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Crave’s wine journey with Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas

Love Crave? Love the wine menu?

We have one man to thank for the thoughtful and interesting choices on the wine list. Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas.

Recently we caught up with Cameron, New Zealand’s first and only Master Sommelier, just before he was flying overseas for a meeting with Protégé, a Michelin starred restaurant.

Cameron’s passion for wine and knowledge of how to pair seasonal food with the right beverage is legendary and his deep connection with Crave goes back many years. Cameron’s wine journey started in the hospitality sector that led him into a career spanning 20 years working as a Sommelier in restaurants throughout New Zealand. Some years into his career he noticed how much more engaged customers were when they had a chance to talk about wine or food with wine. He realised that wine was what excited people the most! It was this passion for hospitality and connecting customers with great wines that created a natural progression towards specialising in wine and helping to educate NZ restaurants that engaging a Sommelier can in fact make financial sense.

Connecting to Crave

His connection with Nigel at Crave goes back to the beginning when it was a small local café with a big heart and has its roots in a shared spirit of adventure - they both love travelling, eating great food and drinking local wines. At the time of their initial introduction, Cameron was a judge for the Air NZ Wine Awards and Nigel was working as a steward. Since then Nigel has gone on to become an associate judge at the Royal Easter Show, they both share a passion for discovering and sharing amazing wines.

When they first started working together on the wine list for Crave, it was important for Cameron to understand the philosophy of the Collective and gain a feel for the community that would be frequenting the café.

Sampling the food on the menu was a key requirement as there are multiple layers to food on a plate and just as Crave is all about simple, fresh food done well, the wine list needed to complement that philosophy. Like the menu, the wine needed to be seasonal, using local vintages rather than relying on imported labels to fill the seasonal gaps in availability.

How the wines are chosen

Knowing how to pair food with wine is a real art so when a new menu is created at Crave, Nigel and Cameron will share a meal together, get the recipe from the chef and discuss the flavours of the food. Things like the seasoning used, accompanying sauces and the overall flavour all influence the type of wine that will be selected to enhance the dining experience. For example, Cameron says, “If Cajun spices are a key ingredient, then it’s important to know if the food is about the spice, the protein or something else in order to pair the right wine.”

Cameron generously shared some real insights into what makes a great wine list and what the life of being a Sommelier is like. He’s a passionate advocate for getting new people from all over the world into the industry, through mentoring and sharing his incredible experience and knowledge, and educating the public on the diversity of locally grown NZ wines.

Of course, as you would expect, there’s lots of travel, eating, dining and sampling new wines, often a couple of hundred a week! He’s regularly asked to be a guest speaker at events to talk about wine and food pairing and late last year held a blind wine tasting for PwC. “The beauty of blind tasting is that it’s a journey of discovery. As you can’t see the label or the price point, you can’t have preconceptions of what it will taste like. The experience is all about discovering what wines you actually like for your own palate,” he said.

One of the insights that Cameron shared is the importance of using the correct wine glass to match the type of wine you are drinking. “Wine glasses are critical to the pleasure of wine and part of the sensory experience comes from the glassware. How you hold it, how you swirl it, how you sniff it and how the wine is delivered onto the palate is determined by the shape of the glass and how thick the rim is,” he explained.

When we asked him about his journey with Crave and how it’s lasted so many years, he didn’t hesitate to mention our staff. “Something I love most, apart from the physical space of Crave, is the staff. They are absolutely lovely. Nigel sees something in people that enables them to become true hospitality professionals. It’s always a memorable experience.”

Going forward, Cameron is enthusiastic about continuing to help Nigel put amazing wines on the Crave wine list that support local producers and warehouses and keeps with their shared philosophy to maintain a smaller carbon footprint.

Next time you come to crave check out our wine list, and don’t be afraid to ask the staff for a recommendation if you want to try something new.

Check out our dinner menu and wine list!