Brendon Charles brings wine culture to Trinidad and Tobago
Brendon Charles has brought the wine culture to Trinidad with his winery, Brendon Charles Hospitality or BCH. While Charles acknowledges that Trinis can make their own wine from local fruit, he said he’s not an expert on that, but wanted to introduce the European wine experience.
Charles told Business Day how his position as a sommelier came to pass after he left TT on a football scholarship.
A sommelier is a wine steward and is trained and knowledgeable in all aspects of wine, some of which are the wine’s flavour profile, its history and pairing the wine with food.
“I left at 19 under a football scholarship to the US, where I studied business and economics (at Shorter University, Georgia) before I started to work in hospitality. But that was just waiting tables, dishwashing – whatever I can get part-time for extra cash. Steak ‘n’ Shake (Illinois) was my first gig, and I have actually worked in hospitality at all levels, including drive-through.”
He said after that he realised he wanted to get deeper into hospitality and started a master’s degree in international hotel and resort management at Oxford Brookes University, England.
“From there, I worked in London mostly, so I worked at a lot of wine bars, restaurants, intercontinental hotels – London at Park Lane-Four Seasons Hotel. At Park Lane, that’s where I really got the opportunity to specifically into wine and became a commis sommelier.”
A commis sommelier or trainee sommelier, is tasked with helping the head sommelier in the form of
mise en place (preparing the ingredients in the kitchen), cellar work, cleaning and care of glassware, among many other tasks.
“When I left the UK, I got the opportunity to go to Dubai, not as a commis, but as an established sommelier this time. It was for the pre-opening of the Conrad Dubai under the Hilton brand.”
Charles said he went from learning about 250 wines at the Park Lane Hotel to 500 wines, which he said was a big learning curve.
Charles has also worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Hakkasan Dubai. Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants that are considered the very best, and restaurants are given between one and three stars – three being the highest award.
"After that I worked at Okku in Dubai, which is a Japanese restaurant, I did that for three years, and became head sommelier before becoming the bar manager.”
While training, Charles said he felt a bit intimidated by the material he had to familiarise himself with and the expectations of trainees. He added that to this day, he still has the learning material given to him.
Charles is an award-winning sommelier: he was named Sommelier of the Year for the Middle East region by Caterer Middle East Magazine at 32. Now 38, he has also achieved the Award of Excellence for Okku Dubai and Pierchic Dubai for the extensive wine lists he created.
After Pierchic Dubai, Charles went to St Lucia’s Jade Mountain Resort and the Anse Chastanet Resort as the head sommelier there.
“I was already in the Caribbean and I saw the opportunity to come back home and start my own thing.”
BCH offers wine-enthusiasts and newcomers to wine an array of services to help them find their perfect pairing or to just grab an after-work drink and have a conversation. He invites people to check his in-person store at 1 Carlos Street, Woodbrook, and his website, which is currently being revamped.
“The website came in very handy for covid19, but it was always part of our business plan. We also offer master classes where we teach people about wine and it’s very informative.”
He warned, “You will learn a lot, but you will stumble out.”
Aside from those, he also has “Wine Limes” almost every Friday. Wine and charcuterie are on sale and he said everyone gets together and they talk, in a formal or informal setting.
“If you want more information, I’d be happy to provide, but it’s nothing stuffy or snobby at all.”
Charles added that there is also a wine club for people to join, a subscription-based service in which people who have signed up will receive four bottles of wine every month based on different themes.
“So you’d have to have a completely open mind to the wine. The four wines are delivered to your door, (and) we email you all of the information about the region, producer, food pairings and everything else that is relevant about the wines.”
He said in this way people can explore wine without leaving their homes.
Charles added that he feels BCH has done a lot of the groundwork to help improve the wine market in its five years.
He once again invited people to experience what BCH has to offer and said the wine prices range from “$180 to mortgage” – but assured that price doesn’t affect the taste.
"Brendon Charles brings wine culture to Trinidad and Tobago"