Around these parts, we like to learn about and from people who are running their own businesses – business we love and admire, and the ladies who are running shit behind the scenes. In this edition of mind your business, we chat with one of the sommelier’s at Bishop’s Cellar in Halifax, and get the lowdown on what it takes to be a sommelier, how to pick the right wine for you, and some of the most delicious (and underrated) wines out there.
We’re also very excited to announce that Jenny will be contributing a regular column called Glass Half Full about wine for milieu! If you have any questions you’d like to see answered, let us know in the comments!
milieu: Tell us a bit about your background. When did you get into wine and decide to become a sommelier?
Jenny: After studying international development and spanish in university, I travelled a lot before finally pursuing a career in public relations.
It was that passion for travel, food, wine and culture that really set the course for my current career but, to be honest, I didn’t realize that people would pay me to do this until about 2010. Around that time I was working for a small but mighty marketing and event management agency and my client work started to include representing NS food and beverages in other cities. That led me to become part of the founding crew of a new food festival featuring chefs, local food, big events and, of course, wine. I loved every moment of it!
Soon after I had the opportunity to spend a few months in South Africa where I toured wineries, tasted incredible wines, and wandered around vineyards just asking questions. That’s when I realized I wanted to work in the wine industry. I was hired at Bishop’s Cellar a few months after I returned to Canada and began my sommelier training in Halifax. The rest is history!
milieu: Describe the training/education you went through to become a sommelier.
Jenny: There are people who are sommeliers purely by job title and experience, but I opted to become a certified sommelier through the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS). This training included six academic modules on topics like winemaking, sensory development, wine service and more. The courses are taken over a minimum of two years and include scary written exams, wine industry projects and tasting exams. My classmates were amazing individuals from all walks of life, from eager restaurant industry employees to passionate hobbyists and everything in between. I’ve also begun advanced training with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET).
milieu: You work at Bishop’s Cellar in Halifax and work on content development, brand and event management. Can you expand on this for us?
Jenny: Bishop’s Cellar is one of four private liquor stores that can operate in Nova Scotia. Our mandate is to cultivate a wine culture in Nova Scotia and provide products that residents can’t purchase anywhere else. Bishop’s Cellar specializes in quality wine, delicious craft beer and artisan spirits- both in our retail shop on the Halifax waterfront and in countless restaurants across Nova Scotia.
I manage the bulk of our web content and brand marketing while organizing events of all sizes that educate, inform and inspire people about wine. I work with an incredible team of talented sommeliers, savvy salespeople, and organized operations brains.
milieu: What are some of the biggest misconceptions or mistakes people make about choosing the right wine?
Jenny: The first step to choosing the right wine is choosing a wine you actually like. It sounds so simple, but I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is choosing wines that they think they should like instead of choosing wines they actually enjoy. Be true to your tastes and you’ll have the opportunity to explore why you like that style and try new things from there.
milieu: What is one of the best underrated wines (location, type, blend etc.) and why?
Jenny: Hands down, Canadian wines. The wines from our own backyard have come so far, so fast that a lot of people don’t realize how amazing they are. All sorts of little known and delicious winemaking regions are making their mark on the international wine scene. Last week I went to the launch of Nova Scotia’s newest winery: Lightfoot & Wolfville Wines. Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are extraordinary, wines that taste like they were made in France. The future of Canadian wines is bright!
milieu: What is your absolute favourite bottle of wine and why?
Jenny: Such a tough question! I feel like I’m always changing my mind about what I love best; sometimes it changes with seasons, with what I’m eating and, of course, whatever I’ve tried lately. Right now, it’s summer in Nova Scotia so I’m loving dry, crisp roses from the Loire Valley or Provence. Nothing tastes better on my deck after a swim in the ocean.
milieu: Where do you see yourself in five, ten years?
Jenny: My favourite thing about the wine industry is that it is, at the end of the day, an intensely agricultural product. The people who make it, buy it, drink it and talk about it matter. A whole lot. The wine industry is evolving so quickly that I can’t imagine what I’ll be doing in even just a few years, but I hope I can be a part of that incredible process.
As long as I continue to grow- as a person and as a professional- I see myself in this industry, bringing the work of incredible producers from around the world to Canadians.
milieu: What advice would you give someone who is looking to become a sommelier?
Jenny: Be patient with yourself. Becoming an expert in something, especially something like wine, takes time. You study, you taste wine, you talk about wine, you read about wine, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Eventually things start to make sense.
It took almost two years for me to develop my palate for wine, meaning it took years of tasting and studying before I could link the things I saw, smelled and tasted in the glass to vocabulary, words and memories that would help me understand and identify wine styles. I was so frustrated at various points that if I can do it, I believe almost anyone can!