Louise Sydbeck is the founder of Riviera Wine based in Antibes in the south of France. Speaking to OnboardOnline, Louise talks about her early childhood ambitions and the journey that led to becoming the world's 100th female Master of Wine.
How did you get into the wine industry?
When I was 16 years old we received an assignment from our school teacher to write an essay of any chosen topic. I chose Dom Perignon and I have no idea why. At the time I hadn’t even had a sip of Champagne nor had my parents so it was quite odd really. I think that maybe I was Marie Antoinette in another life and maybe then founded my passion for Champagne and wine!
How did you get into the yachting industry?
Through my husband, Ulf Sydbeck, who started Riviera Yacht Support in 2000. At the time I was organizing wine tours in France and I already had a firm knowledge of wine. Many of my friends who were working as stewardesses came to me for advice and that’s how it all started.
The wine division of Riviera Yacht Support grew substantially over the years, so in 2014 it was time to divide the business in two and today we have the yacht agent Riviera Yacht Support and the wine company Riviera Wine.
How come you decided to go for the ´near impossible´ Master of Wine qualification?
After working with yachts for a few years I felt a real need and a responsibility to take my wine knowledge deeper. We are supplying the finest wines in the world to some of the wealthiest people who have very high demands.
Although I knew plenty when I started, I felt that to deal with the elite both in terms of wine quality and clients, I needed to have the best possible qualification to respond to their needs. Therefore the Master of Wine qualification was a natural step.
After deciding to pursue this notoriously difficult program (the pass rate is around 10%), I first studied the WSET Diploma, which took two years, and then spent another 6 years completing the MW. It was a great relief that in 2014 I became the 100th female Master of Wine in the world and, on top of that, I also received the Bollinger Medal for outstanding tasting results, which was of course a lovely feeling after so many years of hard work.
What is your vision for Riviera Wine?
My vision is to become the best wine company in the yachting industry. My definition of 'best' is a combination of service, speed of delivery, storage facilities, price, dedication, honesty and expertise.
I feel that we are already well on the way. Perhaps most important to us is our expertise, our passion for wine and our dedication to providing an excellent service.
Including myself and my two colleagues (Emma and Campbell) who have nearly completed the WSET Diploma, we now have a very knowledgeable team that can provide wine recommendations to owners, charter guests and crew. Knowledge is such an important part of wine service and enjoyment, which is why offering crew training and the internationally recognized wine courses WSET is also very important to us.
We were the first company on the Riviera to start suppling WSET wine courses for crew. Since we started more than 300 yacht crew have walked away with a WSET certificate and we look forward to welcoming many more in the future. Recently we also purchased a new air conditioned storage facility for all our stock which allows for quick deliveries and ensures our stock is kept in optimum conditions.
What are the challenges you face in today’s yachting industry?
From a wine perspective, in recent years we have seen many new wine supply companies come and go with very little or no experience in wine. As I am so dedicated to the wine industry I feel this is a somewhat negative evolution as I feel passion and knowledge should be the corner stone of a sustainable business model.
On the other hand however, creating a more crowded marketplace can be viewed as a good thing as it keeps us on our toes to try and constantly improve ourselves and our service.
What are the most important factors for succeeding as a yacht provisioner?
Never say no and make sure you keep your word! When our yachts say jump, we jump!
What is the idea behind your website theyachtcruwineguide.com?
As I mentioned, I think it is extremely important for yacht crew to have some wine knowledge as they are serving some of the most expensive wines to some of the most prestigious clients. However, many simply don’t have the time to learn about wine, as a stewardess is also expected to know all there is about marble, gold polishing, table settings and countless other topics.
So the idea was to create a website and blog that they could refer to for help. The website is open to anyone but we tend to post articles that are relevant to yachting such as information on food and wine pairing, wine service and Champagne. Wine can sometimes be a little intimidating so we try to keep it easy to understand and light-hearted yet still informative and useful. It also provides a platform for anyone to ask me a question about wine as I am more than happy to give free wine advice.
What makes you say a wine is truly great?
When a wine moves me to tears or when I cannot pay attention to my dinner company because the wine is so intriguing and fulfilling that there is room for nothing else. These are of course very rare moments and it has only happened to me a few times, but it is completely mesmerizing when it does. Cristal rosé 1996, La Tache 2002, 1982 Pichon Comtesse Lalande to name a few.
Which is your favourite yacht and why?
Alfa Nero, different and stunning.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
My family, but that is not an object so it doesn’t count, so I would choose my tempur mattress, M/Y Alfa Nero and a case of 1982 Pichon Comtese Lalande.
What is your motto?
It’s not really a motto but I read something that caught my attention the other day: 'Living is a very rare thing, most people simply exist’ (Oscar Wilde of course). What I love in life (among many things) is Champagne and dancing, so perhaps my new motto is to dance more and drink more Champagne, 2002 Bollinger RD is a current favorite and 2002 William Deutz!