• Collab Writing

Hey wine lovers,


If you have read my previous blog posts, I hope I have articulated well that I think being a wine professional is the best job in the world! I literally could not think of anything else I would rather do (except maybe being a food writer/ restaurant critic – but I’d have to work out a lot more!). What everyone asks me the about the most however, and what I am best known for, is Champagne. Today, I will take you behind the scenes of the UK’s best kept trade secret: a network of Grandes Marque Champagne houses and inspiring Champagne professionals and enthusiasts, coming together to promote this magical region. Welcome readers, to The Champagne Academy



I first heard about the Champagne Academy back in 2016 which was no mean feat considering I didn’t know anyone else who had been on the course (actually I did, I just didn’t know that back then, ha!). I was instantly amazed at how I’d missed all prior knowledge of this organisation in the press and at trade tastings around London. My interest was sparked, and upon research, I realised that it was more of a ‘who you know, not what you know’ type of situation. Being my normal bolshie self and muscling my way in with the right people, the following year I was invited onto the course. Little did I know just how much this invitation would change my career and life forever.


Onto the course itself. Each year, 16 lucky candidates from the UK wine trade are selected and sponsored by our 16 Grandes Marque Champagne houses. These are:

Bollinger,

Charles Heidsieck,

G.H.Mumm,

Krug,

Lanson,

Laurent Perrier,

Louis Roederer,

Moet & Chandon,

Monopole,

Perrier-Jouet,

Piper-Heidsieck,

Pol Roger,

Pommery,

Ruinart,

Taittinger,

And Veuve Clicquot.


What these 16 fortunate people are selected for exactly, just cannot be described sufficiently in this little blog post, but in basic terms, these buyers, sommeliers, business owners, sales people, hospitality professionals etc, are whisked off to Champagne for a week and given the best education experience that money simply cannot buy. They are to be looked after not by the marketing representatives or tour guides from the houses, but by the owners, wine makers and family members themselves. People that even the most prestigious wine buyers may only meet in passing on their business trips. Those representing each house express how this week is not normal for them either, and how lucky they feel to be involved in such an important and historic link to the UK wine trade. A rare chance to come together with the other houses exploring ‘competitor’ cellars and taste base wines from their neighbours. All the normal rivalry (although the houses are all friends and often linked by family), is dropped for a week while they enjoy leaning from each other and celebrating what the region has to offer.


The aim of the course is to educate those in influential roles in the UK and create mini ambassadors for the region upon their return, keeping the ‘buzz for Champagne’ alive within all the linked sectors and job roles. The entire week is totally non-biased with each house getting the same time with the academicians, and even though each house sponsors an individual, that person will never find out who funded their education to protect them from favouring one house over another. Honestly, I would kiss the feet of whoever chose me to attend so I totally agree with this decision!!!


Each day we would visit around three houses. Normally for a Champagne breakfast, lunch, and dinner, may I add! Michelin star menus created specifically for each cuvee by the regions top chefs seemed the norm by the end of the week – how spoilt the experience made us! The first evenings meal location was kept a surprise. I remember the anticipation between us all of which hotel, restaurant or Maison we would be dining at, only to be led down the stairs into working cellar tunnels (in heels), which eventually opened out into a breath-taking carved out room, decorated decadently by local artists for the purpose of hosting us for the evening. What a first night and introduction to the Champagne Academy that was!


As well as enjoying the food and drink, we also had daily lectures, exams based on the previous day’s tuition, tutored tastings including still and base wines, and cellar/ vineyard/ bottling plant and press house visits. The lectures covered a wide range of topics including the history of Champagne and the Grande Marques, viticulture and vinification, marketing and analysis of world markets. I had died and gone to Champagne heaven! However, back down on earth, the last day of the course was actually very scary indeed as we faced final exams which held the largest percentage of our overall theory mark, and a mega blind tasting featuring Champagne we had tried within the week. Over the course duration, we tried over 150 cuvees, of which I was the geek of the group and wrote a tasting note for each one, even when I was, lets say ‘feeling particularly inspired by the bubbles’, so in fairness, some of them are more informative than others. In the flight, we had to pick out the predominant grape variety or percentage of different grapes in the blend, the vintage, region, general style, and the house for extra marks. During the award ceremony at the final luncheon, my group were all relieved to pass the exams and be awarded with the highly regarded and rare Champagne Academy Diploma. Rare - because only 16 people a year get the chance to pass the exam, and even then, it is not a 100% pass rate annually. There is an overall winner who is awarded with the silver ice bucket prize, and a magnum from each of the 16 houses. Yum. Our years winner was the first from Ireland and invited us to her hotel the following year to enjoy the bottles with her at the K Club in Dublin – what a treat!


