Brexit is making it harder to recruit talented sommeliers from Europe, according to senior members of the UK trade - echoing growing concerns throughout the UK hospitality industry.
The UK government has named 29 March as its Article 50 trigger date, starting a two-year process for the country to leave the European Union.
Concerns have been growing in the UK hospitality industry over the ongoing uncertainty around the status of EU workers, despite government assurances that is seeking a quick deal with Brussels.
Many of the top sommeliers in the UK come from EU member countries and have played strong roles in a boom period for fine dining and high-end gastropubs in Britain in the past 20 years.
‘It’s very difficult to find qualified staff already and this situation makes it even harder,’ said Andrea Briccarello, head sommelier and wine buyer in London. A weak pound sterling currency against the euro has also made the UK less attractive to those on the continent, he said.
Briccarello, who is from Italy but has worked in the UK for many years, said that this is happening at a time when there is growing competition for sommeliers around the world.
‘More and more top-end sommeliers are going to other countries, like China – and Asia in general,’ he said.
Briccarello agreed with the view that Brexit may provide more opportunities for homegrown sommeliers, and he said there were ‘more and more’ British staff coming through.
But he echoed others in the hospitality industry in arguing that a significant problem was engaging enough young Britons to take on the roles. ‘If there was a Jamie Oliver of wine, maybe people would be more interested,’ he said.
‘The restaurant, hotel and wine world can’t survive without foreign workers,’ said another senior sommelier and wine buyer, who works for a well-known restaurant group in London.
‘It’s hard enough to get skilled workers already. Not having access to the EU workforce would make it impossible to survive.’
Beyond the wine world, chefs are in particularly short supply, according to the British Hospitality Association (BHA).
It said in a submission to the government that the hospitality and tourism sector overall needed an extra 100,000 staff in skilled jobs by 2020 in order to meet its growth targets and said the country needed stronger, government-backed apprenticeship schemes to cover this.
EU nationals make up 700,000 of the 4.5m-strong hospitality workforce in the UK, the BHA estimated.