Q & A with Sixpenny's Head Sommelier, Bridget Raffal
Leveraging her extensive knowledge and background in French wine, Bridget Raffal became Head Sommelier at Sydney’s distinguished Sixpenny restaurant in 2017. Working alongside Chef Daniel Puskas, the fine-dining establishment was previously awarded three hats by the Good Food Guide. With over 250 wines on the list, Bridget has achieved parity with equal representation from male and female winemakers, which was no small feat. More recently, Bridget earned the Gourmet Traveller Sommeliers’ Choice award for 2019.
1. What drew you to the wine industry?
I had always been in restaurant management, then I spent a while exploring France, working for a couple of venues that didn’t have sommeliers. I started playing around with the lists and enjoyed it, so I moved towards a formal education in wine.
2. What are your most memorable career highlights?
Earning three hats in the recent Good Food Awards has to be up there. Also, ten days of exploring New Zealand’s wineries on the 2019 Sommit trip was fantastic.
3. What’s the best thing about being a sommelier and working at Sixpenny?
Creative license. Daniel Puskas shows a lot of trust. We’re tiny, so we don’t have purchasing agreements with big companies, and there’s no one telling me what I need to list or pour by the glass. If I like it, I list it, and that’s rare.
4. What sets Sixpenny apart from other fine dining establishments?
We’re a small restaurant – just 34 seats, and we don’t turn tables. I think that gives us a bit more freedom to do what we do, and well.
5. How did you achieve gender equality with your wine list?
I wanted the list to have equal representation of female and male winemakers, but it takes time to move a list in a certain direction, particularly when that list needs to suit a degustation menu. I settled for all female winemakers on the pairing until I could get the list to where I wanted it to be.
The second challenge was presenting that information - I didn’t want to have a patronising spiel at the beginning of the list, so instead, all winemakers names are listed alongside the appellation. Women make wine, it’s not a new thing, hopefully the Sixpenny list helps to make that fact a bit more obvious and women coming into the industry can see that it is accessible.
6. If you had to pick a favourite Australian wine on Sixpenny’s list, what would it be and why?
Sorrenberg Gamay from Beechworth, Victoria. Every time I taste that wine, I think “this is delicious.”
7. How do you choose what to include on Sixpenny’s extensive wine list?
There are a couple of filters - we are small, and so we like to support small producers. Sustainable viticulture is also important. The wines have to work with the food, and they have to be enjoyable. It’s a degustation menu with a lot of seafood. Big, ripe reds don’t feature too heavily.
8. What’s your favourite thing about working in the wine industry?
I should say the people, but it’s the wine. Now and then you get to have Burgundy for breakfast, and that’s pretty good.
9. What’s your advice for women entering this industry?
a) Educate yourself. There are some great courses around.
b) Find a tasting group. It’s always interesting to hear how other people describe a wine because at the end of the day, it’s a job that rests on communication skills.
c) You might know all the facts, but if you use them to punish the customer, or assert your superiority, you’re kind of missing the point. I guess that’s advice for anyone really.
d) For women specifically, don’t let the noisy dude-bros take up all the space.
10. What’s your ultimate wine and food match?
At Asador Etxebarri in Spain, I had a bottle of the Didier Dagueneau Jurançon Les Jardins de Babylone with the Flan (a Basque version of a crème caramel). I’m not normally one for dessert wine, but this was so good I just wanted to be alone with it in a quiet room.
More generally, it would have to be Vin jaune and comté cheese or Amontillado and jamón.
11. What is your favourite:
Sixpenny menu item: Kangaroo tartare with sweet potato crisp, dried cheese and malt.
White wine: 2015 Schmölzer & Brown Brunnen Chardonnay from Beechworth, Victoria.
Red wine: 2017 Ravensworth Nebbiolo from Hilltops, NSW.
Sparkling Wine: Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Béguines Champagne from France.
Australian holiday destination: Camping at Ningaloo Reef National Park, WA.