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Wine to 5: Marinela Ivanova, beverage manager, residential yacht

Inside a professional’s everyday life, Decanter speaks to Marinela Ivanova, the beverage manager of residential yacht, The World, Residences at Sea.

Marinela Ivanova oversees the beverage programme for The World, Residences at Sea, the world’s largest privately owned residential yacht. A certified sommelier, and a holder of the WSET Diploma, she is responsible for the 1,200-label wine list and 15,000-bottle wine cellar on board.

How did you get here?

I joined The World 15 years ago, after working as a waitress at a fine-dining restaurant in Germany. Coming from eastern Europe, which was still emerging after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I had never encountered the profession of a sommelier before. It was love at first sight.

What’s the best thing about your work?

Visiting places, exploring terroirs, meeting the dedicated individuals behind each wine, and unravelling the stories behind their creation.

What’s the most common misconception about what you do?

When I embarked on my career 25 years ago, there was a prevailing assumption that the perfect sommelier had to be male, sport a French accent, carry an air of intimidation with a tastevin around their neck, and push expensive wines onto customers. Fortunately, those days are long gone.

What’s your greatest achievement?

It happened nine years ago when World of Fine Wine awarded our ship’s wine list three stars, the highest possible, and recognised us as Best Ship Wine List, which we have retained ever since.

And your greatest mistake?

Over the years I’ve experienced the usual mishaps, from spilling wine on people to opening the wrong vintage. Most recently we had a funny moment during a cocktail reception when closing out a successful expedition to Greenland. As the captain was making a speech, I was opening a bottle of Champagne in the background. Instead of opening it ‘with a whisper’ as I normally do, the cork escaped my grip and a loud pop sounded. Luckily it was very timely as it happened when the captain was announcing the furthest northern latitude we had reached. Everybody knew I had made a mistake, but because of its timing, laughter erupted.

What skills or qualities do you need to be successful in your profession?

A passion for hospitality and strong interpersonal skills are vital. Then an insatiable thirst for knowledge, as the industry is constantly evolving. Lastly, very good organisational skills and financial acumen to manage the wine portfolio. When it comes to personal qualities, one must be humble, never patronising, and respectful of the hard work of wine producers.

Does wine age differently on a ship?

In my extensive maritime experience, I’ve observed that a ship’s motion accelerates the ageing process of wine, although not significantly. It’s worth noting that modern passenger ships, which are equipped with stabilisers, experience far less rolling than their predecessors did years ago. And most ships now have temperature-controlled wine cellars.

What do you love most about working on The World?

Working on board the largest privately owned residential mega-yacht on Earth is the pinnacle of my career. Our residents are highly discerning wine enthusiasts and the ship is their home. Consequently, we develop a very special bond, and get to know their dining preferences in detail, tailoring our wine programme towards these preferences. As the ship continuously circles the globe, we call in on the wine-producing countries and regions repeatedly. These visits allow us to follow developments in the regions, to experience firsthand the terroirs that nurture the wines, and to develop lasting relationships with the talented people who craft them. It is the ultimate journey.

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