Monday 2 March 2020

Roots in Majestic – Liam Steevenson MW

By Jack Merrylees

Next up in our Roots in Majestic Series is Liam Steevenson MW; Master of Wine, winemaker, importer, merchant, podcast creator and expert… Box shifter.

The life of Liam Steevenson MW has taken him all over the globe – but in 1997 it began (in a wine sense, at least) in the slightly less glamorous setting of a Majestic cavern under the railway arches of Vauxhall.

Since then, Liam has gone on to set up an award winning independent wine merchant, become the youngest person ever to pass the Master of Wine exam and won the Villa Maria prize for an outstanding Viticulture paper.  He was a member of the buying team at Waitrose, before setting up his own business, Global Wine Solutions Ltd in 2018 

GWS now eploy a team of expert winemakers, designers and marketers to make wine all over the world with projects in France, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand and India. His journey has gone full circle, and he now supplies a number of wines back into Majestic. If that wasn’t enough, Liam and wine writer Fiona Beckett co-host a wine trade podcast called Batonnage, which you can find here

We sat down with Liam to talk Majestic origins, exciting new projects – and microwaving expensive reds. 

What attracted you to join Majestic?

The wine industry was always a likely career choice for me, being the son of a wine-merchant. On leaving university with a degree in history, I was looking for a company with a strong Management Training scheme.  Majestic was the obvious choice and I am sure was now the right one. 

From the outset the company set out a structured scheme that ensured I had the confidence to pick up wine knowledge whilst getting a firm understanding of people and retail management at the same time.  Majestic Wines gave me the framework of learning around which my whole wine career has been built on.

Where and when did you join us?

I joined the Vauxhall branch in 1997, straight out of University. I remember the slightly damp and dark arch was not the most glamorous of places, but it was jam-packed with fantastic wines and I fell in love with wine there.

Why it was a good place to begin your wine-journey?

When I joined it felt like Majestic and Oddbins were the breeding grounds of the industry, everyone went through, and we were all of a similar age, fresh out of University and eager to learn.  It was great fun, coupled with a huge amount of learning. I also think the business was very down to earth, it was unpretentious, and very real.

I remember micr-waving a bottle of Cote Rotie on Christmas Eve, to warm it up so we could drink it to celebrate the end of a busy few months work! I have worked for a number of wine businesses since, but I will always thank Majestic Wines for installing my enthusiasm for the industry,

What are the wines, experiences and attitudes which have stuck with you?

When I was at Majestic, the offering was more branded than it is today. I fell in love with Wynns, Penfolds, Bollinger, Louis Latour, Catena….they were big names, but ones that had created wines that defined their place of origin.  

The company taught me a lot about working with a team, working hard and celebrating that effort, I hope those are ethics that I install in my team today.

What happened after Majestic Wines?

I left Majestic and ran the retail team at Bibendum, before starting my own Independent Wine Merchant in Devon called RED&WHITE. 

In 2004 I was the youngest person to pass the MW exam, and at 26 used that to catapult certain areas of my career, particularly Wine Production. I was a senior buyer at Waitrose looking after France,  New Zealand and Australia, and left in 2018 to set up Global Wine Solutions Ltd, the company I am now CEO of and one that now makes wine all over the world, in France, Spain, Italy, India, New Zealand, Portugal employing a fantastic team of winemakers, designers, marketeers etc. 

We’ve even got some of the Kiwi wines we produce heading into Majestic later this year (watch this space!)

Can you tell us more about New Zealand, and your work there? 

I have been visiting New Zealand for over 10 years, and have long loved the country, however I felt that the winemaking could often be braver, more individual.  

So 4 years ago I teamed up with a winemaking friend Ben Glover (Ex Mud House and Wither Hills) and started a brand called Fincher & Co. which I am delighted that Majestic Wines are starting to list.    From the very start we invested in individual vineyard sites, and winemaking tools to enable to push the boundaries of what might be expected.  

Fincher & Co. tells the story of Sub Regions and Single Vineyard sites and is one of the brands I am most proud of.

What’s next on the agenda for Liam Steevenson?

In 2019 we started making wine in Provence and Portugal, so our next releases include a Provence Rose brand and a Vinho Verde.  I am excited about both of these. We have also started a Rum brand in Antigua, shipping wine barrels from some of France’s finest cellars to finish Rums before selling them in the international market.   Our team at GWS continues to grow, so I feel like 2020 is going to be a busy one!