After finishing the course and gaining the Diploma in Champagne, the academicians are then invited to join the academy as a member for life which opens up special access to various tastings, events and dinners throughout the UK with the opportunity to invite guests along also. These events bring together hundreds of people who have either been on the course themselves staring back in 1956, the house representatives and wine enthusiast guests who are lucky enough to have an invitation extended to them. The events really are the most VIP proceedings within the wine trade, and I have met so many industry ‘famous’ and influential people. Network, network, network!


Since joining, my personal experience with the academy is still flourishing after being invited to sit on the committee where I assist with the running of the organisation, and specifically look after our website. This has been a wonderful opportunity where I get to learn how this magical week is put together and aid the planning of the London based functions. A second full time job currently following the trauma of Covid-19 and having to postpone our 2020 proceedings for a year completely. As I work my way through the ranks and various roles within the academy, in the not too distant future I will be chairlady of the Academy and run the entire show for a year – a scary but very exciting thought! I’ll change my name to Champagne queen for that year I think…


A major takeaway from the experience has been the friends and connections I have made. I have been on other wine trips where you bond with people you have not met before. It is easy over romantic vineyard tours and a bottle too many in the evening but being joined to the other 15 on this incredibly unique journey, was something totally different and special that we will all treasure. I now have a group of genuine best friends across the country that I go away with outside of the academy events, and love meeting up with at the dinners and tastings to reminisce of our trip and gloat about recent visits back to the region over a glass of two of bubbles. I even got myself a new boss out of the experience!


To round up, I would like to share a favourite memory from the course - although I won’t say at which house this was to remain unbiased. I was looking out over a stunning landscape one afternoon within a glass box style tasting room trying cuvees from a house I had never given much time too before. Earlier on, we had been down to the world famous Crayeres (large underground cellars) with the head wine maker who asked me to choose whatever I wanted to taste with the group back above ground. WOW. I nervously pointed to an extremely dusty magnum, but upon opening it was corked! Towards the end of the tasting (and I just could not bring myself to spit any of this stuff out), I came over all emotional as I looked around at my surroundings and new friends. I am laughing to myself typing this out now, but I actually shed a tear in the moment (which I recorded on my tasting note for the 1995 vintage we were enjoying at that point). The joke of the afternoon then became that if a ‘hard-faced Charlotte’ cries, then the wine must be bloody good! Move over Parker points, ‘Charlottes tears’ were the new scale system for the rest of the week!

So, UK wine professionals that are passionate about Champagne, if I have done a good job and bigged-up this experience up enough, you need to express an interest to this once in a lifetime experience! The spaces are getting harder to come by each year as more professionals rise through the ranks and discover this trade secret. As mentioned, the 2020 course has been postponed a year so the next opportunity to attend will now be 2022 of which we already have interest expressed.


For more info, please visit our website 😊 - https://www.champagneacademy.co.uk/

Follow me on Instagram for posts about Champagne, wine, food, and drinks – @charlottedrinkschampagne

  • Collab Writing

Writer: Svetlana Bekker


When I planned to post a photo of a Cassette tape on my Instagram, I was thinking how modern and progressive I thought I was when my dad bought me my first CD Walkman, I was the only kid in the block who had one. People preferred to buy cassettes rather to invest their time and money in exploring something new.

Nowadays CDs are rarely used, cassettes went totally into history. Digital improvement changed the world by creating endless opportunities for businesses to be heard through internet and social media.

Old School – If you opened a winery 30 years ago, how would you sell your wine and get a consumer awareness? You would probably use distributors and retailers that would help you sell it. Of course, some sold directly to the end customers, but the restaurants and the wine-stores helped you to get known. You took part in wine festivals, used PR services and tried hard to get to as much wine consumers as possible. Today you have some new toys to play with – you have the social media channels that frankly speaking are not so new anymore.

