Lectures, talks, seminars and tastings

I’ve been a freelancer for 40 months now. It has gone better than I’d have anticipated, but I’ll admit that I haven’t done a lot of planning with regard to how I spend my time.

Work comes in (thankfully); I do it. I accept most of it, turning down things that would involve compromising myself or travel at the wrong time of year (I have to spend some time at home). I’m not yet successful enough that I can be ruthless about invites, but (and I am very grateful for this) busy enough that I don’t have to grub around for work.

But now I’m beginning to think about planning what I do a bit better. One thing I would like to do more of is standing up in front of people – either giving talks, or conducting tastings, or a combination of the two. I have been doing a bit more of this of late, and I enjoy it. (It’s for others to judge whether I am any good!)

I like the dynamic of having an audience; gauging people’s reactions; interacting in the real world over wine in the glass. And I also like the fact that it doesn’t require hours of preparation, and that it’s of the moment, unlike writing. Now I love writing – it’s just that I find it hard if all I am doing is writing.

Topics I like to cover? As well as tastings (of which I’m happy to lead any), I have done presentations on wine science, sustainability, natural wine, the perception/psychology of wine, the UK marketplace, global trends in the wine market and social media in the wine industry. My day rate is expensive enough so that people take me seriously, but cheaper than many of my peers. I’m not really motivated by money – I just love wine.

As an example of the sort of things I do, last Monday I was in Cambridge doing a talk and tasting on wine science at Churchill College. This morning I did a half-day of staff wine training at Hakkasan on the theme of Port and Sherry. I’m currently en route to Bordeaux where I’m compering a panel on climate change in the Napa Valley at Vinexpo. Then, on Wednesday I have half a day’s work discussing speciality beer marketing. This sort of work really complements wine writing well.

It’s the third or fourth time I’ve done the Port/Sherry session for Hakkasan, and I’m fascinated by how people respond to these wines – often, it’s their first experience. They usually hate the fino sherry, preferring the Oloroso. Amontillado is somewhere in the middle. They find the Port much easier to appreciate, and the Taylor’s 1985 that we finish with, in its mellow maturity, is universally appreciated, especially when they find it is £197 on Hakkasan’s list. Pictured top: the Douro landscape in early spring; above, some old Port waiting to be tasted.

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