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Somm to Somm: An interview with Restaurant Pine’s incredible Vanessa Stolz:

Sustainability and an affinity with English Wine.


The adventurous, acclaimed Restaurant Pine in Northumberland is among the hottest dining spots outside of London. When we obtained a listing at Pine, from a number of really old bottles of Bordeaux to a fine selection of English wines, I was absolutely thrilled. Earlier this year, Pine was crowned Square Meal's Top UK Restaurant for 2024, as well as included in the most coveted restaurant index, La Liste, "the world's most selective guide of restaurants".


Pine also boasts 1 Michelin Star and 1 Green Star, serving a tasting menu with produce foraged around the Northumberland countryside and from their own garden. Founded by the brilliant husband and wife team, Cal and Sian Byerley, they're joined by another hospitality power duo, Ian Waller and Vanessa Stolz. The latter is a fellow somm, with a flair for service, a warm, humble carry-on with a brilliant palate. I thought it only right to get to know Vanessa a little better:


HB: Vanessa, tell us your story? Where did you grow up, how did you get into wine?

VS: I grew up in Alsace, and Papa is in the wine industry. I've been immersed in the world of wine since childhood. But my interest peaked whilst working in Sancerre. When I ended up in the UK, Charles Carron Brown took me under his wing and taught me about British wines and what it is to be a sommelier. It was the best thing that happened in my career. 


HB: If you weren't a fabulous sommelier, in what profession would you be working? A professional musician, given the incredible Fender in the picture? What's the story there, too?

VS: It is so sweet of you to consider me a fab somm; thank you! I have always wanted to be a translator in the European Parliament or a Literary Translator. As for the Fender, it's my guys; in his words "it's just an absolutely jammin' blues guitar"! I also love comparing wine with music... In the pic I'm just finding out what we're listening to. HB: The pleasure is mine, and that's really cool! So, what're you drinking? VS: The wine is a Pinot Gris from Sharpham Wine, Devon England. It is macerated for 13 days on skin making it a 'Orange' wine.  Aromas of cinnamon and flowers with a bone dry and zesty finish. Great alternative to a Rosé this summer and great with Lobster roll or any crustaceans in that matter. Tomato based salads is a very good shout too. Icing on the cake... it's only 10.5% ABV!



HB: For those who don't know - tell us briefly about the concept and offering at Pine?  

Pine is all about sustainability, reusing instead of wasting and promoting small businesses. This applies to the drink selection as well. British wines and spirits are a top priority to reduce our carbon footprint. European wines are only on our list. The majority of what we offer are like-minded vineyards and distilleries. This pushes our guests out of their comfort zone, but we hope they return home with an experience. 


HB: In your words, describe Michelin Star service? VS: Michelin star service means to me that you have the most enjoyable time and leave with an experience and even better with a huge smile. Sometimes we even end the meal with hugs! How you navigate towards that point is different for every restaurant and in some sense with every guest. 


HB: What's your favourite dish at Pine (past or present), and what beverage you enjoy matching with it?

VS: BBQ Hen of Woods mushroom, Cherry & Wild Garlic BBQ sauce with Albourne Estate White Pinot Noir. The wine has enough body to keep up with the heavy flavours of the dish but adds an elegant finish to it by expanding the flavours of the cherry and garlic. 



HB: Your selection of English wine is delightful. What was your epiphany English bottle? Is there an English wine you haven't tasted yet but want to?

VS: The epiphany wine is certainly Davenport Horsmonden Dry White (East Sussex, England). I couldn't believe how tasty, fresh, and crisp it was. That was 8 years ago, and it remains my go-to wine nowadays. The one I am dying to try is Gusbourne's 51 Degree North! HB: The wines of Davenport are supremely impressive, though I haven't tried. Horsmonden! I can never get past the Diamond Fields Pinot, it has incredible ripeness! As for the Gusbourne, we'll have to drink one together, as I've not tasted it either!


HB: We all have mentors in hospitality; individuals which help forge our careers, inspire our passion and challenge our ability... who/who're yours, Vanessa?

VS: I will always look up to Charles Caron Brown and Kayleigh Thorogood, not only because they became some of my closest pals but also because, thanks to Charles, I have a completely different outlook and approach to my wine selection. Kayleigh always wants to aim for the best in this hardcore career; it's infectious. 


HB: What's the oldest bottle you've ever tasted? 

VS: Chateau LaTour 1960 (Bordeaux, France). HB: Woah, stunning. Hope it was in good condition!


HB: Besides Pine (of course), what are the most exciting British restaurants, in your opinion? 

VS: BRAT (London), Where the Light Gets In (Stockport), Heft (Grange-Over-Sand)  HB: Brat is an absolute staple, yes! I also keep meaning to head to WTLGI and Heft looks right up my street as well, awesome choices.


HB: Is there a varietal or region that you cannot abide, and why? 

VS: Viognier from Condrieu (Rhone, France). I wouldn't say I like Lily flowers. Their aromas remind me of this grape variety; they are too pungent.  HB: I couldn't agree more here, actually!


HB: A little discussion with Ciaran Baghus (of Pied a Terre) has inspired me to ask about your biggest service faux pas?! Do you care to divulge?

VS: I had far too many of those, haha! Once, I was convinced that Vendemmia was a region in South Italy. The wine was in the pairing. While I was explaining it, a guest caught on to it and said, 'Does Vendemmia not mean Harvest?'  I sank deep into shame because I had already told a lot of people by then. Thankfully, I did my WSET L2 soon after!

HB: That happens to the best of us! I didn't realise for years that the J in Tokaji was silent, much to the confusion of my guests...


HB: How do you go about choosing the wines for the list and tasting menu at Pine? 

VS: First, the chefs tell me the ingredients that go into the dish a few days before we try them. It helps me come up with some ideas. Most of the dishes have a lot of strong elements, so we try to pick the shyest flavour to keep up with the rest or to elongate flavours. 


Because the wines I chose are different from what you would find traditionally in a list, I make sure the flavours and aromas are relevant to most palates. For people who crave New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I've got Knightor's Madeleine-Angevine (Cornwall, England) or Any Bacchus.


HB: Finally - Burgundy or Bordeaux? Barolo or Brunello? English Sparkling or Champagne? VS: Burgundy / Brunello / English Sparkling  HB: Ha, that's brilliant, I'd be Bordeaux, Barolo, and then English of Course!


 

RESTAURANT PINE DETAILS ADDRESS

​Vallum Farm,
 Military Road,
 East Wallhouses,
 NE18 0LL SERVICE HOURS
​Wednesday: 19:00- 00:00

Thursday: 19:00 - 00:00

Friday: 19:00 - 00:00

Saturday: 12:00 - 16:00 / 19:00 - 00:00

Sunday - Tuesday: Closed GET IN TOUCH​

​01434 671 202

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