New World – Social media is simpler than you may think and as I said before, it’s not new anymore and it’s here to stay. Remember the Walkman story, it’s the same here – if you want to ‘bite into the market cake’ you must adapt. I will show you 8 shades of Social media that may change how you think about it.

Let’s start:

  1. No matter the size of your winery, as a start you should have both – Instagram and Facebook accounts. They work in a different way and both will be important for your business.

  2. YouTube and Twitter also important but not as the other two, nonetheless managing a YouTube channel takes a lot for your time, do you can start with Facebook and Instagram and after some time grow to more platforms.

  3. Who are your ideal customers? Are they under 35 years old? That mean that most of them use Instagram – they love good content (pictures and videos) less commercial content but more fun and educational one. Instagram will be your branding point for the young wine consumers.

  4. Don’t post the same content on both platforms. Yes I know it’s easier to do so, but if you want your content to work better – you should think first what are your goal for this photo or video you want to post; to rise awareness of your brand, tell your followers about things that are happening in the winery, to tell about new wine, to show the vineyards, give a discount to encourage more wine sales.

  5. Pay for Ads only on Facebook, not Instagram. I firmly believe in organic managing of Instagram account and having small campaigns on stories or working with niche micro influencers. Remember that likes are cool, but we are here for the reach and the interaction more – comments, post saves, directly massaged posts and more.

  6. Don’t “boost” your Facebook posts. If you want to donate your money to Facebook and pay for likes do it but there is a better way. Manage small campaigns – by 3 stages of buyer Journey – Awareness stage, Consideration stage and the Decision stage. My favorite one is a 1$ a day campaign (I will talk about it in my next posts). For now, know that you can use your post as a content for a future campaign, but you shouldn’t just boost all posts that you place on your business page.

  7. Facebook Groups is the new “black”. If you part of any group, you can see it already how other wineries and wine stores publishing and cooperating with wine niche groups. The best way would be creating a cooperation with the group manager but also just resharing your content can be quite useful.

  8. Post Videos not just photos. Forbes published in 2017 that after watching a video, 64% of users are more likely to buy a product online. Yes, good videos can help to sell your wine.

After reading this post I expect you to think about 3 things: 1) that if you don't have Facebook and Instagram accounts - you are going to open them before the closest harvest. 2) that you understand that "just posting" on those accounts is not the best option of how you should use social media. 3) That if you are not sure what to do, maybe you should go and get an advisor that will assist you with branding your winery and selling more wines.


Hope you liked this one - next post will be all about Instagram.

Share, Comment - Like :)

  • Collab Writing

Writer: Charlotte Gordon


Hey wine lovers,


Ever thought about where wine comes from? How it’s made? Do people really pick the grapes by hand and crush them with their feet?! The answer is sometimes no, but quiet often yes - and its back breaking stuff. My entire appreciation towards wine grew enormously after my first harvest and here is why…



My first Harvest was back in 2015 (although it feels much longer ago), in one of the most iconic wine regions in the world: Bordeaux. More specifically, the left bank in the Medoc where Cabernet Sauvignon is King.


I was lucky enough to be invited by a very recognisable winery for a week’s adventure and would be shown and taught every step of the wine making process. We also had some spare time planned in where we were able to drive around the region meeting other influential wine makers in their wineries and exploring the terroir around them. Thinking back now, I don’t think at the time I appreciated just how ‘money can’t buy’ that trip was.


Upon arriving, my breathe was instantly taken away as we drove up the pebbled rose bordered path to the Chateau. From the very beginning of the long windy driveway, it stood like a magnificent beacon amongst rows of vines boasting bulging ripe grapes. In Bordeaux, most estates still have a traditional Chateaux (house) in the middle of the grounds where the family live (often pictured on the bottles). I was greeted into the home as warmly as possible with a glass of Bollinger being thrust into hand as soon as the car door opened, and was then lead onto the balcony to enjoy cheese and charcuterie while looking out over the vines. At this moment, excitement fizzled inside me as I realised, I’d hit the jackpot!


