Jane Masters MW is Opimian’s Master of Wine
“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour,” wrote English poet William Cowper (1731–1800). Wine is naturally diverse. This is what makes it fascinating – even though the choice can sometimes be overwhelming.
Wine grapes are generally cultivated between 30- and 50-degrees latitude on either side of the equator. There are a multitude of soils, climate conditions, altitudes and exposures which affect which varieties are best suited to a given location. There are over 10,000 grape varieties in the world, even if many of the world’s most popular wines are based on far fewer. A lot of research is currently focussed on lesser-known grape varieties to combat climate change. There are also many thousands of grape growers and winemakers around the world. France alone has approximately 110,000. All of these factors have an impact on flavour and style, creating a diverse range of wines from which to choose.
Diversity has long been important in making top wines. Blending is an important stage in wine making that should result in higher quality, more interesting complex wines than the individual components. Most Bordeaux wines are a blend of grape varieties and barrels with proportions varying from vintage to vintage in the top châteaux. The final assemblage is a function not of what nature has yielded but on what creates balance and harmony. A mix of vine varieties that bud, flower and ripen at different times also constitutes a form of insurance that counters weather anomalies during the growing season, providing at least some economic security.
Blending is at the heart of non-vintage Champagne production. After the first tank fermentation, Champagne Cellar Masters spend considerable time and effort into blending across grape varieties, crus and vintages to create the “cuvée”. Even in regions producing wines from a single variety (think Syrah in the Northern Rhône or Pinot Noir in Burgundy), many of the most complex wines are produced from a mix of clones of that variety. Clonal selection identifies the best clones in terms of flavour and disease resistance, but genetic variety brings depth to a wine. In summary, diversity in vineyards and winemaking brings quality, depth and resilience.
Wine is served and drunk at diverse occasions from state banquets, feast days and celebrations to the local bistro on the corner which serves simple wine to share with friends, fostering community amongst neighbours. In moderation, wine brings physical, emotional & intellectual satisfaction and has been part of human culture for millennia.
In recent decades, the diversity of wine drinkers has expanded into non-traditional wine drinking countries such as China and India. This consumer and market expansion has not yet fully translated into diversity in the trade. Yet leading business research and consultancy organizations advocate increased diversity in the workplace, leading to more successful, more profitable companies with better decision making, increased creativity and problem-solving skills and which are more reflective of consumers and the general population.
No doubt, winemakers, sommeliers, and wine professionals are more diverse than ever before. In order to increase opportunity and support, organizations such as The Roots Fund, Black Wine Professionals, and BAME Wine Professionals (Black, Asian and minority ethnic people) have been established. Last year, at the California Unified Symposium, sessions on diversity and gender equality were made available for free. In 2021, Angela Elizabeth Scott from the USA and South Africa’s Dr. Erna Blancquaert were recipients of the Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship, which included $85,000 in funds, a $8,500 travel bursary, and access to an internship and mentorship programme. This is the headline diversity scholarship awarded by the not-for-profit Golden Vines Awards organized by Liquid Icons and is awarded each year to two BAME/BIPOC candidates to pursue their studies on the Master of Wine or Master Sommelier programme.
As the wine trade (like the rest of the world) faces serious challenges of climate change, evolving global markets and changing consumer expectations, we should encourage and welcome diversity in our trade in the same way as we do in vineyards and winemaking. I encourage everyone interested in wine whatever their age, gender, ethnic background to consider a career in this fantastic industry. Vive la différence!