Angela Muir MW has been working in the wine trade since 1970, right from her first job on leaving Bristol University. Ten years later she became a Master of Wine, in fact one of the first female MWs, and has been a respected consultant to wine producers and companies ever since, establishing her own consultancy company, Cellarworld, in 1993. Amanda Barnes interviews her about her experience in the trade and why she’s planning on bunkering down in Cyprus to write her memoirs as soon as she can.
Did you have an ‘a-ha’ moment in wine that made you want to work in the industry?
I was part of the university wine circle, following exchange visits to France…and then, one dark January day in my third year, I decided that if one is going to spend at least a third of one’s waking hours on this earth working, one might as well work at something truly interesting and something about which one could never cease to learn. The business of wine satisfies all these criteria.
You’ve been working in consultancy with Cellarworld since 1993, helping clients from all over the globe sell their wine in the UK. In the last two decades have you seen any major changes in terms of how foreign producers approach the UK market?
I fell into consultancy and was already doing some from the time I started Cellarworld. I was lucky again…I never had to look for a client; they found me. I started managing flying winemakers both in Europe and South America, among other jobs. The need for this had largely died by 2010 as the younger generations around Europe went out and learnt for themselves how the global wine business worked. Internet as an information resource also made a colossal difference of course.
In terms of approaching the UK market, it is absolutely essential to come and learn how it really works. There are very few routes open to anyone wanting to sell wine by the containerload…there always have been. Almost any wine business not big enough to power its way into the volume-end of the market is going to have to settle for a very small scale…which could be as small as 25 cases… to a business that will really champion their wines and yet take around two years to get the wine onto on-trade wine lists and therefore not order again immediately. It may open the doors to a tiptop world wine press but it barely accounts for a single barrique from even a small cellar. The reason for this is the fabulous diversity on offer from the myriad of smaller and even medium-sized wholesalers and wine merchants we have here. Lovely for us; rotten for the suppliers.
How would you recommend wineries or your clients to weather the storm of the Coronavirus pandemic?
This gets a gallic shrug of the shoulders…what can you do?…soldier on with the inexorable vineyard and winery year. I suspect local sales will rise and international sales will fall until shipping can be sorted out. This has always been a brutally tough business underneath all the romance and beauty of landscape and flavour. This is just one more aspect of it.
You’ve worked a lot with Eastern European producers. Do you have any favourite grape varieties, styles or regions which you think haven’t yet received the attention they deserve in the UK?
All the countries of former Yugoslavia are an El Dorado of rediscovered grape types, rekindled passion for excellence in winemaking, pride in some of the older customs and habits as they are being re-ignited. Posip, Grk from Southeastern Croatia are among my favourites; Sipon (Furmint) from Eastern Slovenia (and, of course almost anything from the Tokaj region in Hungary). It’s not surprising that we don’t see the best of what’s happening over here. First, prices are high on their home markets as people are proud of their own, and we won’t match them… And second, see above, what can we promise them other than the publicity that they cannot get elsewhere?
What are doing to survive lockdown? Have you stock piled on any wines in particular?
Not a lot. Drastic decluttering. We have bought a house in Cyprus and are intending to emigrate as soon as we complete the sale of our current house. Here, we have to wait for the completion of the paperwork and the availability of movers. Cyprus is perfect for us. We have wine producer friends there, as well as quite a number of bridge-playing British OAPs. I might continue work on some memoirs of what I did learn over nearly 50 years in the wine business based on the photos I took… not personal secrets about me… more things that might help people one day understand how our trade developed and where things did go wrong, why they did and how to avoid this happening.