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Minute on the clock: Luke Harbor, head sommelier at the Pig at Combe

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Minute on the clock: Luke Harbor, head sommelier at the Pig at Combe

Luke Harbor has progressed from kitchen porter to head sommelier at the Pig at Combe hotel near Honiton, Devon. He tells Janet Harmer how he is encouraging guests to give English wines a go, while personally enjoying his favourite white Burgundy

What and when was your first role in hospitality?

As a kitchen porter in 2013, after which I worked as a cold section chef in a pâtisserie named Toast in Honiton. At this time, wine for me was merely something fermented.

Who first sparked your interest in wine?

I owe that pleasure and a glass to the former owner of Combe House hotel, Ken Hunt.

How did this interest grow after Combe House was transformed into the Pig at Combe?

I was offered a position as a commis sommelier at the Pig on the Beach in Studland Bay, Dorset. There I was exposed to the idyllic side of the industry: wine dinners, tastings, visiting wineries around the world – I was hooked. I’d caught the wine bug.

What training have you done?

I have completed the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and 3 and am studying for WSET Level 4 Diploma. I have also undertaken the educator course.

Do you have a favourite region?

A very tricky question! I do have a particular affection for the northern Rhône Valley. It has wines that can age for decades which, when caught in the right moment, can be completely mouthwatering.

The Pig is working hard at promoting English wines. What do you say to customers to encourage them to drink it?

Most of our guests know what they like, so guiding them to a style they’re familiar with is one of the best ways for them to drink English wines. For example, there are lots of comparisons between Bacchus, a widely planted grape in the UK, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Which English wines do you regard as the most impressive?

All the English still wines on our lists were unanimously chosen by the company’s chief executive Robin Hutson and all the sommeliers. The wineries include Winbirri, Woodchester Valley, Lyme Bay, Stopham Estate and Furleigh Estate. In terms of sparkling wines, my personal favourites are Hambledon Premiere Cuvée and a fizz from just down the road called Castlewood Vintage Brut.

How would you describe the style of wine service at the Pig?

Comfortable and informal. We not only discuss the wine options with guests, but chat about other things too. I like to know how their day was before recommending a wine.

What wine would you choose to drink on a night away from work?

My partner is Italian and also a wine lover, so I am constantly being introduced to regions I struggle to pronounce. But you can’t beat a bottle of white Burgundy.

What is your career ambition?

I’m keen to learn more about viticulture and vinification, and I would like to study with the Institute of Masters of Wine. A huge part of my motivation is to see our wine team grow within the industry, while leaving my legacy on the wine list at the Pig at Combe.

Hotel design: The Pig at Combe >>

Business profile: The Pig hotels >>

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