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A very Swirl Christmas

Christmas is nearly upon us. So, this month our team share what they’re looking forward to eating and drinking over the festive season – as well as what traditions, old and new, they’ll be celebrating. Have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Sarah Abbott MW, our founder and director

This feels confessional, but for various reasons this is going to be a restrained Christmas for me when it comes to actually drinking. I still taste wine of course, and I’m using that skill, previously reserved for professional contexts, much more at home. I’m grateful that I’m still able to explore and stay connected to that wine world.  I always choose the wine for Christmas dinner with my extended family and I love doing that. They appreciate quality and are all brilliant cooks, but they’re not wine geeks. And that encourages me to think beyond the usual wine classics. I’ve seen from my family that people can be turned onto wine in a moment.  My twin nephews have recently turned 21 and, following a skartvelian conversion involving Saperavi last Christmas, have emerged as huge wine fans. They’re medical students but they don’t confirm to the student cliche (well, the one I remember) of selecting wine by correlating the lowest available price with the highest available alcohol. They are so into good red wine, and save up to buy it. So I’m arranging a Wine Auntie red wine masterclass while they’re home this Christmas. Grenache. I’m currently quite obsessed with Grenache. And my family are really curious about English wine so I am going to go for that. I hope this doesn’t make me a bad person, but I’m saving my really smart bottles until next Christmas. When I can drink them.

Niki Shefras, our operations whizz

Being vegan and spending the festive season with my folks (diehard carnivores and lovers of all things dairy!) in Spain, is always an interesting challenge and lesson in balance and going with the flow. So guilt free, I will be sure to enjoy a little Panettone indulgence as it is always on hand at home and so good toasted with butter for breakfast. Each year even though I make the traditional turkey for everyone else, I am still perfecting the ultimate nut roast for myself!
 
At midday there is always a champagne cork popping at my folks home, and no doubt a glass of whatever they are opening will be thrust upon me from the raid on my step-father’s cellar. There is a fine Hacienda Monasterio Reserva Especial Ribero Del Duero that always seems to go down well, and no doubt the Port will be going around which will delight my other half. But (and I appreciate that I am writing this on a wine blog!), what I am really, really looking forward to, is freshly squeezed organic orange juice from the local “campo”, there is nothing like it; liquid sunshine for the soul.
For me Christmas tradition is about family and getting together in community singing, dancing, eating together, living life and honouring connection. I can’t wait for that.

Madeleine Waters, our PR partner

I’m a creature of habit and I love the whole traditional turkey with all the trimmings so that’s what I’m looking forward to. I’ve decided that we will be drinking cocktails this year  so I’m looking forward to experimenting with my shaker.  I’m going to be using my client Domaine des Tourelles’ new Lebanese gin, GinBey, as the base for some of them, it’s delicious.
As for Christmas traditions – we’re not starting any new ones as such. I’m just so excited to be together as a family again. I’m sure that’s everyone’s wish but last year was the first Christmas we spent without our daughter and I’m very much looking forward to having her home this year!

Celia Bryan-Brown, our content writer

Like Madeleine I am a huge fan of the traditional Christmas spread. I must be one of the few people who truly love turkey, sprouts and bread sauce! I am very much hoping that we make it to my mother’s house this year for lunch with the family after last year locked down with just my husband. As for what we’ll be drinking – we recently moved out of London and have become huge fans of Harrow & Hope fizz, which is made locally to us.

Traditions wise, I was hoping to go to Midnight Mass again, but suspect that may be cancelled again, sadly. But I am looking forward to a new tradition my husband and I have shared for the past couple of years. Vaguely Scandinavian-inspired, we have homemade blinis and really good smoked salmon with caviar and a bottle of champagne on Christmas Eve, just the two of us.

Ellie Voci, our digital guru

Based on the hopeful assumption I’m still heading stateside for the holidays – I cannot wait to eat my mom’s chocolate chip M&M cookies, her gingersnap cookies, and my sister’s homemade birthday cake. It’s been 2 years without these delicious goodies in my life and I could not be more excited. And as for what we’ll be drinking, I’m looking forward to bringing some Prosecco Superiore DOCG back to the states.

My family being altogether again is the tradition I’m keenest to reinstate! But we’re also starting a new tradition this year where anyone who brings up politics (my uncle), has to put $5 in the pot…
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Interview: Anne Krebiehl MW, EIC of Falstaff magazine

This month we talked to the editor-in-chief of Falstaff magazine, Anne Krebiehl MW. We talked to her about her motivations to join the Falstaff team and launch a print publication in the midst of a dramatic decline in print sales – and to explore the origins of her wine story. As expressive as you could hope a writer to be, Anne reveals the influences which have brought us to where we are today, including Martha Stewart, Birkbeck College and her school English teacher. The latest edition of Falstaff is out now.

What brought you to wine?

I did not grow up with wine – but I grew up with a lot of flavour.

There is a kind of sensuous inclination in me. As a child I was brought up with nature and was already baking a lot, as an adult I was cooking a lot.

When I then as a young adult came to wine – because I was a bit of a puritan when I was a teenager, a bit scared of drink – it was very much the recognition that wine is so much more than just booze. It then took me quite a while from just enjoying it to finding out more about it.

That [investigative, academic] interest was sparked on a camping holiday in my very early twenties, travelling with the Sotheby’s wine bible in the car – of course! The key moment happened in Tain-l’Hermitage at the shop of Chapoutier where I was given two glasses of a white wine. I was told: ‘this glass if from old vines, this glass is from young vines. It’s the same vintage and the same grape’. I didn’t believe it could be possible. This was the trigger which made me find out more about wine.

It prompted the realisation that wine is the intersection of so many things – of a place, of a climate, of topography, of geology, of politics, of culture, horticulture, of so many things. That has always appealed to me and throughout all my studies where I nearly lost my mind! It still appealed to me, that beauty. That is wine’s fascination for me. The nuance and variety available – the transformation of grape juice into wine is a miracle.

You are, of course, German. What’s it like to write in your second language – and study for your MW in the same? What sort of impact, if any, has this had on your career?

I grew up in a small village – a small world. I was never really made aware of how big the world is. But, somehow, I cottoned on very early that learning a language was a passport of sorts. I also always found it really easy to learn English.

I had an English teacher, an Austrian woman who was the first really intellectual woman I had ever met. She made such an impression on me. She showed me the nuance of language. I left Germany to become an exchange student in the US for a year which completely exploded everything I had thought before.

