Imagine you have forged a career that alllows you to travel where you like, taste any wine you like and do it all on your own terms. It’s probably not as idyllic as it sounds but on paper Tom Stevenson, author and founder of the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, has a life to envy.
Tom Stevenson reflects on a working week that involves tasting, writing, eating and helping to pull together one of the world’s most influential Champagne and sparkling wine competitions.
Can you describe your average week?
Tasting and researching at home or travelling, tasting and researching abroad.
What was the highlight of your last working week?
Tasting a magnum of 1953-based Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, the oldest in VCP’s cellars and in beautifully pristine condition.
And the lowlight of your last working week?
Trying to piece together 20-year-old emails that contain vital research material, but had been inadvertently deleted by Windows Live Mail!
What is the best part of your job?
The freedom that writing books, particularly encyclopedias, gives me to travel and taste according to where and when I want to go, and what I need to taste. Rather than having to accept every press trip and fight other freelancers to pitch a piece where they pay less now than they did 25 years ago.
What would you like to improve about your job?
Security at airports. It has not been a pleasure to fly since 9/11.
How has 2016 been for you and your business
Growth, both for my books and the CSWWC (Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships), which I enjoy so much that I do not consider it to be work at all.
What are the key trends that are impacting your business?
The growth in sales of, and interest for, Champagne and other sparkling wines has had the most significant impact on what I do. I cover all styles of wine for my Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, and enjoy most of them, but when I started to specialise in Champagne most people, trade as well as consumers, regarded it as little more than something to celebrate with, while they turned their noses up at other sparkling wines (and not without good reason too).
Champagne is still regarded as the king of sparkling wine, but so many others are now making world class sparkling wine, not least in England (but, funnily, not the rest of France, despite the undoubted potential there).
Fine quality sparkling wine is now regarded as a classic style in its own right. It deserves its place at the table, with food, not to be popped for fun. With fizz the fastest growing sector of the wine market and the hottest topic to write about, there are more specialist to be found than bubbles in a glass, thank goodness.
One of the newbies, Tyson Stelzer, was pleasantly surprised that I welcomed competitors, but what a waste the last 35 years would have been if there weren’t any and Champagne was still regarded as nothing more than a celebratory drink.
Favourite restaurant you have eaten this year and why?
Fifteen Cornwall where the Champagne by the glass is not the cheapest on the list because they serve it from magnums!
Favourite bottle of wine you have had in the last month, why and where did you drink it?
Well, it could be the 1953-based Veuve Clicquot mentioned earlier, but I’ll go for the Palmer 1996 Blanc de Blancs in magnum I am drinking as I answer your questions. Notice a theme? Magnums…
Favourite cocktail you have had this year, why and where did you drink it?
A Rossini at the fabulous Danieli in Venice in the spring, when other establishments in the city were selling Bellinis made with preserved peach puree. The Danieli serves the best Bellini in the world, much better than can be found at the historic but cramped Harry’s Bar where it was invented, but they only serve it when peaches are ripe and fresh. The strawberries used for the Rossini are, however, grown all year round.
If you could pick three people for a classic dinner party from the trade who would they be?
Serena Sutcliffe and David Peppercorn for a start. Serena for her stories about the Cold War, not that she has ever told me, but hopefully if I ply her with enough of the right Champagne. David because he is one of the sweetest, most intensely knowledgeable Bordeaux experts on the planet. He has forgotten more about the subject than I will ever know and for all the great vintages of extraordinary great First Growths he has had, he still gets excited by modest, new finds in the Premiered-Cotes-de-Bordeaux.
You did not say they had to be alive, so for my third wine trade guest, I would André Simon. Now there’s a person I could ask a stack of questions!
What has been the best job you have had in your career?
I still have it: a column in The World of Fine Wine. If working for Neil Beckett, a man who is so polite that he apologises to me when I am late with a deadline is not enough in itself, then having the scope of writing for the world’s most intelligent consumer wine magazine must surely be. Where else, what else and who else could give you the freedom to set up a tasting spanning six years such as the Dosage Trials we are currently halfway through?
Best film/book that includes wine/drink?
Nothing original in my choice here: Sideways. Not only is it refreshing to watch a film of such subtle humour, but there were wonderful in-jokes such as exiting the Hitching Post and walking a few yards down the road to the motel in Solvang, a distance that would take 50 minutes in a car!
Where are you going on your summer holidays?
- This year’s Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships unveiled a record number of 149 Gold and 143 Silver medals, attracting more entries than ever before. With producers competing from no less than 26 countries, including first time participants from Armenia, Croatia, Moldova and Ukraine, the CSWWC claims to be the largest sparkling wine competition in the world.
The overall trophy winners will be announced at this year’s Awards Dinner on September 1 at Vintners’ Hall in London. Doors open at 5pm for a pre-dinner reception, and tasting of a selection of Gold Medal winning wines. Dinner is 6.45 for 7pm. Dress: Black Tie. Tickets available by emailing Eva Callaghan on firstname.lastname@example.org and cost £195+VAT per head, including a four course dinner and wines.