Kate Sweet has been ‘wine curious’ ever since she can remember and today is one of the leading PRs in the drinks industry, working at Limm Communications with a range of brands and clients from vintage Cognac to grower Champagne. In this interview, we discover why she’s desperate to enjoy a glass of rosé overlooking the Med very soon, but will take a pass on the Gewürztraminer.
What brought you into the world of wine?
My entry into the wine world was the result of gentle brain-washing. I grew up in a home that was ‘wine curious’ throughout my childhood. I remember 1970s dinner parties thrown by my parents and their friends where I coveted the bottles of Black Tower and Mateus Rosé because they looked so exciting and glamorous. I don’t remember a time when wine wasn’t part of the evening meal. Through the 80s my father became increasingly wine interested and our routes through France on holiday were punctuated by stops at vineyards to taste. Even though still a teenager, I was usually encouraged by the winery to try the wines. My youth was no barrier and I must have soaked it all up even though I wasn’t really conscious of it at the time. My friends tell me that I was the only student they knew at university who always had a bottle of sherry (Croft Original) in the fridge and I remember one term where I’d drink nothing but Vouvray, so it obviously was a subliminal thing for many years.
The pivotal moment was in December 1993, I’d finished Uni and was confused as to what career path to take. My mother came home with an application form for me for Oddbins Graduate Trainee programme. The Oddbins Manager she’d spoken to had told her that I should try working a Christmas in an Oddbins shop before applying for the programme, which I did. That was it. The following Christmas I was managing my own Oddbins store. I was sold and I’ve never looked back. Everything else that followed has been a result of being the right place at the right time with the right people. I have been extremely fortunate to have had people around me throughout my career who have pushed, mentored and encouraged me.
Is there a particular wine region or experience which you consider your Alma mater for your education in wine, and why?
I have a huge affection for the Rhône, as this is where I spent the most time with my mum and dad tasting wine as a teenager, but my real education came in northern California when I was working with Fetzer vineyards at Brown-Forman Wine International. The winemaking team at Fetzer were hugely patient and generous with their knowledge. I will always have soft spot for the team I worked with, both here in London and over in California at that time. We worked really hard but we had a lot of fun as well. It was a golden time. I learned a lot about growing grapes – their vineyards were all organic and biodynamic. I also had the opportunity to shadow the winemakers in the winery during a vintage, which was fascinating. I loved it and what I learned then has stood me in good stead over the years.
With Limm PR you work with a wide range of clients from Champagne houses to Madeira. How different is the approach of communications when working with different styles of wine or spirits?
We are really fortunate with Limm Communications, to work with two such lovely portfolios as Louis Latour Agencies and Fells. There are a lot of synergies with them as they are mostly family owned wineries which gives an authenticity and long-term approach that I love. It also gives myriad stories to tell.
The frustrating thing can be that families sometimes don’t know the jewels they have in their histories and forget to tell us! It’s not until you spend time with them at their wineries and vineyards that you wheedle it out of them. They have such rich histories that some things simply get overlooked until we point it out to them.
We’ve had some mind-blowing anniversaries recently. 2020 celebrated 750 years of the Frapin family in Cognac and 150 years since the founding of Familia Torres. 2021 sees 200 years of Bodegas Barbadillo. It’s a privilege to work with companies with such heritage.
Obviously the communication has to change if you are talking about popular consumer wines like Viña Sol, small production champagnes like Gosset 12ans de Cave, or Frapin Vintage Cognacs, but at the end of the day, quality at any level is a winner and speaks for itself. I have been fortunate enough always to work with clients whose wines I have enjoyed myself. Of course there are some styles of wine that I like less, but being a diplomatic PR, I hope I never make this obvious. I’ll reveal it eventually in the tell all book I shall write when I retire! Joking aside, I hope I can appreciate styles and wines even if they are not what I would choose to drink at home.
Ok Ok. It’s Gewürztraminer. I can’t bear the stuff…..
Obviously Lockdown 3 has put 2021 on ice for now, but do you have any interesting events or activities coming up with your clients this year that might be interesting to members?
This lockdown is proving the hardest for me, as I think it is for most people I’m speaking to. It’s February, it’s dark, grey and pretty grim. There is a real element of Groundhog Day (I’m actually writing this ON Groundhog Day) at the moment but we are busy trying to plan for 2021. It’s tricky as we don’t really know what’s going to happen with the Covid situation, so we’re having to stay nimble and be flexible in our approach. That said, we have exciting things in the pipeline.
More Zoom tastings, of course, one specifically on Pinot Noir for the Circle in April, all being well. We’re also hoping, in the latter part of the year, to take a press trip or two, perhaps to Cognac or Spain but obviously everyone has to be completely safe, so that plan will be the first to go if things haven’t improved. Maybe we’ll experiment with “Cyber” Press trips which might be fun. Who knows. The lockdown is encouraging us to think outside the box, and that’s proving to be very exciting. There are things that have been ‘forced’ on us by the pandemic, which I hope stay with us once things return to ‘normality’ again.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do to relax? Have you picked up any new hobbies during Lockdown?
During lockdown, I have taken up patchwork quilting. My brother runs a company producing beautiful crafting fabrics (Dashwood Fabrics), so I get lots of off-cuts from him. It’s really absorbing and I can lose whole evenings in putting a quilt together. My projects are growing in size though and I’m desperately trying to find a sewing studio with a free arm quilting machine as I’ve outgrown my little machine!
I am also trying to keep my fitness up but it has really suffered in this lockdown. I am a sloth by nature and I have to really work to keep in shape these days. I run once a week and have been doing the occasional ride on my Wattbike indoors. I’m a real fair weather cyclist, so conditions have to be perfect for me to venture outdoors on the bike. I have been known to take on the occasional fitness challenge in the past. I’ve done the London Ride 100 & Ride 47 and I completed a sprint triathlon a couple of summers ago. I’d like to get back to that but I’m not a very good swimmer. Maybe when the weather improves I’ll try open water swimming, and I appear to have just signed up for a Virtual 10K in April, which will focus my efforts…..in the meantime, I must stop baking brownies!!
When travel resumes to normal, where will be the first wine region you head to and why?
This is a no brainer. We are very lucky to own a tiny house in the south of France and I’m missing it dreadfully at present. We overlook the vineyards of Domaine de La Croix, which lies between our place and the sea. First chance we get, I’ll be off there. The 2020 vintage will be released any time now and I can’t wait to be on my terrace with a glass of rosé watching the sun set over the Mediterranean.
After that, I want to get to Australia as soon as possible. We are working with a number of Australian wineries, notably Yalumba, and I’ve never visited any of them, so that is first on the agenda as soon as we are allowed. I have a feeling that by the time things open up again, I shan’t be alone on this trip. Who’s up for coming too?