From Bordeaux claret to New Zealand Pinot Noir, since this column started 25 years ago, the wine world has changed.

It is hard to believe but this wine column is celebrating an extraordinary birthday. It is 25 years since I first started writing for The Yorkshire Post and I feel absolutely proud and very fortunate to occupy this space and talk about wine.

The question I get asked most often is ‘ How did you get into wine’, so on this occasion, I thought I might tell you.  I grew up with the Yorkshire Post.  It was delivered every day to our house in Leeds and was the source of all our local and national news. As time went on, university, jobs and marriage took me away from Yorkshire so when we moved back to this gorgeous part of the world I immediately started to read it again.  And that is when I noticed that there wasn’t a wine column.

During my years away I had somehow ended up in the wine trade – purely by chance.  With my shiny new science degree I had joined Marks and Spencer as part of their technical team, responsible for food and drinks products from source to shelf.  Within my first week, a bizarre set of circumstance saw the Spanish-speaking technical person in the wine department whisked out of wine and into oranges. His loss was my gain.  As I slid into the wine chair, initially on a temporary basis but pretty soon, permanent, I wondered what I had got myself into.

I must admit that at this stage my wine knowledge was sketchy. We had wine occasionally at home, but I knew very few names and tastes.  All that changed within the first few weeks.  I had always had good tastebuds and enjoyed a wide range of foods, but wine tasting needed new skills and vocabulary.  That was helped by tasting with the real experts already in the buying team and then I got the most wonderful opportunity.  I was sent to study at Geisenheim University in Germany to bring my wine technical skills up to scratch.  I also did various WSET courses in the UK, reaching prize-winning Diploma standard in record time.

During this time I was let loose in the wine world, visiting suppliers to make new blends, supervise bottlings and to make sure that what was specified was actually delivered.  It was never my job to negotiate prices; I am no good at doing that.  Someone else did all the price negotiation, while I pushed for quality all the way.

After several years of wineries, vineyards and blending, family matters intervened and I left that job. It was a wrench but a house move away from London meant that I could not continue.  And that’s when I started to teach wine courses, and do some writing for magazines and newspapers.  From there is was a short step to having a couple of wine books under my belt and then the move to Yorkshire meant that I was able to land this column, which is my absolute pride and joy.

Travelling as the wine writer for The Yorkshire Post has opened so many doors and bottles it is impossible to recount them all, but I have been fortunate to visit   most wine regions of the world.  I have seen vast machines harvesting grapes across a whole flat valley in Chile, but I have also seen a dedicated small team of people in Bordeaux pick and sort the grapes that make some of the world’s most expensive wine. Those grapes were worth a fortune.

I have also visited more wineries than is possibly healthy, but a brisk walk through a winery tells me so much.  I have never been a fan of a dirty winery.  My view is that anything that we eat or drink has to be made to food standards. So the winery that doesn’t keep its winemaking and bottling areas clean won’t get a mention in this column.

I love small individual properties, particularly in Burgundy where the proprietor looks after than land, prunes his vines, picks the grapes, makes his wine and sells it, the product of this own hard work.  But I also love the wines made by large companies that are determined to farm their land efficiently, produce good quality wine at a fair affordable price.

I do not like souped-up concocted wines that come in heavy bottles at high prices, pretending to be top quality while masking their faults with sugar.  I won’t write about those.  I am still doing what I started out doing – looking for quality at a fair price.

But what I enjoy most of all is meeting the people who make the wine.  It is a privilege to taste with with the man or woman who has supervised the whole process of making a wine, from the grapes to the bottle, listening to how they see the structure, flavours and styles develop.  And I enjoy sharing those contacts.  This week there are several Yorkshire Post readers turning up in South African wineries with an introduction to meet with a winemaker and taste.  It is all part of the service.

Marc Kent, winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof

 

I do have some favourite regions, producers and wines but these are so many and widespread it is difficult to choose.  I love the cool climate wines of New Zealand where Pinot Noir is now at world-class status. I admire the dedicated growers and winemakers in South Africa who have turned the whole wine industry around, and I am charmed by the picture-perfect vineyards of Alsace.

Picture perfect vineyards in Alsace

The whole swathe of the south of France has improved immensely in these two and a half decades, which is a good thing since many of the most famous Bordeaux wines have shot up in price and are out of reach.

The second question I get asked is ‘what is your favourite wine’, and that depends very much on my mood, the food I am eating, and of course, who is paying.  But on this occasion I think that it might have bubbles and because the world of wine has moved on so very much, I think it will be from England.  Cheers!

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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