“The scheme is open to anyone who is starting in their career in wine but who has had a barrier to going further, whether financial, social, or based on your background.” That’s how Jane Anson describes who the Bordeaux Mentor Week, that she set up last year, is aimed at. As she looks to host the second Mentor Week in Bordeaux later this year she explains what she hopes the initiative can do to get more people from diverse backgrounds into the wine industry.
Jane Anson explains what those taking part in the second Bordeaux Mentor Week – which takes place between September 25-29 – can expect.
Where did the idea for Bordeaux Mentor Week come from?
When I launched my site, it felt like an opportunity to do things differently. We all know that the wine world needs to get more serious about encouraging new entrants and being serious about diversity, and I wanted to do something rather than just talk about it. I knew I was in a lucky position to be able to facilitate access for people, and I know that knowledge about Bordeaux remains (however unfairly) a shortcut to credibility in the fine wine world. I asked Chinedu (Rita Rosa) to partner with me in the initiative as it was something she also felt strongly about, and she is such an inspiring person. We then founded it together, and began working on the first week in January 2022, for the September 2022 entrants.
What do you hope the initiative can achieve both for those taking part but also your mentors?
I can tell you that for us it has been both energising and inspiring (sounds trite but it’s true), as well as hard work. We are not getting paid for this, entirely donating our time, because it’s something we feel is important to do. It’s also not about turning the candidates (scholars) into ambassadors for Bordeaux, rather about understanding that Bordeaux is a place to get a real insight into the way the modern wine industry works, and we hope they can take those lessons with them to their careers.
You are just launching your second Bordeaux Mentor Week – what lessons did you take from the first one to help improve what you are able to offer this year?
We have made everything more official this year – the application process has been standardised with a form that everyone fills in following the same questions (last year we just asked for emails).
The visits worked brilliantly last year, so although we have changed the châteaux in almost every instance, we haven’t changed the idea of them spending each day on a different aspect of the wine industry. We have also made the structure more official – it was always non profit, but now donating chateaux can offset their costs as charitable donations.
We are being underwritten this year by both the Gerard Basset Foundation and the IWSC Foundation, where last year we had Gerard Basset and then we asked individual companies to sponsor individual flights as needed, from Club DVIn to Air France. So, in theory it is taking shape to be a more long-term organisation, which is exciting.
Who is the scheme open to – and the kind of candidates you think it is best aimed at?
The scheme is open to anyone who is starting in their career in wine but who has had a barrier to going further, whether financial, social, or your background, whatever really has prevented access (we don’t want to be too prescriptive, as you never know what people have experienced). We would like them to have already shown some clear motivation to be in the industry, because this is an intense week, and they meet high level people, so it’s really an opportunity to learn and network.
How have you selected the scholars that are taking part in this year’s event?
With a small group of us going through each application both separately and together, working out who we feel will both benefit the most and also bring the most to the group, because we want them also to have fun and get on with each other. That was part of the magic of last year.
(Watch below video highlights from the first Bordeaux Mentor Week)
What has happened to the candidates who took part in the first year?
We have stayed in touch with all of our scholars and have a Whatsapp group and chat regularly.
Fernando from Puerto Rico is working with Ambrosia, a fine wine importer in the country, and has in the year since visited a number of wine estates across the US, and been to several high level tastings in New York. He definitely reports getting taken more seriously and having greater access to these events – and Ambrosia has recently become the Puerto Rico importer for the Cathiard Vineyard, which is pretty cool, thanks to Fernando’s introduction.
Shane from South Africa was already a brilliant sommelier, and is part of the board for the sommelier organisation there. He has recently become brand ambassador for the South African Brandy Association.
Audrey is continuing her MW studies out of London, and had never visited vineyards before the week, despite being highly experienced in wine, so that was a real help (in fact this was true for a few of the scholars last year, and first time most had ever done a harvest and sorted grapes in the cellars).
