Drinks industry legend George Bergier – a title officially bestowed on him last year by Imbibe magazine – celebrates 50 years of service in the top bars and restaurants of Manchester this month.
One of the country’s leading sommeliers, George has been a familiar figure on Manchester’s hospitality scene since coming to the city from Poland in 1968.
George’s career has spanned two long stints at the Midland Hotel and time at St James’s Club, the Great John Street Hotel, and the Chop Houses for the last decade.
For a time he was head of match day catering at Manchester City’s former Maine Road stadium where, in 1978, he acted as interpreter for the club’s Polish World Cup captain, the late Kazimierz Deyna.
“I still go to Poland,” he says, “but my home is Manchester. I was married here, had my daughter here and have lots of friends. I know lots of people and I’ve established a lovely relationship between myself and customers and I treasure it. I just love coming to town and having a chat with people.”
George graduated from catering management college in Warsaw where his tutor had very close links with British Transport Hotels. As the catering arm of nationalised British Railways, they were state run at the time, enabling him to land a job at the Midland in Manchester.
“I started on 14th February 1968 and they put me up at the YMCA across the road until I found digs,” he told me.
“I worked in various departments of the hotel until 1973 when I became manager of Goblet wine bar in the basement. I ran it for nine years and that’s where I really developed an interest in wine. I was lucky because the buyer at the time was Clive Coates, a Master of Wine, who’s gone on to become one of the world’s leading authorities.”
George describes the Midland in its British Transport Hotels days as “the Eton of the catering industry.”
The French was the first hotel restaurant in the country to win a Michelin star. After working in virtually every hospitality department at the hotel, George left for the first time, becoming catering manager at Manchester Airport and then manager at St James’s Club, haunt of politicians, business leaders and celebrities, for 12 years.
“The club was very influential in my career,” says George, “because I had the freedom to buy source and buy wines.”
After two years as restaurant manager at the former Four Seasons Hotel (now the Marriott) in Hale Barns, George was summoned back to the Midland by its extrovert general manager Sean McCarthy, becoming banqueting manager and then food and beverage services manager.
“It was like coming home,” says George.
In all, he spent 20 years at the hotel enjoying every minute and three times reaching the national finals of the Sommelier of the Year competition.
After he assisted in the opening of Great John Street and took over at Le Mont for a short spell, George thought it was time to retire.
Wrong! Roger Ward and Steve Pilling of the Chop Houses decided otherwise: “You’re not going to retire, you’re coming to work for us.” That was in 2007 and George is still there.
He told Imbibe magazine that he once got home to find his Italian ex-wife had used Chateau Margaux [one of the best in Bordeaux] in the pasta sauce. “That might be why she’s my ex-wife.”
But he remained very close to their daughter Natalia, who worked in Manchester for Eccentric Hotels until tragedy struck in 2013. “She died suddenly in my arms of an aneurysm. She was only 31,” said George.
He’s travelled to all the major wine producing areas in the world except Chile and Argentina and has trips lined up this year to Alsace and Champagne in France. Last year he was named among the top 100 most influential people in the drinks on-trade by Harper’s.
On Valentines’ Day, 14th February – 50 years to the day since young George arrived in Manchester – friends will join him for a special celebratory lunch at the Albert Square Chop House and raise their glasses to a consummate professional and a true gentleman.