Following East London Wine School’s recent launch at Wanstead Golf Club, school director and wine expert Sam Alder explains why a trip to the Aosta Valley left a pleasant aftertaste that lingers to this day
So, how did I end up working in the wine industry and owning a wine school? Not a traditional career choice and certainly not an option on the career day at school!
My first job was in banking. I loved it and suspect it was there I discovered wine. We ‘drank’ wine, a lot of wine, but only after work, of course! My passion for ‘tasting’ was thanks to some bad weather and a great sommelier.
Halfway through our annual Italian ski trip there was an avalanche; the ski slopes were closed. We were stuck in the town, we couldn’t go up the mountain, couldn’t go down, so what to do? Obviously, a wine tasting in the local wine bar. Why not? The sommelier opened six different bottles from the local wine region, the Aosta Valley. We tasted them all with glee and listened intently to his presentation of each wine. There was one in particular that helped me understand how and why tasting wine was important, to savour it rather than just drink it. The name of the wine was translated to ‘The Blood of Judas’. It was red, chilled, sweet, some petillance (bubbles). We loved it, it wasn’t expensive, just new, different, delicious and, of course, paired beautifully with the local cuisine. Top tip: if it grows together, it goes together. Everyone in our group bought two bottles bringing them home to the UK in ski boots.
Back at work, my colleague Mark was talking about the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and how he was studying wine! What? There were qualifications in wine? I had no idea. These WSET qualifications must be the way forward to satisfy my hunger for more knowledge about wine. It was then I started my journey with WSET Level 1 Award in Wines. I progressed to Level 2, 3 and then to a Diploma in Wine.
During this time, the banking world was changing dramatically. I’d had a great career, but I needed and wanted a change, not just a career change, but a lifestyle change. It must have been fate. The opportunity to buy a wine school came up and I jumped at the chance.
Running a wine business is hard work, with lots of late nights, weekend working, keeping up with the markets and trends, but it’s also a lot of fun and very rewarding. I get to taste some amazing wines, to talk about wine, to meet other wine lovers and experts, to teach and, every now and again, I can diversify into beers and spirits. When you see someone have that light-bulb moment, when they understand why French Syrah is different to Australian Shiraz for instance, it’s so rewarding.