Martin Tarnoczy

Published 30 May 2017   

After almost 14 years of living in Bali, KU DE TA is still one of my favourite stops to visit for a glass (or two) of wine, good food and incredible sunset views. In this edition of FRV we interview the man responsible for the wines of this iconic venue.

Text: Herman Von Bernardi


Martin Tarnoczy decantes another fine wine

Hi Martin, please tell me about yourself.
I was born in Czech Republic 34 years ago.  Growing up in the mountains of Northern Czech it was only natural that I was skiing and snowboarding almost before I started walking. I was very lucky to have active parents who encouraged my brother and I to be adventurous, take part in every sport we could and most importantly travel.

How did you get involve in the F&B business and especially in wines?
It was during these travels as a child that I realised I had a love for hospitality and tourism; I always admired and enjoyed watching those in hospitality wherever we went. But it wasn’t till after my first summer job in a restaurant at the age of 14 that I knew this career was for me and I made the decision to study Hospitality Management. The rest, as they say, is history.
In terms of wine, well this was always in my blood. My family has always had vineyards back home in Czech, so I was around wine from a young age. My role in wines now was a natural progression.

What is the best part of being in the F&B business from your experience?
What makes this industry special for me is definitely the people, not just the customers but also the people you work with. The hospitality industry is just like one big family.  Of course it helps that it is a fast paced, ever changing industry, so there is no time to get bored!

What brought you to Bali and how long have you been here?
Its beauty, culture, (scuba diving of course), sun, fun, and everything that goes with it. I have lived here for 4 years and am still enjoying every second of it.

How long have you been working in KU DE TA?
This is my 4th year working with the KU DE TA team and it’s been a great experience to work within such an iconic venue in Bali and to see how it continues to evolve as a business.

How would you describe your typical day at KU DE TA?
There is honestly no such a thing as typical day, every day is different!  When I’m not on the floor with our team and guests I am working on our staff training programme which is a key element for our business.  I also spend a lot of time developing our wine lists.  I like to review and introduce new wines regularly so it’s an ever-evolving list.  I also curate the wine pairings for Mejekawi so will spend time with the chefs looking at new dishes and what may work well.

What do you think makes KU DE TA one of the top and trendiest venues in the island?
It’s hard to put your finger on what makes KU DE TA so special and has continued to do so for so many years (we’re 17 years old this year).  As I say, we invest a lot of time into service and training our staff so that guests will always enjoy our relaxed and welcoming yet super attentive service.  Along with this, there is the amazing view, great music and some of the best food and drinks.  We are committed to sourcing the highest quality produce available and will never compromise, I think when all of these factors come together you get that special KU DE TA experience.

Where does the inspiration for your wine list come from and how do you decide what wines will go in?
I don’t like to be too predictable when developing our wine lists… I like to push boundaries a bit and challenge people’s expectations where possible.  I keep up to date with global news and trends within the wine world and ensure we’re working with the interesting varietals and winemakers.
Saying that though, we are based on a tropical island and so people will naturally be after a different style of wine list than they may in the middle of a city.  Being on an island means we are also restricted with availability and cost.  We don’t want to have an inaccessible list, so I try to be as creative and innovative as possible, maintaining the guests’ tastes and requirements and keeping our food style / offering in mind.

How would you describe your wine list? How many wines do you have on it?
We have approximately 130 wines on our list with a wide selection of varietals.  We have a real mix between old and new world, affordable and premium.  We try to accommodate what a guest may wish to sip whilst chilling on a daybed poolside, all the way through to an impressive accompaniment to an elaborate dinner in Mejekawi.

Is it important for you having an extensive list?
Due to the fact that we have such a diverse guest profile I think it is important that we have a wide selection of wines so that (like our food), we have something for everyone at any time of day.  Plus it means we are able to always pair perfectly with the dishes in our relaxed fine dining restaurant Mejekawi.

What are the biggest difficulties of working with wines in Bali?
The main challenge is access and import duties which are reflected in the pricing.  We are lucky to work with great importers and so we are able to access an impressive selection of wines.

KU DE TA has done a series of successful wine dinners the last few years. In your opinion what have made these dinners such a success?  And how do you choose the wines for them?
We launched the Culinary Collective in 2016 and have hosted some of the region (world’s) best chefs.  It’s a real collaborative effort… firstly of course, our Chefs Benjamin Cross and Stephen More have brought in such incredible talent – and we’re super grateful to all of the awesome visiting chefs who give up their time to come and cook with us.  Our Marketing Team developed the Culinary Collective Series concept and produced the assets.  And of course, our management and service team ensure that every night is always super slick and enjoyable for the guest.  We like to keep things as relaxed and fun as possible, there’s no stuffiness here…

For the wines, I am given the menu a day or two in advance and taste the dishes as soon as possible after.  I then go through our wine lists to work out the best pairings and then trial that with the chefs.  It’s usually a tight turnaround given that the visiting chef usually only lands 48 hours prior to the dinner but it’s good fun and we seem to have done well so far!

Do you prefer Old World or New World wines?
For me the choice of wine is determined by where I am, what I am eating and most importantly who I am drinking the wine with. Here in Bali I will gravitate towards New World wines, suited to the hot, sunny climate.

What type of wines are the favourite ones among KU DE TA’s customers?
Our light and fresh wines are preferred during the day… so our Sauvignon Blanc and chilled Pinot Noir are always very popular.  At night, it’s a little bit more of a mix, but a big Chardonnay along with some heavier reds such as a Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Tempranillo are always popular.

What is the best part of working in such a trendy venue like KU DE TA?
Seeing the smile on our guests’ faces when they leave is the best part of my day, plus seeing my amazing team in action.  I love working with my team… as cheesy as it may sound we really are like one big family and have a great bond.

What have been the biggest challenges of working and living on the island?
Being far away from my family and friends in Europe is probably my biggest personal challenge.  Workwise, possibly the heat?!  It was definitely a shock to the system after my years in London!

How was your experience on your recent wine trip to Chile?
My first time in South America was an incredible experience; Chile has so much to offer in every way. The food, wine, culture, people and its spectacular scenery.  The wine industry there is booming and we are all along for an amazing ride. I felt especially privileged to be there to learn the history behind the wine, meet the families and people who work hard year round to produce wine of such a high standard, and put the product into the context of our venue and our customers.

What do you normally do on your free time?
Take advantage of living in this patch of paradise they call Bali. My partner and I spend a lot of time exploring Bali, Indonesia and South East Asia. At the top of my list is scuba diving and I take every opportunity I can to practise my underwater photography. And there’s nothing better than a BBQ with good friends, beautiful weather and of course, great wine.

Thanks Martin, it is always a pleasure meeting you and visiting KU DE TA.

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