And then I learnt about Birkbeck College: that was my gift from the gods. That college has always been seen as a ‘workman’s institute’. It was created for people who worked in the day and went to school at night – which suited me down to the ground. I wanted to study English Literature even though I knew it wasn’t career oriented, but I had an undergrad in Business so I could come to London. And I did. I arrived with two suitcases and a rucksack and I started working in a dull back office in a bank. Really mind numbingly boring. But at night, I went to school and studied English. And really, Birkbeck College and London have made me.

Studying alongside a full-time job was hard but I’ve never lost that love for words, for poetry, that love for language and nuance.

At a time where print circulation for Decanter, perhaps the world’s best known wine magazine, is in steep decline, we think it’s incredibly brave and confident to launch a new print publication. What made you think now was the right time?

Well, the decision wasn’t mine! I was contacted by Wolfgang Rosam, the publisher and owner of the Falstaff publishing company in Vienna, for the first time in March 2020 – and I thought he was a crank. And then we spoke again in July – really spoke – and I ended up going to Vienna in August 2020 where we spoke non-stop for two days by which time I could see and share his vision.

I am aware this is counterintuitive [to launch a new print publication at a time of print decline]. But it was interesting for me that when our first edition came out in summer how positive the reaction was. Of course, we did a lot of competitor analysis and we believe we’re in a sweet spot, in Wolfgang’s words, where we have the ‘holy trinity of wine, food and travel’. Because you cannot really separate one from the other.

Yes, there is wine in the magazine, it is my field of expertise. But, you know, I’m also in the kitchen and in the garden; I’m in the world, so wine, food and travel and that inherent pleasure which is flavour, taste, and experiencing something viscerally, something real and undeniable is as much a part of me as any wine.

Falstaff was originally founded as a rather old-man’s wine journal in the 1980s. Since purchasing the publishing house, Wolfgang turned Falstaff into the most successful Wine-Food-Travel magazine in German-speaking Europe – so there was already an international drive and ambition there. But by keeping it in German it was confined. By putting it out in English, it is unfettered. It is a big task, but it is exciting.

My counterpart, the Managing Director, Jana Schiedmantle, is a born digital generation whizz kid. It’s really interesting the different angles we approach this publication from. I grew up with physical magazines and I still love them. I think there’s something so special about holding a beautifully photographed and laid out magazine in your hands. I think the photography and beauty of it will make people want to touch it. I think there is still appeal there and that appeal will translate. And it is certainly exciting to be part of something so counterintuitive and counter-cyclical.

What is your aim with Falstaff? Is your aim to bring wine out of the geeky closet? It is a unique publication in its broad focus on epicurean delights which takes a broad view of wine.

When I spent my exchange year in the States, Martha Stewart’s publications were still going strong and I lovedthose layouts, I loved the photography. I still have clippings, (I am one of these people who keeps clippings). I am just in love with print and with paper and layouts and fonts. I want to create beautiful things in this way.

Life is life and it brings us what it brings us. But there are things which just make life good. We talk about the greatest wines of the world, and the prestige cuvees, but they are more than just prestige cuvees: they are pinnacles of culture.

Last night I was interviewing a wine maker in Patagonia and he showed me a video of the southern winds beating the landscape. I thought ok yes there is somebody trying to grow something in a place that is so difficult. They’re bringing forth something that is then just so touching. And the same thing – if I am stressed out and I go into my kitchen and cut up some basil, to have a nose full of that I think: wow, how is that possible.

I want to bring real things to people – because they are real, they are not the added extras of life. The pandemic taught us to really respect the everyday experiences which can elevate us. This summer I went to the sea. Boy, was it wonderful to smell the sea after being landlocked; to feel the wind and the sunshine. Whatever life throws at us there are things that are always real and they ground us and make us feel human.

That’s what I want Falstaff to bring to people. Escapism and beauty.

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Interview: Lydia Harrowven, Head Buyer at Adnams

Lydia is evidently a self-starter. She left home aged 17 to work in Holland as a pastry chef. Since then, she has worked as a cellar hand, graduated from Plumpton University, sold and marketed wine in the Maldives, and been a sommelier. Her current job as Head Buyer for wine at Adnams is her most exciting yet. We talk about how she’s using her decision-making position to effect real change.

At Swirl we’re huge fans of yours! When we were discussing this interview, Sarah described you as a ‘guardian of quality’ who never walked past a low standard without working to fix it. Where does this approach come from? Do you think it’s a particularly female quality?

I actually attribute this all the way back to my training in catering and hospitality management. Working as first a pastry chef and then as a sommelier – it was drilled into you to notice the details. The miniature of detail is where real success lies. I do agree that there is a certain ‘women’s touch’ element to it – though, particularly in the hospitality sector, I’ve met several men who have that same mindset. It comes from having interest too. I’m interested in people. I’m interested in their happiness, and them getting the what they need and what they want and anticipating people’s needs. So, for me, [being a ‘guardian of quality’] is not letting other people notice errors or problems, but fixing them before they become an issue.

How do you think your background of varied roles in the industry informs your current role and buying ethos?

Going through university I was a mature student and self-funded, holding down three-to-four jobs to pay my way. If you’re looking for a job you panic and think bloody hell! If anyone looks at my CV they’re think I’ve had 350 million jobs which can be seen as a bad thing. But for me, I see it as a good thing because I understand the context. I think [having a background of varied roles] helps you think of costs from every angle, and understand quality from every perspective. The whole point of buying, the whole point of doing what we do, is for the customer to have a fantastic experience at the end point. So, it’s important for me to know where our customers are [when they’re enjoying our products].

How are they experiencing us? How are they interpreting us? It’s more than just spreadsheets – that wine ticks all the boxes, done. I’m thinking about whether people are enjoying our wine in a restaurant, in a pub or  at home. I’m always asking myself: what’s the context? What does the wine say about us? So, it’s really important for me to have a wide perspective and I think a varied professional background has laid the foundations for this.

Adnams is most famous as a brewer and spirits company, though of course they’ve more recently built a great reputation for wine too. I’m interested to know if you see any correlation between wine being seen as a relative outlier when people think of Adnams and your experiences as a woman in the trade?

There is absolutely no denying that wine has historically been a male dominated environment. I’ve always felt that – from day one of my career. But that’s obviously changing. People are lot more open minded than they ever were. But I think also that my experience has meant that I can hold my own in that environment. I left home at 17 and went to work for the Roux brothers in central Amsterdam. I moved there on my own, worked in a kitchen with 16 chefs as the only woman. It was a bold, difficult move but I always held my own because I knew I was doing a good job.

There are still lots of businesses, I think, where men hold the space – women are seen as contributors but perhaps not leaders. Most women in any position of power [in this trade] are very aware of that. There’s a feeling there that you’re one of the few.

