Published on October 19, 2023Updated on November 28, 2023
In the Principality, oenology and the art of wine service (or sommellerie) are synonymous with expertise and excellence. And the sommelier Noël Bajor has established himself as one of the greatest in this field. After twenty-five years of devoted collaboration and exchange with Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV - Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris, he is embarking on a new adventure at the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo. A real turning point for the famous Monegasque institution, which has enlisted the services of this man for whom passing on his knowledge of listening, choice and service is of the utmost importance. His widely-respected career is a testament to the high professional standards, spiritual elegance and poetry of the wines proposed by Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. Let’s dive in.
Noël Bajor's story is, as he puts it, ‘out of the box’. He spent his childhood near Paris in a family with not even the slightest ties to the hotel, restaurant or wine industries. At the outset, nothing predestined the young man to take up the sommelier profession. But his great curiosity led him down the path of wine. He belonged to the first generation of sommeliers to graduate from a specialized school. The Tain-l'Hermitage school of hospitality, in the heart of the Rhône Valley. "That’s where it all began for me. Where I was introduced to the culture of wine. Where I learned to love everything about wine: grape varieties, wine-making, and the history and geography of wine. " When he left the school in 1984, Noël Bajor was certain that the art of wine service would be his life's work. And because, at the time, Michelin-starred restaurants were the only establishments to employ sommeliers, he jumped straight in at the deep end. At 15-17 quai de la Tournelle, Paris, at the top of the dazzling Tour d'Argent. "I went there straight from the school in Tain-l'Hermitage. That would be unthinkable today! At the time, the Tour d'Argent wanted to be ahead of the game in the field of wine service by recruiting school-trained sommeliers. ”
This discovered passion then had to be nurtured over time with a complete tour of France, discovering its regions, its terroirs and its winegrowers. In Chagny, Burgundy, at the Maison Jacques Lameloise. In Eugénie-les-Bains, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, with Michel Guérard. In Paris, again at the Tour d'Argent, then at Fouquet's. "I also did the opening of the Trois Marches restaurant of the Trianon Palace hotel in Versailles. ” There Noël Bajor earned the title of Head Sommelier. He was just 25 years old.
For Noël Bajor, it is a privilege to meet the people who work the land and the terroirs, and to soak up the secrets of the winemakers and sommeliers. "It's an opportunity for me to constantly challenge myself, to constantly discover new things. “ This is how he remembers the precious moment he shared with Jean-François Coche-Dury in Meursault, on the Côte-de-Beaune, when he was just a 'simple' assistant. Opposite him was one of the most eminent figures in the world of wine. "He took the time to welcome me and a friend and show us his world. He must have quite liked us, because he ended up opening a bottle of Meursault 1976. We sat on the steps and he told us stories about wines and winegrowers... I remember it as if it were yesterday. I can still taste the wine in my mouth. It was magical and very moving. One of those moments that count and that we should take the time to write down somewhere so we don't forget them. ”
Enriched by all these encounters, his passion now definitively heartfelt and almost visceral, Noël Bajor settled in Monaco in 1996 amongst a new team: the prestigious Louis XV - Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Hôtel de Paris "I was touching the Holy Grail! ” He would stay there for twenty-five years. During these twenty-five years working alongside Alain Ducasse, he pushed back the boundaries of his art, taking pleasure in passing on the precepts and secrets of great cuisine. And, amongst the clientele, distilling, always with humility, his sound advice and his 'winegrower' anecdotes.
At his disposal are precious bottles from one of the finest cellars in the world. A living heritage, an exceptional historical legacy that allows his art to flourish. "A sommelier is not a 'wine waiter'," he explains. He must also be an excellent wine merchant. The cellar is the sommelier's heart. I go there every day. Even just for a moment. I need to take in its scents, its vibrations, to touch the substance. To take a look at those bottles that are sleeping peacefully. You come across some that were there before you and will be there after you. And you feel the respect they deserve. ”
A respect for the product that never leaves the sommelier. When he visits a winegrower, he always starts by observing the terroir, the plot and the vines. "The professionalism and care shown by the winemaker already give you important information about the quality of his wine. This profession is all about sensations. " For Noël Bajor, this in-the-field presence is the guarantee of a good selection. A selection for which he favours short production circuits and local producers wherever possible. "When you select a particular wine, you need to know how to position it in your cellar so that you can sell it at the right time, in the right place, to the right person... " This intransigence must also be reflected in the wine list: "I can't stand seeing a menu with a spelling mistake or an incorrect vintage. You have to be very 'on the ball' about these things. It ensures that, in the restaurant, there is also all the harmony, exacting standards and passion that you've put in upstream. And they are absolutely essential conditions if you want to give your restaurant a soul. ”
Thanks to his experience, after twenty-five years at the Louis XV - Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris, and with the blessing of Alain Ducasse, Noël Bajor has now chosen to embark on a new adventure: developing the art of wine service at the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo, but that’s not all... "In addition to selecting wines and winegrowersmy mission is to train others and pass on everything I've learnt. And this with people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages. " For example, he offers to the members of his team fifteen- to twenty-minute workshops combining tasting, product presentation, bottle opening and serving tips. The aim is to better explain the history of wine and how it is made, and to maintain a stronger link with an international clientele that is increasingly open-minded and well-informed when it comes to oenology. "Our profession has changed, that's for sure, but that makes for much more interesting discussions. It is crucial to be able to listen, understand and adapt. "And this great man adds with eminent simplicity: "You have to remember to say hello and goodbye. Simple things that sometimes tend to get overlooked. We're not here to preach, we’re here to help create enjoyable moments. Our mission: to choose the right product, in keeping with the spirit and emotion sought by those gathered around a table. " The simple pleasure of making people happy.