WWS goes international

(by peter)

It’s carnival time in Nice.

Every February, in an event that would be unthinkable on the frosty streets of London, the roads of the Côte d’Azur are converted into live theatre as ‘carnaval’ comes to town.

This year, across town in the cavernous Palais des Expositions, a different kind of theatre was taking place as the Winchester Wine School played host to a series of wine events at the International Travel Catering Association’s annual trade fair.

ITCA brings together a host of fascinating and extremely well travelled people from the worlds of food, drink, design, consultancy and beyond. It’s a close-knit community, much like the wine industry, with its fair share of glamour and intrigue.

It was fascinating for me, as a person immersed in the tiny yet delicious world of food and drink, to gain a privileged insight into the travel industry.

Like the wine trade, the travel industry has faced many challenges of late. The global economic downturn is the principal one, but you can add to this industrial action, international terrorism, rising global fuel prices, climate change opposition and freakish climatic phenomena (snow, ash clouds etc). As a result, cost-cutting has been the order of the day across all airlines, and this showed on the faces of those present at ITCA 2011.

Many bemoaned the way in which airlines have completely transformed since the glory days of the 1980s, when air travel was a luxury and passengers travelled in style, with all the creature comforts associated with it.

These days, business is altogether more cut-throat – yet still profitable for the successful operators.

On the one hand you have the low-cost airlines, whose passenger volumes are high (apparently Easyjet and Rynair carry in the region of 50-80 million passengers per year) and which operate a ‘buy-on-board’ policy, which works well for many suppliers.

At the other extreme are the premium carriers, which tend to serve fewer passengers but which generate profitability and status from the business and first class seats, where the perks are included in the hefty price tags.

When I asked one senior executive where the future of the premium airline business was, he replied, ‘Where the money is – the Middle and Far East’. By that I infer he meant airlines like Emirates, Singapore, Etihad et al.

One other area of growth is that serving the super rich or big business with private jets.

What was interesting was just how interested almost all those present were in the subject of wine – both in terms of personal interest and also how it might work to generate profitability and profile for their companies. And it makes sense: just think back to when you last had wine (or didn’t) on a flight – it can easily affect your opinion of the airline in question if the selection is decent (ie well chosen, well presented and nice to drink) or equally if it isn’t.

But whatever the implications of all of this, it was great to see so many people attend the Winchester Wine School tastings and leave with a spring in their step.

I ran courses similar in style to our popular Back to Basics course, using jelly beans, aroma phials, games, goat’s cheese and some fantastic wines to keep everything very interactive and bring the subject to life. The tasting order was as follows:

  • Roederer Estate Quartet Brut NV, Anderson Valley, California, USA (£18.99, Waitrose)
  • Viña Leyda Garuma Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010, San Antonio, Chile (£10.44, Waitrose)
  • Viré-Clessé 2009, Christophe Cordier (£11.99, Majestic)
  • Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2009, Martinborough, New Zealand (£18.99, Waitrose)
  • Our mystery wine – Château Musar 2003, Lebanon (£17.09, Waitrose)
  • For the wine options game – Anthemis Muscat of Samos 2002 (£9.96 per half bottle, Waitrose)

The feedback was great, which was very rewarding. The wines all showed very well – the Quartet and Musar particularly (the Craggy and Viña Leyda were both quite young and tight, albeit impressively so).

So the Winchester Wine School has now officially gone international. Long may it continue!