Over the soon to become normal ‘multiple course’ evening meal with the family and wine makers that evening, I was briefed on my timetable for the week and where I’d be working. The first day I would be starting at the beginning. Amongst the vines, picking with the team that travel to the vineyard every year from Eastern European countries, and know the land and family as well as their own. Next, into the winery to assist with the sorting, pressing, maceration and fermentation. I remember being so nervous to not let a bad grape slip through and spoil the 2015 vintage! I’d also spend time checking and adjusting wines further on in their journey. This including setting up ‘punching down’ and ‘pumping over’ with huge great big pipe circuits which I really enjoyed, although always ended up with my entire body being stained purple - a messy job! Or maybe I was just doing it wrong?! Even some work with wines in barrel and observing the lab techs testing them with their hundreds of small vials and microscopes were truly fascinating parts of the process that I hadn’t paid much thought too before the trip. From ground to bottle, I learnt that wine is really all about geography, science, and passion. Oh, and cleaning! At that initial meal cleaning was not mentioned at all. Maybe they assumed I knew how important and normal this process was (I did not), but hours a day were to be spent scrubbing the insides of tanks (actually fun), along with the machinery, floors and even walls! Any bacteria present that finds itself ending up in contact with the wine can be fatal for the entire wineries stock. On reflection, it was on my return when I started to not mind cleaning around the house so much!


A huge perk of this harvest was being able to explore the Bordeaux region. While I adored the Medoc, Saint-Émilion on the right bank, I found to be a stunning little town which we reached via ferry crossing the Gironde estuary. Due to its fame and Grand Cru sites, tourists flock here with every other shop front being bottle shops where you can spend tens of thousands of Euros on the finest and rarest vintages of local wines – with those in between being cafes and restaurants. A real food and wine lover’s heaven. I have since returned to this enchanting town and its surrounding villages and intend to for years to come.


Back to the harvest it’s self and the part I enjoyed the most (which ironically was the toughest), was picking on the first couple of days. The Summer was hot (one of the sunniest on record), so we started at 6am on the dot each morning while the ground was wet and the air damp to avoid starting in the heat. I was freezing cold wrapped up in various layers, but the seasoned professionals were already stripped down to t-shirts and giggled at me rubbing my gloves together with chattering teeth knowing what was to come in only a few hours. It heated up very quickly indeed, but to my confusion, everyone started to put their jackets on! Someone tried to kindly explain in broken English that the sun would soon be so hot that I’d need my skin covered so not to burn, so we all sweated through our hats and jumpers as the sun rose higher in the clear blue sky. I think it only took say three or fours hours before I felt I couldn’t go on any longer! My back was literally broken from being hunched over all morning, legs burning from the unintentional squats, and my fingers ached from the constant snip, snip of the secateurs under cold wet gloves. Thankfully, the whistle blew somewhere amid the vines for lunch and while relived I could stop, I worried I wouldn’t be able to carry on after the hours break. While the pickers went back to their temporary accommodation, I was taken back to the Chateaux which I was pleasantly surprised at, as I assumed, I’d be eating a sandwich in the bottom of the field. Instead, I walked into a candelabra decorated luncheon spread out over a 10-seater or so mahogany table adorned with Bordeaux’s big wine players all suited and booted. I was introduced to them all over another glass of Bolli, while I desperately tried to push my sweaty hair behind my ears and catch myself in reflections of glasses to wipe mud from my brow! Bread, starters, salad courses, fish causes, meat causes, cheese causes and truffles and cigars were enjoyed with Champagne and a Magnum from each house in attendance over a long boozy lunch. It was a few hours before I swayed back into the vineyard to re join the pickers in a much better mood with suddenly no aches and pains. Funny how that happens…!


For any TRUE wine lover, I really do believe you cannot appreciate this precious substance entirely until you’ve earned your stripes in the vineyard. Go picking!


For all you Champagne lovers out there, join me next time for an insight into the UK wine trades best kept secret. The Champagne Academy. I talk about attending the course in 2017 (the best wine trip EVER), and about now proudly sitting on the committee. One not to miss!


Follow me on Instagram for posts about Champagne, wine, food and drinks – @charlottedrinkschampagne

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