Adnams is incredibly liberal – especially compared to my former job in the Maldives which is very not liberal. But there may always be that feeling that I’m in a male dominated environment and I’m very young – but because I left home so young and have held down so many different jobs – I sort of just plow on and try not to overthink it. It’s so easy to think ‘that’s difficult because I’m a woman’ – but sometimes I think it’s a bit about how you interpret the circumstances. Though, there’s no denying that sometimes when you’re meeting an older male supplier, I do catch myself wondering: ‘what are you thinking about me and my position here’. I do get those questions a lot to be honest. Historically, Adnams has had older male wine experts in this role.

The sustainability of local sourcing is a key part of your beer and spirits offerings. How do you reflect these values in your wine sourcing, given that the UK is still in its relative infancy in wine-producing terms?

I’m completely onboard with the movement for sustainability. But I also think we’re all a bit fed up with talking about sustainability but not really meaning it, or not really knowing what it means or how to follow through with concrete actions.

I’m really keen to delve a bit deeper into what we exactly mean by ‘sustainability’ and how we stand by the definition we come to.

In my role, part of that is working with more local producers where we can. But we do face a lot of challenges there – pricing, availability, volumes, and quality – I’d love to work with all of the local [English] wineries but I’m not willing to take anything but the very best so sometimes I’m having to go a bit further than I’d like to. We’re a very small island and we still have a low footprint when you look at the wine world more broadly. So, I am focussed on working with the best UK suppliers or producers I can find. I championed an Adnams Bacchus launch two years ago, as well as an Adnams rosé and I worked really hard to make sure they were best in class. That does mean to some extent that there’s very little sustainability behind those products because [the UK trade is] in its infancy so I’ve found consistent quality and volume a challenge across vintages.

These products we took on a couple of years ago are now limited edition because we can’t access them anymore. We have to be more agile in our approach. We have to be able to readily chop and change our range. I want to work with English producers as much as possible so I imagine our range there will develop quite significantly because I want to represent the diversity in the industry and we do have some really exciting English listings coming up.

[But apart from local sourcing] I see broader sustainability as a much bigger subject. One person’s interpretation of sustainability can be very different from another’s. For example, the previous buyers here their view was to make sure everything was UK packed to reduce freight impact – which I do agree with. However, I think that if we do that too much, we lose a bit of interest within our range. It can homogenise things a bit. So, I’d like to bring back a bit of uniqueness.

One of the things I’m trying to do is make sure that as many of our wines as possible have sustainability credentials on the bottle so at least the wineries we’re working with are considering their own sustainability and their impact. And I’m also being more conscious of the producers we’re working with and how sustainable that relationship is. So, while cost is very very important and we must have the best prices to pass on the consumer, it’s got to be sustainable. If you push your producers too hard they don’t enjoy working with you, you don’t enjoy working with them and everyone’s always battling over prices. You’re in this battle every year – or every couple of months even – and it’s just not sustainable. We need sustainable prices and sustainable relationships with our producers and we then need to consider how that impacts our customers in a sustainable way. Can we produce that product sustainably in terms of quality, pricing; are we fair, are we presenting real value for money. Is the product even necessary?

We’re really interested to know how you approach emerging regions/ esoteric wines in your role as obviously now you have a bit more weight to say ‘let’s go with stuff that’s a bit unusual’.

Absolutely. I’m so excited about this category. It gives us a story to tell and gives our marketers something to say. Everybody in our stores is hugely passionate and hugely qualified – they’re all very very interested in wine. One of the things we teetered on the edge of was homogenising our range and losing its identity and excitement. There’s just such a huge world of wine out there and our customers are interested. Yes, the sales might not set the world alight but it will keep us interesting and revitalised so [wines from esoteric regions or using lesser-known grapes] can only be a good thing.

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Interview: the winners of Wines of Georgia’s Indie Trade Alliance Fund

Each month we speak to a someone doing things a little differently in our industry. Usually, this takes the form of an interview with an interesting woman in our trade, but this month we decided to do something a little different. Our newsletter highlighted the novel approach we’ve taken to connecting export-ready producers with UK retailers via the Georgian Wine Connect hub. Wines of Georgia are one of our key clients, and we’re proud to showcase how their trust in us has enable us to come up with a pioneering solution for a common issue faced by producers in emerging wine regions: how to get their wines in front of consumers in key markets.

In tandem with Georgian Wine Connect, we also worked with Wines of Georgia to develop an Indie Trade Alliance fund giving small and medium independent UK retailers the opportunity to apply for a grant to use to increase their exposure of Georgian wine to their customers. We had some fantastic entries, but, together with our client, we whittled it down to the strongest proposals.

This month, we talked to those winners about how initiatives like Georgian Wine Connect and the Indie Trade Alliance can have a positive impact on their business, showing why they’re such an important part of what we do at Swirl.

The typical way to get people interested in wines from new places is to get them to taste taste taste! But the pandemic has put restraints on these sorts of marketing activities – so we asked the winners how they’re adapting their marketing of Georgian wine to mitigate these barriers.

Danilo di Salvo of Georgian Wine specialist Gvino UK admits that they’ve pivoted to be fully online. “We have invested in a part-time Marketing Director who looks after our digital marketing activities [and have] re-vamped our website for a better use experience. For example, we have included filters to choose a specific bottle of wine based on the questions that we get asked most face-to-face. We have also had to turn to online wine tasting, which we were nervous about at first. However, our online wine tastings have been very successful (with fantastic support from Swirl). We will do more of these in the future.”

But Danilo isn’t the only one who’s innovating. Duncan Findlater of Smith & Gertrude says that “we are going to be taking the wines to people in their own homes through our wine club and through the weekly cheese and wine packs that we send out.” While Chris Coombes of Turton Wines says they’ve initiated “Home Tasting Kits, Online Tastings [for] private and Corporate clients, Mystery Cases with online Youtube Channel presentation, and targeted staff tasting sessions.”

The latter investment is repeated by Emily Silva of The Oxford Wine Company who says part of their grant-winning strategy is to focus “heavily on staff training, which will provide our lovely, enthusiastic staff with all the information they need to spread the word about delicious Georgian wine”.

But there’s also a clear desire to offer ‘normal’ in-store tastings where possible. Tom Boronat of The Salusbury Wine Store & Bar admits “[they’ve] channelled [their] efforts into a higher social media presence and began writing more frequent newsletters […but they’ll] host the event in store as easing of restrictions means we can get away with an indoor tasting’.

One of the most powerful things about an initiative like the Indie Trade Alliance fund for an emerging region like Georgia, is that it gives indies the opportunity to do what they do best: hand sell compelling stories. Wine is enmeshed in Georgian culture in a way that’s quite unique, so the winning plans all explore this significance.

