How I Became A Wine Merchant

I have five passions in my life:

• My family (kind of goes without saying right?)
• The world of wines and spirits
• Participating in live music and comedy
• Snooker (hold on to your hats folks, I am this exciting)
• Film

I am lucky that the second of these provides my livelihood. I have been around wine since the age of 5; I had a relatively continental style upbringing. I was encouraged to taste wine, topped up with water or lemonade and as I got older the ratio changed. By the age of 13 I knew I was interested in wine. I was in a hotel with Mother Isaacs and she ordered a glass of house red. I asked for a taste and she obliged. I sniffed, swirled and tasted like a vinous d’Artagnan and proclaimed that this was ‘An Australian Shiraz.’ Mother Isaacs replied as any northern mother would: ‘Shut up. You’re 13, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Dear reader, it was an Australian Shiraz. Please don’t imagine for a second that this belies some latent tasting ability or that this was a sign of destiny. We mostly drank Australian Shiraz at home and all I was doing was recognising my previous experience.

Mood shot of bloke tasting wine

This event did however plant the seed for a career that has brought me to this; writing about it on a blogging site. I was aware that wine was made from more than just Shiraz. I knew Shiraz was a grape but not the only one. I didn’t know anything else…I was only 13. I also knew that wine did not exclusively come from Australia. The French made some too. What really captured me was that just by tasting the wine; seeing it, smelling it and washing it around my mouth, could reveal where it was from and from what it was made. I couldn’t think of anything else with which I could do that.

Roll on 5 years and I’ve turned 18 and have been accepted to university to study law and politics. Taking a gap year, cos y’know, that was trendy right? I needed a full time job. My local Oddbins put a board out advertising a full time position. I thought this was great. I could learn a little more, spend my days drinking wine and also tick the box of having a full time job. I applied and got the job. Within 3 months I knew this was what I wanted to do. I called the university and let them know I wouldn’t be sullying their fine institution with my name. As I put the phone down I could hear the whoops and cheers from the admissions team.

I quickly passed my WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Level 2 and Level 3 exams. Back then they were called intermediate and advanced. I worked for Oddbins for a number of years and continued not just to learn about wine but how people interact with it. Spending my formative wine years here gave me my three key values in what I do. I’ve just re-read that sentence and am horrified at how corporate it sounds. My apologies.
I love the product. I love the producer and I love the customer (some more than others winks). The care of those 3 things will always come first. They have to. Wine is about enjoyment. If I care about what the customer wants and I have good wines from good producers then sharing my knowledge and love of it all is very easy. I look on the eventual demise of Oddbins with great sadness.

In 2010 I moved to Oxford to take up the position of branch manager at The Oxford Wine Company’s new flagship store. On reflection this is the happiest I have ever been in a job. I had a great store, a wonderful team, fabulous products and lovely customers. I stayed here for 5 years and passed my WSET Diploma. This has given me those silly letters after my name.
In 2015 I became Head of Education for Oxford’s oldest wine school, Winematters. I taught WSET courses around the UK and in Barbados and helped look after producers in the sister business Winetraders. During my time here I travelled extensively around Italy working with some of the country’s finest producers. I also travelled regularly to Spain and Germany.

I am incredibly privileged that I discovered my passion so early in life and was able to get a foot in the door. Wine has given me everything; it puts bread on my table and introduced me to all my friends. Wine brought me to my wife and in turn gave me a son…he’s actually named after a wine. Wine has taken me across the world and I’ve visited many of the great producing regions. I travel to Argentina every year and continue to have as much love for the product, the producer and the customer as I did all those years ago.

A field trip to the Uco Valley, Argentina

Today I am the Brand Ambassador for national on-trade supplier Unity Wines & Spirits. My role encompasses brand creation and building, hosting wine tastings and dinners, staff training, producing social media content, making the tea, delivering boxes…all sorts of things.

I love sharing my knowledge and stories and hope to make my tasting events something a little different. I have recently returned to performing stand up comedy and the skills learned in that most challenging of arenas are brought into my tastings. If you’d like to have me come along to host a wine event for you please get in touch. I’m available for weddings, funerals, bat mitzvahs…

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/competition-lee-isaacs

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