Judy Ciok, B’acino21st May 2018
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Judy Ciok, Founder of B’acino, about Super Tuscans, Brut zeros, women in wine and a whole lot more, discussed over a whole lot of wine.
Right, first off, what are we drinking?
Alright, so we’re drinking Brolo by Masi, a fantastic wine from the Veneto region, where Amarone comes from. Valpolicella style, although not as fruity and smoky. A bit more grown up.
Corvina is the main grape, which is my favourite; I’m a big fan of big, deep reds. Not as heavy, a little dry. Fabulous. I need to feel what I’m drinking. I like richer, deeper wines.
What inspired you to take the leap and start your own venue?
Well, I’ve been working in the industry for the last 14 years. I started working in a pub. It wasn’t what I wanted to do necessarily, but it was a gastropub with really good food, fantastic selection of wine. That was the start.
When you move to this country from somewhere else, as I did, you can’t always jump where you want to go straight away.
I’d say I fell in love with wine about a decade ago, when a close friend of mine gave me a great opportunity – Mike. He noticed the love of wine in me and gave me the chance to learn and eventually earn my WSET advanced certification. He paid for the whole thing.
We should be toasting him right now!
So, Mike would come to the pub after work, sit on his own and order the best bottles of wine. And we just started talking about wine, the grapes and the regions, everything important.
Who else inspired you on your journey?
I have to thank Robert from Enoteca da Luca. When I worked there, they were opening some of the first – what I would call – modern wine bars in London. He gave me the chance to open new sites and run the bars.
That’s the place I put my heart, my effort, my everything into. I was full of energy and hungry for experience. The chance to run this place on my own in a really great location – I just wanted to do my best.
"Hello, you're coming to a wine bar!"
As a customer, this place always has such great service. Do you think people learn it or is it innate to some degree?
As a customer, this place always has such great service. Do you think people learn it or is it innate to some degree? It can’t be learned. It’s in you.
You can learn about wine or food, but not service. The fact that you are warm, friendly, bubbly, and care about their lives as much as you want to share your experiences with them, is something that is in you. It’s a part of you.
You have to recognise it, or someone has to help you recognise it. And that’s why I wanted to launch my own place.
With wine as a social centrepiece.
That's exactly it. I want to make people welcome and comfortable like they were at my dinner party. And share and talk about wine.
What was the inspiration behind B’acino? When did you know you wanted to launch your own venue?
I thought that the time was right 5 years ago, but everything has its own pace; nothing happens without reason. And you know, London is so tough, so expensive. And looking for premises here takes an incredible effort.
Why do you think there aren’t more women running their own business in food & drink?
I don’t know. It’s a lot to take on your shoulders. We all need support. And – as an industry – bars aren’t great for that. This is not just an issue for women though. It comes with character and confidence. The desire to achieve more for yourself.
I never wanted to work for someone for the rest of my life. I always wanted to do my thing, and you have to have the courage to achieve the things you care about. This isn’t just business, this is for everything. If you’re passionate about it, you should just do it. It’s certainly not a lack of knowledge. There’s plenty. Look at Women in Wine, for example.
Is it changing?
It is. Absolutely. Women have woken up to the opportunities in the workplace. There are many more women joining the industry now. And I think that we’re doing a great job.
Are there any women in the trade you want to point out?
Loads. Wine suppliers, sommeliers. I have to mention the team at our neighbours, Oklava…
Yes! A female head chef and front of house management. They all worked together elsewhere and came into Oklava as a team, now they’re opening a new one in Tottenham Court Road.
This shouldn’t be an exception. We need to keep going. It has to be normalised.
It seems that wine bars are back in a big way. Why do you think that is?
Shoreditch needs wine bars. The growth is in this part of town: Intimate, cosy, neighbourhood places – that’s what wine bars are.
Young professionals are here, well educated, running businesses. These people know about their food and wine. We’re just trying to share our experiences in wine and life, we want to share our love, our experience of other cultures. That’s what makes wine so special and I think people get that.
Where do you go to drink wine?
The place I really like is Borough Market Wines – owned by a woman, Muriel. We became friends about 6 months ago and she’s doing a fantastic job. It looks like a wine shop, but they bring you in and take you downstairs to the bar. Not too expensive, a great range.
Obviously, being in the business, I know that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great bottle. So many places take advantage of people and push super high margins, especially restaurants. I like places that are honest about their wine.
What misconceptions do you think there are in English wine culture?
I think the big misconception is that there are these quality ‘brands’ that just don’t exist. Pinot Grigio, for example. We can offer you something with the same grape, or from the same region or to a similar style, that’s better.
I think I know what people want relatively quickly. I’m trying to help people find something new, a new experience and flavour, but it’s hard to help people sometimes. I tell people to be ready for us to try and help them find something different. Hello, you’re coming to a wine bar!
What are we drinking now?
This is a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
I don’t know if you know the story: Tuscan wine is historically made with Sangiovese but Mario Incisa della Rocchetta had this amazing idea of bringing back Merlot and Cab Sav to Italy and blending with Sangiovese to make phenomenal wines, originally Sassicaia. That lead to wines like Ornellaia, Solaia and Tignanello.
Ha! Yes. And now these wines are known around the world.
What trends are coming through? What wines will people be drinking soon?
At the moment, everyone wants to be healthy and eat fewer carbs and so on. I think low sugar and low alcohol wines – everyone knows that sugar and alcohol aren’t great on a diet! – vegan wines, orange & bio wines will become relevant to more people. Next year, after another harvest, is when I think it will really hit. It’s always seasonal.
I’ve got a Brut Zero champagne with no added sugar. It tastes like quality Champagne – it’s next door to Veuve – and I can see wines like this being at the forefront of the change.
Is there a wine we should be drinking more of now?
I was recently at a Sake wine tasting in Soho and it was amazing. A very pure, delicate wine, which perfectly matches food. I think it can fit in everywhere and doesn’t need to be in a Japanese restaurant to work.
I’d liken it to Gin. Everyone is now drinking gin, gin, gin. And I can see Sake being that popular. You can drink it warm, cold. There are so many different styles – rich and dry and so many more.
Where do you want B’acino to be in a year or two?
Someone once told me: Dream big and achieve half of it. At least! So, my dream now is to expand Bacino, open a few more here and then spread it to Australia. Half my heart is there, half my family lives there. It’s not well developed for wine bars, compared to the UK.
By the end of this year, I just want to see more happy faces. That’s the main thing. I want people to recognise us for our wine and our service. And I also want people to know that you can have great food in a wine bar.
Yes, we love wine, but if you really love wine, you love food too. Our food is fantastic, and that’s our next big push.