Danilo of Givno UK is putting a strong focus on the cultural importance of wine: “The cuisine from Georgia is absolutely incredible and so we are going to use our generous funding from the GITA to commission a short series of YouTube videos celebrating the relationship between Georgian wine and food from a famous Georgian chef.” Les Hall of The Wright Wine Company agrees: “[I’ve said before] that in order to promote Georgian wine I felt that Georgia as a whole should be promoted and that there should be an exploration of the absolute bond linking family, hospitality, food and wine. Doing all that in a shop is certainly going to be a challenge. But we’re up for it!”.

This cultural focus also rides on the coattails of sweeping wine trends – something Carrie Carruthers of Carruthers & Kent will definitely exploit. “We can’t quite believe it ourselves how through the roof [the rising demand for natural and Amphora wine has] gone, in particular with young people.”

Speaking to the winners of the Indie Trade Alliance has also highlighted how powerful a tool this will be to enable Georgia, a still ‘emerging’ region to gain even more market share in the valuable UK wine market.

Isa Bal of Trivet restaurant says “we have plans to work with a number of producers directly at this point in time it gives us a good idea what we can do.” Emily of The Oxford Wine Company agrees, saying the tool is “very efficient and a great way to connect without needing to travel either abroad or to London” – highlighting the success of portals like Georgian Wine Connect which engender personal connection in tandem with the ease and accessibility of online tools.

Danilo of Givno UK says it all with his comment: “This is a fantastic innovation – well done to all of those involved. We have plans to increase our wine variety significantly over the coming 12-18 months and so this tool will be invaluable. We currently source our wines through our relationships in Georgia, which has both pros and cons. One of the cons is that we may miss out on bringing some fantastic wine to the UK because we simply don’t know about it. This tool will help us mitigate this issue.”

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Interview: Emma Dawson MW

Emma Dawson MW isn’t just senior wine buyer at Berkmann Wine Cellars. In her spare time, she’s run a number of educational wine ventures, including Naked Grape Tastings for consumers and 52grapes.com, a free website offering consumers the chance to join in and taste 52 grapes in 52 weeks. She’s passionate about grape diversity and has been instrumental in bringing wines from formerly obscure regions – Lebanon, Greece and Turkey – to the UK market. Ahead of World Biodiversity Day, we talked to her about why grape diversity is so important and how she brings her love of esoteric regions to her work.

Swirl’s purpose is to champion lesser-known regions and varieties – and diversity is an implicit part of this. What got you interested in grape diversity?

I was really lucky at Marks & Spencer. In 2012 I was given a project – one of my first big buying projects – to go and find wines which matched a new range of Eastern Mediterranean food. The remit was to explore that whole quite large swathe of countries and find if there were any decent well priced wines we could list. So, the brief was very broad and I did a lot of research because it was such a great opportunity to get such an adventurous remit as a buyer. Eventually I came up with five countries. It was actually really nice: I thought I was going to get about two wines listed from this exercise and we ended up with something like 12. And then, because I was at Marks & Spencer where everything is own label, I also had the great opportunity to go to these countries. Marks & Spencer’s way of working is that you have to go to the winery and check it meets all quality standards and so on, you can’t just put an own label on it. So, I could go to Greece and Lebanon and Turkey and see what those countries had to offer. I think that’s what really sparked my interest, the realisation that there was so much more out there.

How did 52grapes.com tie into this interest?

In about October 2018 my boyfriend and I came up with the idea as something fun we could do together. He was doing all these drinking challenges but they had nothing to do with wine. And I thought that was a bit ridiculous – you live with a wine buyer! So, [we came up with this concept] which I found interesting. Having worked in a supermarket I always wanted to champion customers trying something a bit different. Seeing from friends, too, how reluctant people are to try new things because they don’t have the information and the confidence, I wanted to give people a fun journey, to make the exploration [of different types of wine] something to enjoy rather than fear.

Of course, more obscure grapes or region may be a harder sell for consumers. How to you integrate your passion for grape and regional diversity with your role as a buyer?

When I talked to Alex Hunt about joining Berkmann, part of that conversation was that I was into these more esoteric countries. Before I joined, Berkmann did have wines from Turkey which was quite unusual. But Alex definitely did say to me – now you’re joining can you help us expand into these areas, so I therefore brought in wines from Greece, Lebanon and Georgia. I actually used the experience and knowledge I had from going to those countries a lot to know who the best people were to work with.

I do think the most important thing, though, is to catch the right moment. For example, at the moment we have some great orange wines to meet the increasing demand for unusual wines – and they’re certainly selling well at the moment. I was having a chat with Mary Pateras from Eclectic Wines who has, from my perspective, done the job of bringing Greek wines into the UK and making them big. I don’t think she gets enough credit for that. She was talking about how her importing company is now finding there is so much more demand – it’s beginning to reach ‘peak Greece’. Consumers are no longer finding it to be an ‘unusual’ wine country, it’s becoming almost mainstream. It’s a lovely thing to see that progression.

How can producers of wines using more obscure grape varieties, or winemakers in more obscure regions position themselves for the best success in the UK market? Do you find things like grape names, for example, to be a barrier for consumers?

I think there’s enough interest in, say, Georgia, that grape names are becoming less of a barrier. People know enough about the country, want to try qvevri wines and so on. I think you have to be careful about getting overexcited. We’ve been looking at other countries like Armenia and Moldova, and whilst the wines are lovely, I do think you have to wait for the point where there is enough demand and there’s been enough awareness created.

Its why I really do think that there’s a lot of power behind countries like Georgia funding generic bodies to promote their wines. That’s a great thing for an importer to ride on the back of and list things. If you try to do it in isolation then it is very difficult and sometimes the risk doesn’t pay off. And that doesn’t just stand for unusual countries – we could be talking about a small region in Italy which could be quite hard to get people interested in. It can be a barrier to some but for a specialist restaurant it can be a great point of difference. So, I just think these wines need to be proposed in the right way.

A producer has also got to be conscious of where they want to position the wine and in what market. The acceptable cost price in the UK is very different from that in China or the US. I always encourage my producers if they want a chance in the UK you’ve got to make your wines at a reasonable price. People are only willing to experiment under a £15 price point. So, if you can hit that sweet spot, you’ll have much more of a chance of being recognised and then can introduce more expensive wines.

And don’t be sucked into using international varieties for name recognition. I listed a lovely Turkish Sauvignon Blanc at Marks & Spencer which completely bombed and we realised straight after that that it was because it was exactly the same price as a New Zealand Sauvignon. There was no motivation for someone to try a Turkish Sauvignon instead of the one they know they love from New Zealand.

