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Michael Davies, head sommelier, Pearl Restaurant

13 April 2006

Chicago-born Michael Davies is head sommelier at the Pearl Restaurant, housed in the Marriott Renaissance Chancery Court in London's Holborn.

It wasn't until a school trip at the age of 16 to France's Loire Valley that Davies discovered wine - a late awakening, no doubt heavily influenced by the fact both his parents were Baptists and didn't drink.

His tastes have matured from the Vouvray he had back then, but the semi-sweet wine was perfect for a young American discovering the grape for the first time. "I bought a whole load back in my suitcase - sweating at customs - and it really reinforced my love and enjoyment of wine," Davies says.

After chopping and changing courses at university, Davies took a full-time job at the place he had worked to fund his studies, the Gypsy Restaurant in Chicago, in 1994. He became assistant manager and was set the task of sorting out the bar. Having continued his studies of wine privately, and done some judging for the Wine Enthusiasts' (WE) guide, he came up with a wine list that was a great success and transformed the restaurant's fortunes, even attracting a recommendation from WE.

During 1995-96 he undertook and got his certificate of sommelier, awarded by the Guild of Master Sommeliers.

Always keen to learn more, Davies moved around over the next few years before stepping into the off-trade and joining Sam's Wine & Spirits in 1997. This was one of the world's largest family-owned wine shops at the time, and he headed the US wine department, which meant overseeing 1,200 types of Californian wine and learning more all the time.

After a stint at a winery in California's Napa Valley, selling to the on-trade, Davies took another big step in his career and came to London in 2002, when his British partner's US visa ran out. "I relished the opportunity," Davies says. "A few hours from Chicago you have Detroit, but from London you have Champagne and Rome, so the location, for a wine-lover such as me, was a big attraction."

He initially worked at Le Pont de La Tour restaurant as assistant sommelier before a 2003 move to Rules in Covent Garden, where he helped teach the staff about wine.

Davies was headhunted to join QC restaurant at the Renaissance shortly after leaving Rules in June 2003, and in June 2004 it reopened as Pearl under the direction of chef Jun Tanaka.

Davies lists 1,400 wines at the restaurant and, thanks to a state-of-the-art Cruvinet system, offers as many as 32 varieties by the glass - even Vouvray.

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