Liberty Wines Apprentice 2011
"The Apprenticeship promised a wonderfully broad possibility of experience."
I had the good fortune of working part time at Liberty for a couple of months before I applied for the Apprenticeship. It gave me an opportunity to get to know everyone in the office and to speak at length to the current Apprentices about their experiences. Both of them, as well as Nicola Gutman – the first ever Apprentice who still works at Liberty full time – gave me their thoughts on the opportunity, and encouraged me to apply as it would teach me a great deal. Coming from a completely different industry (film music), this sounded like a great way to get to grips with the wine trade and I put forward my application.
I had taken the Intermediate WSET course but outside the WSET text books, I had very little knowledge and the Apprenticeship promised a wonderfully broad possibility of experience. The application process was extremely daunting, having had very few previous jobs that involved formal interviews, and in the final round I had my first experience of putting together a presentation. I grilled everyone I knew with links to the wine trade and got their opinions on various 'hot topics', which were surprisingly varied and sometimes opposing, which gave me my first insight into the complexities of the worldwide wine business.
Baron de Badassière, Languedoc, France - 2012 vintage
"This experience of New and Old World experts working together soon gave me a much firmer understanding of today's wine market on a global scale."
When I was told I would be spending my first vintage experience in the South of France, you can imagine my surprise when over the course of the following month I found myself mostly in the company of New Zealanders.
I was struck instantly with the revelation that the Languedoc, from the end of August until mid-late October, is teaming with winemakers from New Zealand who have been imported for the season to make wine for the French!
I was even more surprised to find the French most uncharacteristically stepping back and nodding obligingly, while the New World winemakers offered their knowledge and expertise on how to make a fresh, fruity, affordable, early-drinking wine that is guaranteed to export successfully. "What has happened to the French??" I was asked each time I revealed to friends and family this new attitude in the South of France.
On my arrival in Pomérols at the end of August, I was greeted by a storm of biblical proportions which delayed the harvest by a few days. That and threats of hail storms to come left us all on tenterhooks, with fears that the Languedoc would face the same fate as Burgundy and Champagne this year. Thankfully the hail bypassed us and the grapes survived unscathed. The few days' delay in harvest gave me the opportunity to have a grand tour of the winery before work began.
I was heartily thrown into the winemaking process at 6am on a Monday. Cave de Pomérols is an incredibly well-run, efficient cooperative that produces our Monrouby, Vignes de L'Eglise and Baron de Badassière wines. I was confined mainly to the "white" side of the cellar, concentrating on next year's Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Chardonnay and Picpoul de Pinet for Liberty Wines, as well as helping with the cave's "house" wines.
I found the yeast inoculation process fascinating, not least for the different methods used by Graeme Paul (our very own imported New Zealand winemaker) and the French Chef de Cave. I was also initiated into the powdery world of fining agents and yeast boosting additions, which proved a particularly lively experience when applying them to the outdoor cuves on a blustery day.
Next Spring I will go to Graeme Paul's winery in New Zealand. Now that I have seen his vinification methods applied to wines in France, I am full of anticipation to see how very different the resulting wines will be from fruit grown in the Southern Hemisphere, using the same methods of production. It will be interesting to note how much of the difference comes down to the growing methods, soils and climate.
Although it came as a surprise to be using New World methods to make wine in France, this experience of New and Old World experts working together soon gave me a much firmer understanding of today's wine market on a global scale. Liberty Wines is built on the ethos of finding well-made wines from all over the world, which express the local sites and the characteristics of their origins. Combining the knowledge and methods of both traditional and modern winemaking strikes me as the best possible way of achieving just that.