someone from continental China.