Tanmay was shortlisted for Ambassador of the Year for the Wine Travel Awards, and has just moved back to France full time from India.
You are working with Chinedu Rita Rosa on the mentor programme – how do you know each other?
We had lots of friends in common, but I first met her properly when I was writing a story for Decanter about the lack of diversity in the Bordeaux wine industry. Decanter made the headline more positive than I intended the piece, but really it was about how structurally Bordeaux is set up to favour a small group of people. But as soon as we met it was obvious that we would be friends.
You also have Zimbabwe-born star chef Treasure Makwanise joining as another mentor – how has that come about and what will they be able to offer specifically.
Chinedu spoke to Treasure about the week, and he initialy expressed interest in being part of it, but it was clear to us straight away that he should be a mentor because his own story is so inspiring. Born in Zimbabwe, he left home at just 16, heading for South Africa in search of paid work. He didn’t know a soul, and without family or friends to fall back on, he became homeless, job hunting by day and sleeping on Cape Town’s streets by night. In 2009, his tenacity landed him a role as a steward at One&Only Cape Town – ‘homeless kitchen porter to luxury resort chef’ says CN Traveler. Now he has his own place in Rwanda.
He was due to come last year but at the last minute had a restaurant opening so couldnt join. He’ll not only take part in the mentoring sessions, but will also be preparing our final night supper which wll be held at Bellefont Belcier. You can find out more about him here.
And read about his amazing story here.
You are also working closely with the Bordeaux trade and wine industry to make this happen. – what sort of response have you had and any examples of what people and businesses?
Honestly, there has been a hugely positive reaction from the trade and chateaux – although I do think they were surprised by the incredible talent of our first round of scholars.
Any other mentors that you can tell us about that are involved this year?
They are staying at Bellefont Belcier, we will visit VINIV Bordeaux again as last year for the blending session, because it was so fun and such a great learnning experience. Also revisiting Benard Magrez Incubator, because that was fantastic for the scholars to meet other young startups in different jobs around wine, outside of being somms or winemakers – so new technologies around wine etc. Then this year also Audy Negociants, Chateau Kirwan, Chateau Lascombes, Cité du Vin and Chateau Biac. We will be confirming the itinerary shortly.
You are also working with the Gerard Basset Foundation – what is that connection and how is it helping?
Both Gerard Basset and IWSC are essential – they are underwriting the abilty to get the scholars to Bordeaux, and the costs of hiriing the bus to take them around. This is also where my experience and connections help – in knowing who to ask, which in itself is not easy. Honestly I thought the initiative would be too ‘small’ initially to get this kind of help, but I was wrong. I also have to thank Christian Holthausen for his support and encouragement just to ask!
What are the next steps for the Mentor programme – future plans you would like to introduce down the line?
We hope to ensure the scholars can also set up longer term internships with wineries.
If people are interested in helping you and offering their services – can they and what sort of help are you particularly looking for?
Offers of internships. Definitely. More wineries and negociants being involved would be great. They can just contact me or Chichi directly. We are working on an official sponsorship pack.
The Seven Bordeaux Mentor Week 2023 Scholars are as follows:
- Lorna Kipkosgei – Nairobi, Kenya – 29 years old – Instagram: @sip_with_lornzie
- Onyeka Obiocha – New Haven, Connecticut, USA – 33 years old – Instagram: @palmwine.us
- Lily Kittisrikangwan – Thailand/UK – 32 years old – Instagram: @lilz91
- Valeria Puga – Quito, Ecuador – 31 years old – Instagram: @vino_mood
- Folakemi Alli-Balogun – Lagos, Nigeria – 33 years old – Instagram: @thewineclublagos.com
- Eric Palmer – Atlanta, Georgia, USA – 26 years old – Instagram: @eric.palmr
- Sebastien Gonzalez – Santiago, Chile – 26 years old – Instagram: @sebastiaan.iggn