27 April 2014
In the latest Plumpton career talk, we welcomed wine merchant, winemaker and writer Richard Bray. The session began with an outline of Richard’s route into the industry, with its unlikely start in a Master’s degree in History at St Andrews University. After hearing about his lengthy dissertation title (that left most of the class baffled), the line of interrogation began.
Richard’s 9-5 job is that of a wine merchant at Swig in London. He spends the rest of his time either writing in the evenings and weekends or taking unpaid leave to work vintages in the south of France (generally around 8 weeks a year). Any fragment of time that remains is split between leading wine tastings, advising winemakers on blends, and organising tasting events. Richard’s greatest pleasure lies in wine education, seeking to expand people’s enjoyment of wine through an expansion of knowledge (though he wouldn’t mind writing full-time with breaks for vintages). Unsurprisingly, this mountainous list of vocations can take its toll, an inability to ‘switch off’ being the key disadvantage.
Richard had never planned his current career(s) in his youth. In particular, he never foresaw himself precariously balanced on a forklift, with a piece of hosepipe in his mouth, punching down the cap on a large tank of wine in the south of France (this anecdote was promptly followed by a health and safety warning!). Despite this, he explained how a basic grasp of both science and history had been very useful to him as a winemaker. He also explained how his work as a merchant was of great benefit in promoting wines that he worked on.
The discussion ended with a summing up of what Richard had learnt as an assistant winemaker, the most paramount being the importance of cleanliness. However the importance of being respectful to your co-workers was also highlighted (a point punctuated by the tale of an anti-social and deadly Bordelais forklift driver). His final advice, as has been the case with a few of our career talks, was to work in small wineries to gain a more varied experience of winery operations.
The session was well attended and finished with a taste of the Red Socks; the first wine that Richard had blended as a winemaker and a signing of his book ‘Salt & Old Vines: True Tales of Winemaking in the Roussillon’.
Written by Joe Marsh, 1st year BSc Viticulture Oenology student