Walk into any high end bar and you can be pretty much guaranteed the bar staff can tell you anything you want to know about the 100s of bottles of spirits they have on their back bar. How they are made, where they are made and which combinations work best together. But ask them about wine and the conversation is likely to be a little shorter. Which is why wine consultant, Harry Crowther, is staring a new wine training course to help even the best bar staff get more knowledgeable and excited about wine.
Let’s face it there is enough wine education out there to power an army of wine staff in restaurants, but up to now bar staff have been pretty much left to their own devices. Harry Crowther hopes to change that with his new Grain to Grape training course.
Tell us about your new wine training course for bar and non wine staff in restaurants and bars?
I am starting Grain to Grape, in partnership with Moët Hennessy, to offer bartenders and non-wine focused members of the hospitality community the opportunity to attend, free wine training sessions in a safe, comfortable environment.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea presented itself to me about a year ago. I was having drinks with my partner who works as a bartender in the industry and a friend of ours. Naturally I started rambling on about some useless wine facts and they both said, they had no idea what i was talking about. So I thought to myself, why do bartenders who have such amazing cocktail and spirits knowledge, know so little about wine?
I then wrote an article for The Buyer on this very topic and looked into what sort of wine training there is for bar staff, even the most experienced and sought after bartenders and there is very little. That helped get a bit of attention and I got some great feedback from the bar community and thought there could be an opportunity here.
So why do bar staff need to know so much more about wine now when they have got by in the past?
Bartenders are natural hosts. They know how to talk to guests and how to entertain. With that, comes the ability to talk their way through wine recommendations when in reality, many of them don’t know a terrible amount. On top of that, I sent some surveys out to the trade towards the end of last year. The results were staggering – 86% of bartenders in London (and UK) receive wine training a couple of times a year or less!
Explain the training you have in mind? How are you going to do it?
A bit of both. We are always going to host the training in a bar environment so the target audience feels at home. It is also supposed to be informal, classroom style sessions. Hosted by either myself, or a keynote speaker.
What elements of wine training will you involve in the course?
Most of the target audience know how to taste, they understand flavours and aromas. I am not a big fan of trying to teach people about how to discern different flavours as it is so subjective.
I will be focusing on the more technical aspects of the wine world. For example, Vol.1 Tasting skills will aim to look at the technical aspects of what is in the glass. So how to identify body, acidity, tannin, alcohol, sweetness etc). Outside of that we are tackling other aspects such as sparkling wine, fortified wine, winemaking, vineyard practice, through to the key grapes and countries that are most likely to be on a wine list at their place of work.
What equivalent level of WSET are we talking about, or is that not relevant?
I am trying to distance Grain to Grape as far away from WSET as I can. WSET is great and has provided myself, and countless others with the foundation to go on and learn more about wine. However, I know bartenders, they are a little more rogue than sommeliers and the wine trade and the rigidity of WSET wouldn’t suit them. But if you want, I guess a Level 2 equivalent is comparable.
What in your experience are the key things that bar staff need to know about wine to make it relevant to them?
Confidence. This comes from basic knowledge of grape varieties and styles, but also how to deal with wine within a service environment. What to do when a wine is corked or a guest doesn’t like it. How to pick up on and recognise wine faults.
Where have you got to so far in terms of courses and sign-ups?
We are launching Vol.1 on July 24 at the Punch Room. We are booked up with our first five sessions between now and October and looking to recruit bar staff as we speak. So please get in touch if you are interested.
How do you hope the programme can grow?
I think the main thing now is to start small and see what happens. There is no point trying to run before I can walk. There has been a bit of chatter about taking Grain to Grape to other cities in the UK, but first I need to get it right in London, then, who knows…
Do you charge bars and hotels for putting staff on the course?
No, the entire project is non-profit. Venues are letting me host Grain to Grape free of charge outside of service hours, whilst my partnership with Moët ensures that I have the best possible heads working on how to get all of this off the ground.
Are you looking for support from wine producers and distributors in making the courses more effective and widespread?
For sure. I will take what I can get. But I would also expect a measure of support from suppliers. I am doing something that has not been done before. The tag line for Grain to Grape is ‘Blurring the lines between the wine and bar trade’. It is also a great opportunity for the (wine) supply chain to connect more with the bar and spirits community.
What is your background in wine?
After working various vintages and harvests in New Zealand and most recently Portugal, I settled back in London and started working in the retail sector. A brief stint at Hedonism was followed by management of the M Wine Store, part of M Restaurants.
Are you hoping to capture that moment of passion you have in wine in your courses?
At the end of the day, people either will, or will not be interested. Its not my job to make people like wine, its my job to try and flick those switches, and feed the interest of those who want to learn more. It’s so interesting when I have done training sessions in the past, there are always a few ears that prick up more than others. That’s the moment when I feel like I am doing a good job.
What other work are you doing as a wine consultant?
I now work freelance and a UK brand ambassador for the wines of Lima Smith, Portugal. We have three estates along the Douro river and are just starting grow our brand in the UK market. I also consult for the Alchemist Bar and Restaurant group, part of the larger Living Ventures.
Other training dates coming up include:
- Vol.2 Champagne, August 21, 1pm-3pm, Beaufort Bar, Savoy Hotel, London
- Vol.3 Vineyard and Winemaking, September 18, 1pm-3pm, 68 & Boston, Soho, London
- Vol.4 The Old World, October 9, 12pm-2pm, The Bloomsbury Club Bar, Bloomsbury, London
- Vol.5 The New World, October 30, 12pm-2pm, The Bloomsbury Club Bar, Bloomsbury, London