“Wine should be heard and felt” – philosophy, plans and practical advice from the world’s top sommelier

William Drew - 14/10/2022

Josep Roca, one third of the gastronomic holy trinity behind legendary Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, was honoured with the inaugural Beronia World’s Best Sommelier Award at the 2022 edition of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In this interview with 50 Best Director of Content William Drew, Roca shares his emotions on winning the accolade, working with his brothers and his enduring passion for wine

Congratulations Josep! How does it feel to be named the Beronia World's Best Sommelier by The World's 50 Best Restaurants?

It’s a great joy! It’s also an opportunity to share this with all the sommeliers, waiters and waitresses of restaurants; those of us who work in the dining room have a precious job, not always recognised, but which allows us to grow. I am delighted that 50 Best has incorporated this distinction, which will help to make our profession more visible. Being the first to receive the award makes me very proud.

Take us back to the beginning: where did your passion for wine stem from?

My fascination for wine started before I was 10 years old. When I was very young, I was in charge of filling the bottles from the barrels that my parents had in the basement of the kitchen at Can Roca. It always fascinated me. When I signed up to hospitality school, I realised that it was also possible to study wine. That's where I began my learning process, which is still going on – interpreting wine from a scientific and philosophical point of view.
Receiving the Beronia World's Best Sommelier Award at The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2022

How would you describe your role at El Celler de Can Roca?

I like to call myself a ‘wine waiter’ because it brings me closer to many people, like me, who are dedicated to taking care of people in the dining rooms of restaurants. My role is to manage emotions in the dining room, both for external customers and internal staff. I feel immersed in the emotional revolution and in the need to ensure the wellbeing and progression of our team and to achieve the best possible experience for the customers who give us the gift of their time.

Creativity at El Celler de Can Roca is atomised and my role also finds a place in the innovation spaces of La Masia, our cross-disciplinary centre; in the projects of Tierra Adentro for the recovery of seeds; Tierra Animada, with which for ten years we have been cataloguing and using the flora of our local environment; or Esperit Roca, with which we will soon share the work with distillates and liqueurs that we have been carrying out since 2015. Training the team and sharing my passion for wine with those who visit us also form an important part of my time at El Celler de Can Roca.
The exterior of Best of the Best restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona

Quickfire questions with Josep Roca
Countries to watch for winemaking:
Argentina and Chile. Every year it is more and more exciting to taste wines that are no longer homogenised and that show the recovery of diversity, authenticity and naturalness.
Countries you most want to visit:
Armenia, Moldova and Crimea.
Under-appreciated wine:
Sherry. I have a fascination for the wines of Jerez, which has a rich history and is now in full creative effervescence.
Advice to young sommeliers:
Be more prepared to listen than to talk.
Advice to wine lovers:
Be guided by your taste and think about the values behind the wines you drink, rather than the price. Dare to discover new wines – and have a good crystal glass at home to enhance the experience.

Visiting your cellar at the restaurant is an extraordinary experience. What can guests expect?

The intention is to share the passion and the approach of the people behind the wines, to show that wines can be drunk, smelled, but also heard and felt. I am fascinated by the dialogue between human beings and nature. It may not be the best cellar, but it is an authentic cellar, where you can feel the love for wine. It is a way of showing myself through wine as my brothers show themselves through their dishes.

The relationship between you, Joan and Jordi is central to the success of the restaurant – and Jordi was the first to celebrate when you won the award…

Jordi is pure sensitivity and positive energy. The award closes a circle with Jordi who was the first awarded as The World’s Best Pastry Chef [in 2014] and Joan who has also been presented with the Chefs’ Choice Award [2016]. With this recognition, all the sweet, savoury and liquid worlds are recognised. Jordi is now immersed in the savoury world and contributing more than ever his leadership in the restaurant. His genius is filling all the members of the El Celler de Can Roca team with enthusiasm, not just the dessert team.
At #50BestTalks: Bring the Magic, Roca conducted a wine tasting from stage

As part of your presentation at #50BestTalks in London, you detailed the emotion and meaning that wine can carry. Can you summarise this?

Wine is the soul of life, a bottled landscape, a way of dynamising time. It’s a drink that connects us with our emotions and also creates a dialogue with past generations and past centuries. Wine is the matter, spirit and soul of an ancient culture that deserves to be continued.

Can you describe the new projects coming up in Girona?

We will create a cultural and gastronomic centre in El Castell de Sant Julià de Ramis, 10 minutes from El Celler de Can Roca. It will be our location to follow the progress and new challenges of conceptual, human and recreational growth – a space where we can grow our teams, activate internal talent and build a gastronomic, cultural and environmental hub.
Jordi, Joan and Josep Roca are the legendary trio behind El Celler de Can Roca

You also opened Normal in the historic centre of Girona in 2021. Why?

We had a desire to share something normal after Covid – to recover normality through a direct and spontaneous cuisine which is tasty, understandable and predictable. It’s about remembering where we come from and reinforcing the intuitive gesture of live-fire cooking, of simmering casseroles, of old-fashioned dishes. If at El Celler de Can Roca we offer gold smithery, at Normal we offer craftsmanship.

Will you ever open a restaurant outside Girona? 

It is very difficult to share the idea of El Celler de Can Roca – with such a special, original, fraternal history – without the brothers. We know that it is possible to profit from the notoriety of our restaurant in other parts of the world, but ‘the truth’ does not travel. And we want to live in Girona; it is a very fortunate area from a gastronomic and quality of life point of view… and it is our place in the world. We are immensely grateful for the effort of customers who travel from all over the world to experience our gastronomic history as a family one hundred metres from where we were born.

Do you cook?

I like cooking, yes. In the early years, I was in charge of the mise en place. If I wasn't a waiter, I'd be closer to a chef than a winemaker. I was born, grew up and live in a restaurant. The restaurant is my place in life.

Finally, what is your favourite dish ever at El Celler de Can Roca, and what is the wine to serve with it?

A truffle, cocoa, hazelnut and foie turrón; it's the first dish where Jordi's sweet cuisine met Joan's savoury cuisine. The Palo Cortado 86 from González Byass, produced the year the restaurant was founded, would be a suitable match.

The list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2022, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, was announced on Monday 18th July at a live awards ceremony in London. To stay up to date with the latest news, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.