Why is diversity important in the wine trade?

When I did the 52grapes blog Richard Smart, the amazing viticulturalist got in touch and we had some great conversations about grape diversity. He’s the one more than me who’s very passionate about the meaning of diversity and how we’re at a crunch point as many regions around the world are uprooting their native varieties to plant more commercial ones. It’s nice, for example, to hear that in Chile they’re looking at their old vines – but it’s still a tiny proportion of the country’s total wine production. I think we should really champion all the countries maintaining their old vines. Otherwise we will lose diversity, we will find at a certain point that there are fewer grapes in the world.

The most obvious reason we should celebrate grape diversity is climate change. A lot of these older varieties are more adapted to their environment. We need to really plunder our resources to figure out which grape varieties best suit the changing climate in various regions. In Australia they’re starting to explore this a lot, planting lots of Italian native varieties which are more adaptive [to the new climatic circumstances].

I’d also challenge why we think certain grapes are ‘better’ in the first place. I find it really funny that we have this ‘old’ and ‘new’ world division. It doesn’t make sense. I was actually doing a vertical tasting of Leoville-Barton for some clients and one of them asked me if he should try more Lebanese wine, he’d only tried Musar, and I explained that actually it’s the ancient world of wine. It’s the place where wine came from. As with Georgia, it’s one of the original winemaking countries. There’s a temple of Bacchus in Lebanon which shows that the Romans thought it was a good place to make wine. [When you explain these things] you suddenly see the penny drop. But I don’t think the penny has dropped for many consumers yet that there was a time before Europe, and before those countries were making wine. That to me is fascinating. I studied history at university and I find tracing it back to where it started, and not just assuming that the grapes became well established because they worked in France.

When you look at the history of European wine, even, France quickly became dominantly established with an efficient, well run wine industry. So, all of its grapes started to dominate the wine world. Arguably, if Italy had been a little bit more organised and focussed on higher quality before France – Italian grapes could dominate as international varieties. Not saying that Cabernet and Chardonnay and so on aren’t fantastic – but we should also consider all these lovely old ancestral grapes. We should add those older, [more obscure] grapes to the mix and open our minds to reconsider what really are the ‘best’ grapes in the world.

 

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Interview: Julie Goddard, The Success Architect

Swirl meets Julie Goddard, The Success Architect. Julie is an award-winning business psychologist and leadership coach who has partnered with our founder, Sarah Abbott MW, to create The Blend. The Blend is a series of virtual workshops designed to increase the representation of women in leadership in the drinks industry. You can find out more about The Blend in our blog, or via their dedicated website. But we also wanted to talk to Julie to give you a flavour of how her business psychologist’s brain and background in education bring a unique flavour to this exciting new initiative.

Tell us about The Blend and why you think that the workshops are important.

The Blend is world class leadership training for women in the wine industry. It’s a collaboration between me, The Success Architect, and Sarah Abbott, and is very exciting for both of us, drawing on Sarah’s highly developed skills and knowledge as an MW and my own skills as an award-winning coach and business psychologist.

To date, there have been a couple of initiatives designed to support women in wine. Things like sponsorship for various wine qualifications and a few surveys. It provides an excellent starting point to understand the different perceptions of the genders within the industry – but we want The Blend to build on these foundations. We will offer women professional development to complement their wine knowledge.

For both Sarah and I it feels increasingly important to do so. Wineries are having to operate in increasingly unpredictable, volatile conditions – from lockdowns to climate challenges. When you consider those factors in the context of studies which highly correlate female leadership with higher morale, increased productivity and retention of talented staff, removing barriers so that more women can take the lead is just good business sense.

I also think it’s something that consumers expect to see more of now. Sarah and I both feel it’s the right place, right time, with the right skillset (between us) so – it’s a no brainer.

But we wanted to be sure that anything we offered didn’t just resonate – that it would have highly practical applications. As far as we know, this is the first instance of women in the drinks trade being offered a practical course which will give them practical skills. Having a skill set which will see you through tough times is incredibly important. And to take others with you – that’s the goal we aspire to.

You’ve identified ‘qualification collection’ as a particularly female trait. Coming from a non-wine background, and with a clutch of your own professional qualifications in your field, what do you make of the wine trade’s emphasis on formal qualifications?

I’ve got two masters degrees; something like seven leadership qualifications; three coaching qualifications. At what point do you pause and think: “what’s driving this need for external validation?” Is it to stay abreast of developments in your industry – because that’s essential? Or is to do with self-validation – because then you should stop and pause. There’s just as much value in practically learnt skills which don’t give you a certificate for your wall.

Having said that – I thought your point about wine industry qualifications was very interesting. There’s a definite place for these sorts of industry-specific qualifications. You can’t become a teacher without your PCG. You need to get your CFA to work in finance. These qualifications also give you a shared lexicon and a shared ground base of experience and a way to relate to things. So, I do think there’s a place and a time for those formal qualifications.

But if that’s all there is it becomes quite closed. There’s a real danger of thinking: “well, this is the way we’ve always done it. This is the way of thinking you need to partake in. This is the language you need to use”. Then it becomes a story of stagnation. And I think disruption is essential for growth.

There’s a tension in the space between the demands and traditions of an established curriculum and the desire to be our own unique selves. That tension – that space between the two – is fertile ground for creativity and I think that’s what we’re seeing with some of the smaller wineries to find their own language, their own way of communicating.

I think both are equally needed. Where one becomes in anyone’s eyes worth more than the other, that’s where we open ourselves to the question of snobbery and elitism. There’s growth, room, creativity enough for everyone to find their own authentic voice in the story of wine.

If you could have every manager in the wine trade do one thing to promote gender and racial diversity what would it be?

Call out bad behaviour when you see it.

Every time you see it.

It’s practical. It’s immediate. It’s low cost. It works.

As a manger you’re key to setting the tone and defining the culture of your work place. So, don’t let it be labelled as ‘banter’, as a joke. Act as if what you do makes a difference. Because it does. As you challenge people, it will change things. When you do this, you begin to create safety for your team. They’ll feel like they have a place where they belong, where their ideas and opinions matter. That simple action of challenging bad behaviour when you see it – has the power to transform the workplace. And it costs nothing other than your awareness that inaction is an action in itself.

I’d also say, managers should remember that to do nothing, to think “that’s not my responsibility”: that keeping quiet is an action.

When we challenge embedded behaviour that’s where grow happens.

One thing we’re particularly interested in at Swirl is the tension between the perceived ‘right’ technocratic way to communicated about wine, and more emotional communication styles. What do you make of this? It chimes with other comments you’ve made about not having to use the typical boardroom language of machismo to succeed as a woman in leadership.

