Lotte Wolf 1985 - 2018

In Memoriam

It starts with a mortal sin. Flattened and with no hospitality experience, the eighteen-year-old backpacker has bluffed his way into the four-star Portage hotel in Marlborough Sounds. When opening a champagne bottle, she sprays the contents over the guest of honour, the national coach of the New Zealand rugby team. She gets away with it with a joke, works her way up to maître and became acquainted with organic winegrowers who infect her with their passion.

The adventure “in the most beautiful place on earth” typifies Lotte Wolf’s insane career. After finding her passion in wine during that ten-month journey, she breaks through all the conventions of the culinary man’s world to the top. Lightning fast, as if she knew she was short on time. By pursuing her dreams uncompromisingly, she becomes an example for many young female colleagues.

She doesn’t care about rules, she does everything by feel. Nothing is good enough, it can always be better: “You shouldn’t go for good when it can be fantastic.” She works hard, has an unsurpassed sense of taste and is loved by guests and colleagues. Young, handsome, creative, full of empathy. Wherever she appears she is the shining centerpiece and she accomplishes what others cannot.

text Rob Velthuis – Trouw, 15 October 2018

It is not as obvious as the fairy tale seems. Behind her optimistic, expressive appearance lies pain. A lot of pain, which only fuels her willpower and perseverance, even if that is no longer possible. But no one could find the stop button, her father concludes.

The non-conformism that Lotte brings so much is the sum of two sides. Her father Sjors Wolf, former alderman for Groen Links in Hilversum, and her mother Bea Rigter, drama teacher, are not off the beaten track. Lotte was born in a squat in Hilversum within a residential group of six people, who always maintain close contact. They are there at her birth, and within hours of her death.

At the southernmost tip of New Zealand, teenager Lotte begins a lonely four-day trek through the rugged nature. She has just entered the area when the gate is closed behind her due to bad weather forecasts. Four days of rain, dredging through the mud. Heavenly: “Smell the earth, feel the ferns, see how beautiful it is.”

In nature, Lotte develops the sense of smell that makes her the best as a vinologist and sommelier. As a child she is a butterfly-like appearance who notices the special smells while hopping through nature while observing animals and plants, looking for mushrooms and beechnuts or picking berries in the garden of ‘grandfather of the chickens’. Those berries become grapes, those grapes her own wine.

But first she turns out to be a punk who pours the cheapest berry gin with her friends to get drunk. Or climb on stage at a concert to kiss an idol, or even take it to a strip club. No one could have imagined that she would become the gourmet in three-piece suit.

Her idiosyncrasy, creativity and empathy quickly surface. When Lotte, as a five-year-old, is asked to portray a plant in ballet class, she is a cactus with outstretched arms and piercing fingers. As a toddler she tells her teacher: “Something is wrong with that boy”. A boy who disappears into special education. In group four or five, an unpopular classmate is placed in a home. She spontaneously makes a card and collects signatures.

Lotte is not a brilliant student, later she turns out to be slightly dyslexic. From vwo she goes back to havo. She will stop after a few months with a study in media and information management. Then first that long, distant journey to explore unknown natural areas. Because of the costs, she will work as a hostess in the closed geriatrics department of the Gooizicht nursing home in Hilversum.

She comes in, and everything changes. She amuses the residents with dressing up. From unimaginative three sandwich lunches she makes something beautiful that makes for a better meal. Her later passion shines through: she sees working as a sommelier with her sense of style and drama as theater, with the aim of giving the guests an unforgettable experience.

text Rob Velthuis – Trouw, 15 October 2018

After ten months of travel, Lotte is captivated by all facets of wine. She knows exactly what she wants, others see that too. When she applies, she can choose from three top restaurants. What a star means, she has to google. The choice falls on Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen.

There she meets his sommelier Matt Skinner, the same free-spirited type as Oliver, in whom she recognizes her own rock ‘n roll. What he can do, so can I, is her conviction. And just like a good rock ‘n roller, for Lotte the “sky is the limit”. As the youngest ever, and also as a woman, she completes the vinologist training.

