For the well-travelled sommelier CATHRYN STEUNENBERG this destination sparks joy …
I came into the wine business via a degree in Swahili and development studies and a few years living in East Africa. Back then, I wanted to save the world, but I eventually realised it is no easy task. During my time in Zanzibar I ended up looking after a little guesthouse which had a restaurant on site. It was there I learned that wine makes me happy and it makes other people happy too. When it boils down to it, it means that I can still save the world – one bottle of wine at a time!
When I discovered that making people happy through the giving and celebrating of wine was an actual job, I decided to take the plunge and embark on a career as a sommelier. My husband and I moved back to his native Cape Town in South Africa, where I took my first wine course. From there it was a steep learning curve. Coming from Wales, I had set my sights on starting my career somewhere closer to home, and through sheer determination and enthusiasm, my first job was as Junior Sommelier at Ashford Castle in Co Mayo. I will never lose the immense sense of privilege and gratitude that this was where I started my journey. From there I went to Chapter One [Dublin 1] and now Aimsir [at Cliff at Lyons, Celbridge, Co Kildare], where I am very excited to be joining the team as Head Sommelier.
I fell in love with the concept of Aimsir where the provenance of everything served is so crucial that creating a wine list upholding these principles has been a very exciting journey for me. Listing wines that are exclusively organic, biodynamic and sustainable I am fulfilling my responsibility as a sommelier to support authentic wines that are both good for the environment and the consumer. I’m in the privileged position of being the bridge between the love and dedication behind the wines and the audience who can enjoy them.
After my first year working as a sommelier, I went home to Wales to visit family who, encouraged by my newfound knowledge of food and wine, took me to a little pub-cum-café-cum-deli in Llanarthney on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, called Wright’s Food Emporium. The wine list was an eclectic one – obscure natural wines lovingly sourced by the proprietors, supported by an array of local real ales and ciders. The food menu was scrawled on a blackboard hanging above the fireplace – a happy feast of sharing dishes and main plates made of incredibly tasty, wholesome and intriguing food.
Owner Simon Wright has famously said he “fell out of love with the conventional restaurant industry – there wasn’t enough joy”. Joy is what this place has in spades. Wright’s Food Emporium is the food and wine experience equivalent of a trust fall – there isn’t enough familiarity on the menu to invoke complete confidence but you know you can just close your eyes and land in the most wonderful, rewarding food and wine. We had one of the most engaging food and wine experiences we’ve ever had together. I ordered a cloudy declassified Etna Rosso that had been aged in Georgian qveris and it absolutely sang with our sticky pork ribs. Since then, Wright’s has become a family favourite. For the sheer enrichment of the food and wine experience in this little pocket of South Wales, it truly deserves a medal.
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