Your emphasis on the perceived ‘right’ way is the most interesting thing to me.

In psychology there’s a saying that two people can be looking at the exact same thing but see something completely different. It’s not logical – it’s psychological. Every action is a perception – so how can we say what is ‘right’? For me, the right way is using your authentic voice. That’s the right way – does it feel authentic to you. Because consumers connect far more strongly with an authentic voice and brand. It’s as much about the story behind the label as it is about the wine itself.

If you are rooted in your own authenticity then negativity will be like water off a duck’s back. Always remember – what you think of me is none of my business.

If the more formal, established language resonates with you then that’s great. Use it. Equally, if it feels uncomfortable or limiting for you then follow your instincts. The world is big enough to accommodate both styles of communication. And there’s a lot of disruptive influences emerging in the wine industry at the moment, especially on social media. I think it’s such a good thing. It’s all about finding your tribe.

Finding the people who get you, who understand you, who want your product and that only happens when you’re being authentic to yourself.

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Sarah Abbott MW introduces The Old Vine Conference

This month, we talked to our founder, Sarah Abbott MW, about another passion project: The Old Vine Conference. Together with Leo Austin and Alun Griffiths MW, she has founded this non-profit with the aim of creating a definitive category for Old Vine Wine, in the knowledge that commercialisation of a category is the best way to ensure the safeguarding of Old Vine vineyards for centuries to come. We talked to her about her motivations for collaborating on the project and why she thinks Old Vines are so important.

Wine is a connection to an ancient past – and old vines are tangible evidence of that.

I studied classical, ancient history. When you read those Greek and Latin texts – people’s concerns, their humours, their squabbles, their passions really are eternal, a fact I find incredibly soothing. I think this is why I am so inspired by the origins of wine. It’s an infinitely old culture which connects with this sweeping desire humans have not only to relate to each other, but to relate to their environment and create something beautiful from it.

I think it’s for that reason that the humanity of wine has always inspired me. You can open a bottle and drink and take into yourself a wine from another lifetime. I think this is the greatest power of wine – the connection to things bigger than ourselves, a cycle of people enjoying themselves and wanting to bless their important moments.

Credit human input. It gives the same specificity as terroir.

Being less sentimental, perhaps, as I learn more about regenerative capitalism and regenerative agriculture, I see how heritage vineyards can take us beyond mere organics and sustainability. One of the greatest environmental problems is the way that humans are not thought of as part of the system. Regenerative principles recognise that humans are not external to nature. We are part of it.

In Italy, for example, there is a movement to create a system of agriculture and viticulture which moves beyond mere sustainability into bio diversity. That system includes humans and recognises the importance of creating farming systems that benefit people working the land too so they can have good, prosperous, rewarding lives. When I’ve spoken to the viticulturalists and campaigners working towards this system, it’s recurrently important for them to acknowledge that the people working the land often possess great knowledge and rare skills which are passed down the generations. These may be knowledge of very specific local conditions or a particular training method. This specificity is at the heart of any premiumisation and we want to make clear the specificity involved in tending and making wine from old heritage vines.

Old vines are a gift to diversity.

Old vine culture has connections with biodiversity and resilience. I know there are many growers, for example, Torres in Spain, who are keenly aware of this. They find pockets of old vines – and old varieties. While the pockets themselves many be miniscule and not necessarily viable, what they’ve found is that the genetic material from these old vines has been absolutely essential as they develop new plantings of new varieties. It’s evidence of old vines informing the future of viticulture.

They find that these varieties bring resilience in the face of climate change, and of increasingly unpredictable environments. It’s a gift of diversity. It’s not just that the vine is old. It’s that they contain value, genetically, as well as embodying generational agricultural skill.

Let’s celebrate wine as an agricultural product.

I think another very important part of these heritage vineyards is that actually we can crack open the agricultural side of wine. If you look to premium food and other drinks, producers are unafraid to get into the detail of growing and production methods. But in wine, we seem to feel this is too boring or complex. Of course, not everybody wants to know this sort of detail, but it’s important enough to enough people that it can elevate the value and the enduring commercial integrity of these products. That’s what we need to do with these great old vineyards.

The inaugural Old Vine Conference is being shown live virtually on Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th March. For more information visit the website, or sign up to attend the conference.

You can read more of our interviews with women in wine doing interesting things here. 

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Translating Italian wine: Laura Donadoni

“…wearing all that weight

Of learning lightly like a flower.”

Tennyson, from ‘In Memoriam A.H.H. 1850’.

Swirl meets Laura Donadoni, The Italian Wine Girl. A US-based wine educator, writer, marketer and influencer, she’s got 51k followers on the ‘gram, and counting. She also has a PhD in communications and a newly published book. Her social platforms are accessible, and glamorous. But she’s no stranger to the vitriol directed at our trade’s social media personalities. We talk about listening first, ‘old fashioned’ bias and Italian wine.

You’ve embraced the really fun side of wine comms to communicate via social media in a way which is really elegant but also so lighthearted. But you also have a PhD in communications – not to mention your book (more on which later!) How do you so deftly balance the real seriousness and depth of your wine knowledge with such a lightness of touch? Is there a special knack to it?