She is 23 when top chef Sergio Herman brings her in as a sommelier in his three-star restaurant Oud Sluis. She thought it was a job for old men and finds that many men like it that way. Tricky guys have tough questions for that blonde girl. “Bullying a sommelier”, that’s exactly what motivated her.

She calls people knowledge the most important thing in her profession, feeling what the guests want. Furthermore, it is sixteen hours a day of buffalo and trusting your taste and feeling: “You make wine with the heart. I’m self-taught, I don’t like rules”. Because she likes to serve the exception to the rule, she knows those rules best.

Top restaurant follows top restaurant until she ends up in Amsterdam at Bridges, where as wine director she is given carte blanche when compiling the wine list. Her reputation is so great and Lotte so unruly that a tradition is shattered. Not only does she find the right wine for the right course, she also sends chefs back to the kitchen to adapt the dish to her choice of wine. Or she combines courses with a white beer or whiskey.

She stands up effortlessly. In the more hidden part of her life, it costs more. In 2015, she lifted part of the veil in an interview in the Gooi en Eemlander, without going deeply into the true seriousness. Her parents speak of “an accumulation of accidents”.

As a nine-year-old she plays with a teapot, gets the hot liquid over her and spends nine weeks with third-degree burns in the burn center in Beverwijk. There her rebellious character manifests itself when she bonjour the cliniclowns out of her room with expletives.

Her persistence also comes to the fore in what is an agony. As she is growing, the scars on her legs are constantly tearing. She doesn’t care about the external damage. Short skirt on, off to school. Around the age of sixteen she was given anti-inflammatories due to tendon adhesion to both hips. The ailment is painful with long standing, stress and fatigue. She cuts through tendons with a bottle of Martini. She breaks three ribs from the coughing when it goes too long with pneumonia.

text Rob Velthuis – Trouw, 15 October 2018

In January 2015 she is launched from her bicycle by a car, bystanders fear that she will not get up again. She has just booked a trip to South Africa where she has leased a vineyard in Swartland to make her own wine. Despite whiplash and infernal headaches, Lotte travels anyway.

There, barefoot pressing grapes between young ‘cowboys’ who make organic wines in the traditional way, she feels just as at home as in a three-piece suit in a star restaurant. She is apprenticed to Johan Meyer who has her mop the floors before he teaches her the tricks of the trade. He recognizes a rare combination of passion, inquisitiveness and work ethic in her.

After her neck was cracked by a chiropractor in June 2016, she is unable to walk or talk the next day. Three neck vessels appear to be damaged, she has had a brain haemorrhage.

She comes back mainly on her own will, although she is partially declared unfit for work. There are holes in her once infallible memory, talking is difficult. After three months, much too soon, she goes back to work. She wants to prove to herself that she is alive and continue to pass on her passion for wine to others.

She can’t really handle the long working days, but leaving early feels like abandoning her colleagues. She continues to set the bar high, in her job and working towards recovery. Daily at the gym, running. That’s what the headache is about, she says.

text Rob Velthuis – Trouw, 15 October 2018

Her great pride. The first wine for her own label ‘Touch of Dutch’ has been bottled. In Die Bastard she combines grape varieties that ‘don’t belong together’. That’s how she put her own recalcitrant in the bottle. New dreams to be pursued abound. Having your own restaurant on your own vineyard, that would be something.

She feels stronger than ever, partly because of her awakened love for Bjorn van Aalst, matre at the Amsterdam star restaurant Vermeer. For the first time, she would show her lover that other great lover, Swartland. Bjorn has traveled ahead, Lotte will join him on September 11. She never arrives. A brain haemorrhage affects her the morning of departure while getting dressed.

text Rob Velthuis – Trouw, 15 October 2018

On Wednesday 19 September 2018, Lotte said goodbye in an impressive way at Landgoed Zonnestraal.

Photography of the farewell meeting: Jan van Galen

Photography of the farewell meeting: Jan van Galen