As I sit on the plane, on the first leg of the journey back from Canada where I have just spent five fascinating days exploring the wine region of British Columbia, I find myself reminiscing on my four-year anniversary with the wine industry, and my three-year anniversary (1105 days to be precise) with the UK wine trade.
It’s been a brilliant and life-altering few years and, to start by quoting Andrew Jefford, “What a joy it is to possess a palate: to be able to smell and to taste the world. This is akin to the joy of having legs: to be able to walk and run through the world. In other words, it’s a gift the young take for granted – but both palate and legs need wise use and training to stay in shape, and to restrict the use of both prematurely, via excess or neglect, is a tragedy."
I feel very fortunate to have advanced into a career that I not simply enjoy, but which consumes my thoughts consistently on a daily basis until I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. Looking back on August 2014, when a 23-year-old version of myself sat down at her first London desk to learn about the world of wine through newspapers and magazines, straight out of university, seems a lifetime ago.
Reading magazine and newspaper columns and feature pieces through wine PR every day, has taught me what I know today; and I thank the wine journalists out there for that; you are all brilliant. Spending time with those involved in the London on-trade has sparked my obsession with wine lists; which has in turn taught me endlessly about other wines and portfolios; I thank all the trade representatives and sommeliers for that; you are equally fantastic. I am lucky to be able to surround myself daily with people of such vast knowledge and enthusiasm.
A conversation in May last year saw me extend my career from PR and writing on my own website, to contributing to the UK on-trade magazine, www.the-buyer.net, which has since become a home for many of my vinous musings. I remember clearly being anxious about my first piece; suddenly there was a platform for my thoughts; previously my writings had been predominantly for myself.
This leads me to the first thing I love about the wine trade. Everybody I have come across has time for me. Why? Perhaps because our world of vinous activity is so subjective: we enjoy being challenged and faced with other thought processes and stances, no matter of what age group or background. No matter our age or experience, the palate has a voice of its own, which deserves the ears of others. We are our own teachers; the more wines of diverse styles we approach, the more we learn and develop and the more conversations we spark.
I learn from a group of, for lack of a better phrase, “wine people,” who have become my close friends. Some of them have spent decades in the trade, and all of them treat me with respect and consider my thoughts with an open mind. I’ll always remember to grasp onto this mutual help as I grow, and to equally welcome others that are new to the trade. I have met wonderful people around the world, most recently in Sonoma and British Columbia, and I look forward to building more friendships over the years.
The “wine people” and I often engage in blind tastings. I LOVE them. There is nothing more thrilling than sitting down to assess a glass without knowing what’s in there. Mimi, Fifi and Glouglou, by Michel Tolmer, fabulously translated by Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene, is your nail-on-the-head accurate light-hearted cartoon guide to the joys and frustrations of blind tasting. I've lost count of the amount of times I have laughed with the cartoon characters.
There are challenges. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s the dream job, and from the insider’s perspective, yes, it is still the dream job. There are tough sides: tasting all day with the ensuing toothache from acid-driven whites or sparkling wines, having a frustrating off-day when your palate does not want to have a conservation with your brain, running around frantically with boxes of wine and spittoons (trying not to spill them) whilst forgetting to eat breakfast or lunch, travelling multiple times in a month sometimes, often with weird routes, and going out a lot, sometimes many evenings on the trot. Timings, particularly for sommeliers, the late nights, the debates over multiple bottles until the early hours, all pose their own issues. We must be mindful, watchful and look after one another and ensure addiction does not develop, as Forbes wine writer Cathy Huyghe discusses in her article here.
The aforementioned challenges have taught me to look after myself through exercise, and have taught me the wondrous simplicity of the simple basics: sleep, healthy eating, water and taking a few breaks. All of these were rather neglected at university, but have become staple basics to my adult routine.
The hectic schedule has also taught me that no matter how much I want to, I cannot do everything. A friend recently asked me, “How do you do it all? The 9-6 job and all the writing?” I replied, “I love it so I will always find time for it. But even though it may seem as though I do, I can’t do it all. There will always be more to do, there will always be another article I want to write.” It propels me forward.
I am becoming better at travelling; travelling lightly and uncomplicating my life is of utmost importance. Travelling lightly is equally of importance so I can stuff my suitcase with wine. Once again, water, sleep and a run if possible are necessities. As Jamie Goode wrote on Facebook, “Just boarding for Toronto. These days a 7 h flight feels like short haul - 5 h time difference is jetlag for cowards” Haha. I think you get used to it. I’m getting there. In your face, jet lag.
So to finish this train of thought, wine is not a career for the faint hearted, or for the half interested. To succeed, you must be smitten. If you love the industry, it will love you back.
Three years is a comparatively short amount of time. I’m excited for what the future holds. My diploma starts in a few weeks, and I’ve made the decision to go down the MW route one day.
I’ll report back in three years’ time, on our six-year anniversary. Hopefully I’ll be halfway (?) to MW by then.