I think that a good communicator must be in the first place a good listener. It’s the only way you can craft the right communication approach for the receiver. During my wine classes or conferences, in an academic environment or while serving as a wine judge in several international competitions my audience, my colleagues or other professionals expect deep knowledge, technical details and extensive explanations. And I give them all of it, thank to my studies, my experience and the numerous certifications I collected during my career.
On the other hand, my social media community looks for hints, curiosities, quick news, fun, beautiful images, engaging conversations.
Wine is always the main theme, and my ultimate goal is always to educate about Italian wines, but the means are different, so the language must adapt. My communications’ studies and my degree and experience as a journalist help me in understanding my audience and in being flexible in providing content.
Something we see a lot is with women who communicate about wine via social media in the way you do – not ploughing into the conversation qualifications-upfront, but as though you’re talking to a new friend at a party about wine. Well, it seems to provoke a lot of vitriol from a certain part of the wine establishment. Why do you think this is? Do you think it is men especially who are threatened by this approach? 
I don’t define it as a sexist point of view or a “male predominant bias”, but rather an “old-fashioned” vs “modern” way to communicate about wine. In the past professionals working in the industry were categorised mainly as being in either in sales or hospitality. Today, there are communicators, influencers, brand-strategists, social media managers, brand ambassadors, etc…
The “old” establishment have a hard time to understand these new roles in the wine industry and the new language that is required to succeed in a competitive consumer market driven by Millenials, Gen Z and similarly tech-based shoppers. I think this is the reason why a certain group of “wine snobs” feel the urge to distance themselves from social media’s wine communities, especially if lead by women with a colloquial and friendly tone. They simply cut us off saying we don’t know how to properly talk about wines, just because we choose to avoid the old school technical language and we try to experiment with the new communication opportunities.
I agree that in a 15 -30 seconds reel on Instagram you can’t educate as much as in a 2 hours masterclass with guided tasting, but if we look at the reel as an opportunity to generate curiosity and then to attend a masterclass to learn more, why should we not take the chance?
Your book is coming out in English this year. Can you tell us more about it?
I am working on the translation with my publisher and it’ll be released in Autumn this year. The title in Italian is Come il Vino ti Cambia la vita, which means “How wine can change your life”. It includes my story (and how wine literally changed my life!), and the stories of courage and rebirth of six Italian wine producers. Each of them could easily be a movie! There are intrigues, passions, struggles and a lot of bravery. It has been published in Italy during the pandemic and I collected a lot of readers’ feedbacks saying they could easily relate with the struggles and the emotions of the protagonists.
It’s a book about resilience, which is the first characteristic of the vine: the more she struggles, the better the grapes will be, giving a wonderful, memorable wine. The vine is a fighter and so are we, especially during this time.
Can you tell me more about how you use your specific communication style to promote Italian wines in the US via your business? 
Italian wines are greatly appreciated in the U.S., but the majority of the american consumers tend to drink the usual and most renowned 4-5 Italian wines. Every time I say that Italy counts more than 600 registered indigenous grape varieties, which account for one third of the world’s grape varieties, jaws drop.
My communication strategy revolves around diversity: Italy is the most biodiverse place on earth. I work with wineries and wine producers’ associations who focus on the native varieties and my mission is to get the American drinkers curious about these territories and the lesser known wines coming from there.
It is a challenge, but also a great opportunity for my homeland. If the market builds a sustained appetite for these wines, we can help the producers’ communities to keep their traditions alive, and save less famous varieties from extinction.
What are you thoughts about the status of Italian wine export market in the UK? 
I see a bright future for Italian wines in the UK – if the Italian producers and associations will invest more in promoting the “underdog” wines and regions among the professionals and the ‘above average interest’ consumers.
The phenomenon of premiumization has been important for Italian wines in the US: our market is growing more in value than in volume. I think this is the way to go also in the UK, fighting the preconception that Italian wines are cheaper and easier compared to the premium fine wines of France, for instance.
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Interview: Christina Rasmussen

Swirl meets Christina Rasmusen, head of content and co-founder of Little Wine.

Christina, together with her business partner Daniela Pillhofer, is on a mission to change the way we learn about wine. “Learning about wine shouldn’t be like going back to uni; it should be more like watching David Attenborough on TV!” We talked about how the environment is at the heart of Little Wine, and how emotion isn’t something to be afraid of in wine communications.

Little Wine takes a novel approach to wine content, not just with your subscription model, but in the type and tone of content you produce. How are you different?

When Little Wine was born we [Christina and her co-founder Daniela Pillhofer] were united buy a joint frustration with the lack of winemaker-specific content out there. The majority of wine content is tasting note and score based – but both of us had fallen in love with wine through the winemakers. As a writer myself, frustrated by typical wine content, one of our first ideas was to remove by-lines. In doing so I become anonymous, and push the winemakers I’m writing about into the limelight. We’re trying to focus on the winemaker and what they have to say about their wines – rather than what I think about the wines – because that’s the content that I knew I was looking for when I was first learning about wine.

You’re unafraid to use eco-agricultural terms which is a refreshing rebellion against the dumbing down of these topics. We find it strange that, whereas in the food industry it’s fairly typical to have a crossover of interests, in wine you’re a wine expert and that’s it. Interestingly, your approach seems to be much more ‘eco before wine’, lending itself to crossover with other fermented drinks. Do you think your customers are coming to you for wine or your eco credentials first?

Every single wine we have is what I call ‘organic plus’ – because I think you can also be a bad organic farmer. So, organic but minded very much in how to regenerate the soil and how to create an agricultural system which is sustainable for both the planet and the farmer. I do know that it’s perhaps a big ask to put complex terminology out there but our readers seem to be interested in it.

We’re still trying to suss out what our customer is. The wine club [including subscription to all content] is majority 25-34-year-olds, 50:50 men and women, and people who are not necessarily looking for every day wines, but for a few special bottles for the weekend. I hope that the majority of our customers would find us through being eco-focussed because it’s such a core part of our approach – also through carbon neutral delivery. We know they find us through searching for organic wines and eco packaging. We get the most amazing Trustpilot reviews about all of the packaging and the fact that it’s all biodegradable, compostable and made from recycled materials.

I think one of the issues I have with the wine industry is that for so long it’s been seen as a luxury product with luxury branding. Wine is this very romantic thing and if you think about it as a consumer you think grandiose cellars and fancy barrels and some dude in a suit. Whereas, in reality, the majority of vineyards and winemakers out there – they are farmers. Wine’s an agricultural product. That’s a huge goal for us – to re-educate people about what wine is and how it’s made, because the majority of it is farming. There’s far too much focus on the winemaking in my eyes. I think actually one of the most beautiful aspects of wine is that it does come from nature. In a world where we all eat things with god knows how many ingredients in them – to sit with a bottle of wine which has been manipulated as little as possible and that is delicious, you can really connect to nature that way.

For me it’s very important to always educate people and approach these topics in a positive way. You could go down the other route and do an expose on how some of the most famous mass-produced wines are made. I think people would be a bit shocked to find that this wine they think is made in a beautiful cellar is actually made in a factory.

Leading with the positive rather than trying to frighten with the negative resonates with your approach where you are unafraid to be unemotional and philosophical about wine. Do you ever have any kickback against this?

Yes and no. Because I like to communicate about wine from an emotional and philosophical standpoint, I do encounter people who assume that I don’t know the technicalities of wine. Actually, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to stuff like that. I don’t know if it has to do with being a woman or because I communicate from an emotive standpoint but I do encounter people who – until I disprove them – assume I don’t know what I’m talking about. But then I do like to whip out the science.

Part of the reason I like to think about wine so philosophically is because I worked a vintage with a very close friend of mine Abe Schoener. He is a philosophy professor. He knows the tech side of winemaking in and out – but he always always approaches winemaking from a totally non-scientific standpoint. And when you do that the world of wine becomes so much broader because you’re thinking about other sides of it. How the wine makes you feel. Where that feeling comes from.

