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Meet the team - Craig Bonner
If you’re reading this, you are undoubtedly familiar with the racecourse and our famed racedays. However, how much do you know about the team behind the scenes who make our award-winning visitor attraction work?
Monday 2nd October 2023
We have a wealth of fascinating talent at Musselburgh Racecourse who are integral to our success – and your raceday experiences. Craig Bonner, who is at the helm of our five star food and drink offering, is just one such person. Here, we chat to Craig about his role, impressive industry achievements and his passion for fine wines and champagnes that have transformed how you toast your wins!
Craig is Regional Operations Manager for Heritage Portfolio where he oversees the food and drink operation at Musselburgh Racecourse. Having worked at Musselburgh Racecourse for 11 years, it’s safe to say he knows the racecourse, and our racegoers palates, extremely well.
Hospitality is Craig’s passion and, prior to joining Heritage Portfolio back in 2012 as Retail Manager for the racecourse, he worked for the Scotsman Group (who own some of Scotland’s top restaurants, bars and clubs), Tennant’s Caledonia Brewery, Gretna Green Group and McKever Hotels.
Tell us about your role at Musselburgh Racecourse
I work for Heritage Portfolio but my role has always been based at Musselburgh Racecourse where I strategically plan the catering offering whilst ensuring we’re at the forefront of industry trends so we’re always offering our racegoers the best experience. Musselburgh Racecourse is an exciting site as, unlike other Scottish venues - and venues within the Heritage Portfolio group - we are catering for everyone.
My role is to ensure absolutely everyone receives the best experience, from the traditional race-goer who can get the best pint and street food right up to those looking for seafood pairing with champagne and fine dining.
You’ve become something of an expert in wine and champagnes. How did this come about?
I’ve worked and managed hotels, bars, nightclubs and restaurants and also worked from the shipper’s side of the business in some of Scotland’s leading breweries. I have to admit that racecourses are by far the most exciting and my role within Heritage Portfolio has exposed me to the world of champagnes and fine wines.
I fell in love with not only the wealth of wines available but particularly the history, ethos, workmanship and the passion of the houses producing champagne and wine. In 2017, I had my first visit to the historical province of Champagne in the northeast of France and the rest is history. This region is where the production of the famed sparkling white wine hails from, and it’s truly fascinating. My personal favourite is champagne brand Pommery which we now stock at Musselburgh Racecourse.
You were invited to join the prestigious L’Academie du Champagne in 2017. How did this come about?
L'Academie du Champagne, or 'The Champagne Academy,' was established in 1956 by twelve Grandes Marques (big brand) champagne houses. The aim was to foster the appreciation of these prestigious and luxury champagnes through the education of younger members of the wine trade. 29 years later a further four champagne houses joined the original twelve creating the sixteen Grandes Marques which today represent the L'Academie du Champagne.
My passion for champagne led me to apply for the Champagne Academy and, in 2017, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the course. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life - highlights include tasting Les Clos Pompadour beside the vines in the Pommery Clos, and listening to the cellar master at Krug educating us on how music changes the way we taste champagne. It was a transformational experience and really cemented my passion for champagne which is evident within the offering at Musselburgh Racecourse.
I’m now the Scottish Dinner organiser for L'Academie du Champagne and also the secretary for the Champagne Academy. In 2025 I will become the Chairman of the academy.
How do you help select the wine and champagne selection at Musselburgh Racecourse and what do you look for?
We have always had an interesting, varied and inspiring wine list at Musselburgh, designed to suit a wide range of tastes and budgets. As professionals, we’ve been allowed to experiment with the offering resulting in a carefully curated seasonal list that has allowed customers to have some fun and challenge them self without breaking the bank.
To select our wines and champagned, I work very closely with our company wine ambassador, Frans Mortengren, to create a selection of wines that allow customers to try something a little different. We have not only painstakingly picked the best wines for style and flavour but consideration is put into the label as well. We have some real cool, different and attractive labels which shows how fun the wine is. People love something a little different.
Highlight of your career so far?
In addition to joining the L’Academie du Champagne, it has to be winning an Acorn award in 2016, which recognises the brightest propsects in the hospitality industry. More recently, I created cocktails for Google which were used on their landing page and I won cocktail competition for Drambuie Whisky. The cocktail I created was launched in America when they released the product to the American market. That was a real ‘pinch me’ moment.
Do you think we’ve become a nation of fine wine lovers?
Yes, definitely. Wine is assessable at all price points so it’s something people from all different backgrounds can have common ground on. In the last few years there has been some really interesting wines come to the market, combined with fair prices, so people have been able to experiment even more without breaking the bank – and not just in restaurants and bars, but at home too.
How important is wine pairing when it comes to dining?
I think it’s integral and can really elevate a dining experience. As an industry we often forget or make the drink element second best to the food, but it’s all part of the overall experience. The correct wine or spirit can take your dining experience to another level and intensify flavours and textures of the dish. If you can, try a wine pairing meal or seek advice from a sommelier. At Musselburgh we always ensure our seasonal food offering is enhanced by our seasonal wine and champagne offering.
What are your favourite seasonal wines and champagnes available at Musselburgh Racecourse?
This is difficult because I change my mind all the time! Right now, my top three are Pommery Apanage Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne, a complex red wine called Moveable Feast by the Drift Farm and sweet wine Mad Late Harvest Tokaj.
The champagne is a beautifully balanced, elegant Blanc de Blancs which is produced from 100% Chardonnay sourced from some of the most prestigious vineyards in Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. It has a characteristic complexity that is sublime to drink. Moveable Feast is a superb quality red wine with exceptional character. It’s mixture of ripe mulberry, white pepper and buchu, framed in a touch of vanilla oak and a hint of minty caramel chocolate. The palate echos the blackcurrant, mulberry and dark cherry. It’s perfect for autumn and will enhance all red meats.
And lastly Hungarian wine Mad Late Harvest Tokaj is a vibrant dessert wine that is lusciously fruity. It’s perfect served with blue cheese or rich desserts.
Any top tips for selecting wine to pair with a meal at home
If you’re entertaining I would opt for a crowd pleaser that you genuinely enjoy, that pairs with the food you’re cooking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when selecting a wine, too. Stores likes Majestic are great for helping select a wine within budget and often offer wine tasting too. I love to start with a champagne like Pommery and then move on to a white or red wine with the meal, finishing off with a sweet wine to accompany dessert.
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