For this month’s Meet the Friend feature, we meet Keith Isaac MW, General Manager of Castelnau Wine Agencies. Keith became an MW in 1989 and served as Chairman of the Examination Panel from 1998 to 2007. He joined Castelnau Wine Agencies in 1987, known then as Patriarche Wine Agencies, and has been General Manager since 1996. Castelnau Wine Agencies, owned by Champagne Castelnau in Reims, has more than 35 years of successful business importing and selling wine in the UK. His hobbies include cycling, skiing and golf, and he recently won the Wine Trade Sports Club golf championship in ‘the smallest field ever seen’. Amanda Barnes interviews him for this month’s edition of The Circular.
How did you discover your interest in wine and what led you from studying history at Cambridge to working in the wine industry?
When people ask me that I always say that I used to drink a lot as a student, to which the usual response is: “So did I, but I’m not in the wine industry”.
I ran a college wine tasting society and then in my last year the University Wine & Food Society was looking for tasters for the team and put out an appeal to the colleges so I went along to apply.
I had spent some summers touring around Europe tasting before and after then, and it was a combination of these things that led me to think about working in wine.
You became an MW in 1989 and were Chairman of the Examination Panel from 1998 to 2007. How have you seen the MW change in terms of process, and also outcome?
I think the processes have become more rigorous, both while I was Chairman and since, in terms of who is allowed onto the course, how we set, validate and mark the questions, how relevant the exam is to the industry, and what support we give to the students. There is the Research Paper now as a third part of the exam as well of course.
As for outcomes, the institute has always wanted the best candidates to pass and that is still the case. There is no quota per year regarding numbers, and we do want more MWs to get through. Our spread as an institute is greater and we are much more international now.
Champagne is one of your specialist areas. What do you enjoy most about Champagne?
A range of things. I like the scenery, the architecture and showing guests around, I like the blending and the sense of the sum of the whole being more than the sum of the individual parts, I like Chardonnay, and I like the business of Champagne. The food is pretty good, too.
Will you be uncorking anything special over this festive period?
Not decided yet, but probably. I’ve at least five seasonal lunches with friends, colleagues and family which started on 3rd of December, so I think that is more “yes” than “probably.” (Not on Christmas Day, though, as we are volunteering again.)
What’s in the diary for Castelnau Wine Agencies in 2019?
The team has grown recently so we hope we have more presence in the market and more sales, and are looking forward to Prowein and a bigger stand at London Wine Fair to show some new wines in the spring. A bigger vintage in Burgundy and across Europe should help, too.
Find out more about Castelnau Wine Agencies online.