Passion to profession: the wine industry

Written by Charlotte Gordon, 26.

I’m one of those annoying (but lucky) young professionals who knew exactly what I wanted to do as soon as school was out. For me it’s a normal day job (and hobby, and passion and entire life really), but for those I meet and ask what I do, saying I’m a wine professional seems super cool and exciting. And It is, of course it is, I couldn’t be happier in my life and where my career is going, but I’ve worked hard from a young age and never took no for an answer. I think one thing lock down has taught us all whether it’s been a positive or negative experience is to stop, look around, listen more and to really evaluate what’s important to us. So for anyone looking for a big life change whether that’s your career, relationship or whatever really, now is the time.

I’m Charlotte, 26, and for the last 6 years London has been home. I sell wine as well as teach WSET (wine and spirits education trust) qualifications within my role as Wine Sales and Education Manager. I’m very lucky to have the accredited ‘Champagne Academy Diploma’, as well as being a committee member for the academy. Champagne is my speciality and real passion, and ultimately where I think my career will head in the future. I live with my amazing boyfriend Joe. He also works in the wine trade as a Buyer for Majestic Wine, so for us, we are surrounded by it all day at work, and then when we come home. It’s how we met and what binds us together. Our pokey one-bedroom flat feels like a wine museum sometimes crammed with bottles, gizmos and gadgets as well as tonnes of wine magazines, books and artwork. There is no escape!

My other passion which compliments wine very nicely is the hospitality industry. Michelin star restaurants are my thing. But sometimes I get told off by Joe for not switching off as I’m constantly looking around to see if table 12 has had their starter cutlery laid and clocking that table 3 has been waiting a while for dessert. I just can’t help it - this world is where it all started for me and how I got to where I am today, and I think hospitality will run through my veins forever.

Hmmmmm, wine. Wine? Yes, I’ll ‘do’ wine then

The story starts back in my hometown of Devon at age 15, I got a job at my local country pub as a waitress. I absolutely adored the pub and did most of my growing up there. It was clear from the beginning that hospitality was for me. I loved working so much that I made the unconventional decision to quit university and took a promotion of Restaurant Supervisor full-time. It’s safe to say my parents had concerns about making a career of carrying plates. However, a little later down the line and we were working towards the goal of gaining a star, my boss asked if I’d like to take on managing the wine list. We believed we had the Michelin star level food, service and ambience – wine was the next challenge. Hmmmmm, wine. Wine? Yes, I’ll ‘do’ wine then.

My mum often reminds that as a child she would always allow access to alcohol in the hope that as a teenager I wouldn’t rebel and binge. For as long as I can remember, I always had a teeny glass of wine (literally a child’s mouthful) with our family Sunday roast. At the end of every meal, I’d leave the table with the glass untouched, whereas my little brother would down the drink for the both of us. A questionable parenting technique as now I’m a ‘professional boozer’! So, it’s clear my interest in wine had developed since childhood. My dad was a chef and having the family shellfish business also meant I was always around outstanding, fresh food. Lobster, crab and fish were the norm ingredients in our home. Now I know just how amazing that was looking back. I only wish I could have lobster on a weekly basis!

I still remember a Foie gras, bacon and pea starter pairing beautifully with a Sauternes

Back to the pub, and being around the best quality dishes and ingredients must have accelerated my love for food and wine. The best part of my shift was first thing, choosing wines to pair on our tasting menu with the chef each morning. As the menu changed daily this was great practise trying little tasters of the food with different wines and chatting through what worked and what didn’t. This is where my palate really started to wake up. I still remember a Foie gras, bacon and pea starter pairing beautifully with a Sauternes, and I wondered how and why this pudding wine complemented such a rich starter? I was eager to learn the science behind this, and finely tune my palate further.

As soon as I hit legal drinking age, I was enrolled onto the WSET courses to start to transform my passion into profession. I distinctly remember feeling drained driving home from my first ever wine lesson. My brain throbbed and ached from fatigue but was also alive and buzzing with all of this new information I had learned. I couldn’t wait to arrive home and get stuck back into my study book. This was the first subject I truly felt obsessed about. I was excited. I was ecstatic really! I truly felt like I belonged to a secret underground organisation that you needed a golden ticket to enter. Why did I not know before that wine could be a profession? I guess it’s not something they advertise at school…! From that first session, I knew all I wanted to do was to make other people feel the way I did in that initial class. Mesmerised by the nectar that is wine and all this time later, I’m now a certified wine educator myself. Very cool and rewarding to look back on my journey so far.

I urge all you other twenty somethings to use this time to find your path too

Since then I’ve worked as a sommelier at the UK’s number one restaurant, and in both the on and off trade buying and selling wine. I get to travel the world visiting vineyards and helping with harvests and making wine. This year I was even invited to teach wine in the Seychelles – bloody Covid!

I feel so fulfilled in my life and adore my profession. I urge all you other twenty somethings to use this time to find your path too whether that’s as a gardener, lawyer, bus driver or fashion designer, we all have our passions and drives and need to follow them.

This contribution was written by Charlotte Gordon, 26.Visit her profile here to find out more about the voice behind the words.