It’s interesting that you raise the conflict between perceived technical knowledge and emotional connection with a wine. The more progressive someone tries to be in the way they communicate, the more some clamp down and insist on utilitarian, “objective” assessment. Why do you think that people are always forced to prove that they know what they’re talking about?

I think it’s such a competitive world, which is sad because the competitive aspect of it can end up being dis-inclusive and scary. If I were a newcomer coming to the industry and went on wine Twitter for a couple of days then I’d be like ‘get me out of here’. I think it is possibly because so many of us have gone through WSET training. When you go through a course which is so rigid, and so time consuming—and all-consuming—I don’t know if that then sparks some kind of irritation or jealousy in people when they see others communicate in a way which isn’t prescriptive.

I don’t know – it’s a strange, innate response going on, like a pack mentality. I think it’s really cool to see people approach wine with a fresh mindset. All power to that person who is doing so. People who don’t embrace that – it’s coming from a place of bitterness and jealousy. It’s like this recent article [Winesearcher: The Incurable Plague of Wine Influencers] which came out which is just so bitter and angry.

Does your eco-first approach inform the emotion you put into your content?

Definitely. When I visit a winemaker who works hand to mouth and thinks about every single part of their business to make it eco-friendly, you really get the sense that it’s someone doing something powerful for the environment and for our future. That makes me feel indescribable emotion. That is something that should be championed and definitely affects the way I communicate about that wine as a result. At Little Wine we approach tasting notes from how the wine makes you feel. Because different wines provoke different feelings. One of our most positive feedback elements has been people saying that our approach to tasting notes has really helped them understand when and where they want to drink a wine.

I remember after I went through WSET I would visit winemakers and be so fixated on writing tasting notes. And I would take my book back home and read through my and think – they’re so boring. They didn’t mean anything to me really. I wished I spent more time writing down the winemakers’ quotes, because that to me was something far more interesting and a lovely thing to keep safe in a diary and go back to. That was how the winemaker profiles for Little Wine were conceived.

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The three drinks our 2020 interviewees couldn’t be without

This year we interviewed some fantastic women in the wine trade. To celebrate the festive season we asked them to name three drinks they couldn’t do without this Christmas. Unsurprisingly, there are some real corkers!

Clara Latham, General Manager at Della Vite

Della Vite Prosecco Superiore DOCG

I’ve chosen a Prosecco as my sparking for the festive season, because its light – making it perfect as an aperitif to kick off an evening. Della Vite’s Superiore specifically I find to be less sweet compared with others, really balanced in taste and crisp in texture.

Chenin Blanc – Coulee de Serrant, Loire Valley – Savennieres, 2013

I fell in love with this wine whilst celebrating my partners birthday at the Pig Hotel in Bath – some of the younger vintages are easier to get hold of and are still fantastic. A natural wine with real minerality – always a special treat.

Barolo DOCG Villadoria, Piemonte, 2015

Full bodied, and perfect to accompany cosy dinners with open fires – bang on for delicious wintery moments.

Melanie Jappy 2.4.19
Photo © SBurnett

Melanie Jappy, Producer of The Wine Show and founder, TWS Creative

Belsazar Rosé Vermouth with tonic

This is a German vermouth and it’s a lovely light apero that still feels like a drink but doesn’t get you too squiffy while you’re stirring the bread sauce. I’m not a champagne girl (although I can be persuaded if it’s vintage!) so for me a vermouth and tonic is a perfect way to open the festivities.

Quinta da Boa Esperança Syrah 2016

For the last couple of years my life has been dominated by Portugal – filming there, socialising there and certainly making friends there. So I’ll be opening a bottle of  Quinta da Boa Esperança Syrah 2016 on Christmas Day. It’s going to be an intimate lunch so I’m cooking a Challans Duck with persimmon and I think it can take the magnificent Syrah they produce which, with candlelight and some gentle music will let me snooze away to dream of those dusty hot summer days in Portugal. The owner of the winery, Artur Gamma has become a great friend and I’m a huge fan of all the wines from the Quinta, but this one leaves me swooning every time.

Grahams 20 year old Tawny

I’ve also fallen back in love with Port unsurprisingly. We’d been on hiatus from each other after an unfortunate encounter at a University Dining Club in the early 1990s. But having found each other again, the relationship has found a solid footing. I adore vintage, but as there won’t be many around the table, I think I’ll go with Grahams 20 year old Tawny which we can enjoy over a few nights. Not only is it a great wine, but it also takes me back to one of my favourite day’s filming ever high above the Douro River when we ate Pizza out of an old fig drying oven and drank chilled Tawny with Charlotte and Rob Symington and Olga Martins and Jorge Moreira. It really was a day I’ll never forget. Everything you hope the wine world will be…full of laughter, friendship and warmth.

Thank goodness for headphones! Clare shares her desk with her three homeschooling children.

Clare Malec, Founder and Director of Island Media

A Bloody Mary with Sapling Vodka and Pickle House Spiced Tomato Mix

The mixture of spiciness and warmth from a really well made bloody mary is the perfect antidote to a bracing walk in the cold at this time of year.  Keen to support innovative British businesses I have just discovered the two perfect ingredients – Sapling Vodka produced in London using local ingredients with very green credentials (they plant a tree for every bottle bought).  Mix this with Suffolk produced Pickle House Spiced Tomato Mix, generous in its spiciness, and you are already well on the path to feeling the Christmas warmth and cheer.

Ashling Park Cuvée

Christmas is time also time for celebratory fizz and again I will be looking close to home for the right bottle.  We have so many incredible wineries on our doorstep wherever we are in this country but one of my favourites is Ashling Park Cuvée from the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex.  Their talented team won two of the top awards at this year’s Wine GB Awards and its not difficult to see why.

Anything South African!

Looking further afield 2020 has been the beginning of my love affair with South African wine. I feel I have only just started on my voyage of discovery, so have filled our wine rack with a mixture of reds and whites from a host of different producers. They present amazing value for money and the diversity of styles and flavours means that whatever we are eating, it is not difficult to find something interesting to pair with it.

Collette O’Leary, Winemaker at Henners Vineyard

Henners Brut NV

Of course! I may be biased but this is the perfect fizz for celebrations large and small this season.  It’s the wine I will give friends and family, as well as enjoy myself.

Domaine Berthelemot Puligny-Montrachet

A treat for Christmas, ripe fruit, acidity and lovely oak balance gives it a delicious richness to match with food at Christmas.

Domaine Boutinot Le Six

For me this is a perfect all-rounder, soft, velvety Rhone blend, fruit driven and just so appealing.

A little extra…

And an espresso martini….because when is that ever a bad idea?!