Next in our ‘Roots in Majestic’ series is someone who began his career delivering wine in a van around North Yorkshire. He now shares his thoughts on the pages of some of the world’s most widely read and best regarded wine resources.
Richard Hemming MW is best known for his writing, whether for the online oracle which is JancisRobinson.com – or in a huge array of drinks trade publications (including Drinks Retailing News, Noble Rot, The Financial Times, Decanter, The Drinks Business, World of Fine Wine).
Perhaps unsurprisingly as one of only 400 Masters of Wine worldwide, his skill at remembering an encyclopedic collection of Majestic product codes is less well known. But that’s still a legacy for the writer, judge, critic and consultant from his time working on the shop-floor of Majestic Harrogate – which represented his first role in wine.
Now based in Singapore, but still writing extensively on the global wine scene, Richard took some time out to answer a few questions on how working face to face with customers in a specialist helped to shape his approach to the subject, the wines which stayed with him and his advice for the next generation of would-be-wine-pros.
What first attracted you to join Majestic?
The graduate management trainee scheme was the main attraction. I saw the job advertised in the back of the Leeds Student newspaper. I had no wine knowledge at all, but had worked in retail before (at my Dad’s bookshop) so felt like it was familiar territory.
Where and when did you join us?
2001, at store 080 (also known as Harrogate).
Why it was a good place to begin your wine-journey?
Working with such a broad range of wines for 10 hours a day was immediately immersive, and being able to taste every day was a key part of learning. The WSET courses were really important too, of course. Plus, there were great opportunities to travel via staff incentive schemes.
What are the wines, experiences and attitudes which have stuck with you?
On my very first day, I took home Santa Rita Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and I loved it. The second day I took home a Freidrich Wilhelm Gymnasium Riesling Spatlese and hated it. Those positions have now been reversed!
But I also loved driving the van around Yorkshire delivering wine, and I really enjoyed going to Majestic House to teach the [WSET] Diploma to colleagues.
It’s strange but true – I can still remember loads of product codes. Such as 04303 which is Macon Lugny, 22050 for Bolly, 05220 [Loire white] Delaunay Touraine and 06234, Guigal Cotes du Rhone – plus plenty more besides!
Has this gone on to play a role in your writing? And if so how?
I’ve certainly got a good understanding of how wine is sold face to face, and how different types of customers require varying responses.
What would be your advice to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps and become a wine writer?
Firstly, understand that writing alone will never pay the bills – having other income is vital.
Secondly, realise that it takes years before your style and content reaches a good, consistent standard.
Thirdly, understand your audience – my main focus is on engaged consumers and the [wine] trade (whereas I rarely write for a mass-market audience).
What are your hopes for wine writing, and for Majestic, in the future?
For wine writing, that more younger voices emerge – in the post-blog era, lots of communication is now focused on social media and video content, and writing is missing out.
For Majestic, that it [moves from fewer] own-label products and finds more ‘genuine’ brands / estates to replace them.
And that it retains its position as one of the best training grounds for the British wine trade.
Now you’re based in Singapore, what’s next for Richard Hemming on his world wine conquest of all things wine?
I will continue to write for JancisRobinson.com as well as finding local opportunities in education, training and consultancy. It is an intriguing prospect to discover more about the Asian wine market, which is much more sophisticated and developed than I initially expected.
Richard was talking to Majestic in November 2019.