Can you tell us a bit about your background in wine? What motivated you to pursue a career in wine education?
I was inspired to create a life in wine after I bought a home in the Loire Valley, France. I fell in love with the Loire wines, and moved there for a sabbatical to learn French and renovate our home. When I returned to ‘normal life’ I was forever changed. I left behind a long career in advertising and pursued the WSET Diploma (and any other wine knowledge I could!) Along the way I realised that my past life gave me the ideal skills to communicate my wine knowledge in a relaxed, informal manner and that friends and colleagues from a wide variety of backgrounds shared the same eagerness to learn more about wine in an approachable way. I saw the reaction of my students and was thrilled to continue learning about and teaching about wine. I hope that neither ever ends.
Can you tell us about the Académie du Vin Wine Appreciation Course? Why is different from other wine courses? Which wines will be included? Who is the course aimed at?
The Académie du Vin courses are different in two essential ways. Firstly, they are for people passionate about wine - they are not courses taken because an employer demands or a certificate is required. They are developed for people who love to drink wine and want to know more about it. This simple ethos gives us tremendous freedom to create classes that will inspire and delight our students, and have them learning about wines and winemaking in a way that is exciting and fun, not that feels like work. Secondly, our courses are built around tasting truly fine wines. Wines that some of us might collect, but that for others may be out of our budgets, or even wines that are rare and hard to source no matter the price. We aim in each class to present wines that represent the standard of a style or a vintage or a producer, and focus on discovering the reasons why these wines are standard-bearers. While students can of course choose to spit the wines, we select the wines for each session assuming we will want to drink every drop!
What are the key topics or areas of focus that will be covered in the course?
The premise of the course is Learning by Tasting. I truly believe the best way to learn about fine wines is to taste them, and discover how and why they came to be. No matter what corner of the wine world we focus on, each session offers a chance to dive into the people and processes behind the wine. We sample wines from all price points, New World and Old World, and young vintages as well as legendary older ones. Each session has a theme, and I have the freedom to guide the discussion as needed per the desires of the students. This is one of the unique aspects of Académie du Vin courses: we are not tied to the material by a test. We encourage a lively, interactive discussion where the passion for wine of both student and teacher shapes the learning.
What is your favourite wine region and why?
My favourite region by far is of course the place I make my home part of the year– the Loire Valley. It is the largest region in France in terms of geographic spread, but also in terms of numbers of grapes used and styles of wines made. From light and crisp Muscadets, to hearty Cabernet Francs from Chinon, to rich and lively Chenin Blancs from Vouvray and of course lovely Sancerres, there are so many options. And some lovely rosé, sweet and sparkling wines as well. It is really a region that offers something for everyone, and at prices that are still far below most of the rest of France. I love to bring a few Loire wines blind into my classes and see how they stand up to the big bottles we serve. More than a few times those surprise bottles have been named Wine of the Night by the students.
What is your desert island wine, and wine book?
A tricky question. If I was stranded on a desert island with just one type of wine, it would be Champagne – I just could not live without it, and it pairs with anything. And I guess I’d have to follow the same reasoning with the book selection. I’d have to go with a book that offers something for every mood, and that would be Andrew Jefford’s Drinking with the Valkyries. He covers so many subjects, with stellar writing and a refreshing point of view.