September 24, 2021

Mastering wine in the UK with Melissa Worrall

By Angela Oemcke

It’s not everyday you speak with someone who is an expert on the U.K. wine market, a budding Master of Wine program entrant and experienced judge- but here we are! Meet Melissa Worrall, who traded the cellars of the Barossa for the buying team of the UK’s leading wine and spirits supplier.

Melissa has tasted wines many of us could only dream of sharing a continent with, let alone drinking, and is well on her way to being one our industries top global experts. That’s why we decided to take this opportunity to pick her brain about all things U.K. markets, wine education, judging and industry insights.

Melissa in a Snapshot

What does the perfect drop of wine look like to you

To me the perfect wine expresses energy, enthusiasm and place, whether that be a young, fresh Chenin Blanc from South Africa or an elegantly aged Barolo from Piedmonte.

Which grape variety/wine style do you feel is notoriously underrated?

Would I even be in the Wine Industry if I didn’t sing for Riesling?! It’s got everything to succeed internationally. Perhaps 2022 will be the year …

Where is the most interesting place your career in wine has taken you?

London, because its travelling the world from one postcode to another. 

What is one thing you hope never changes when it comes to the wine industry?

The camaraderie. Elevating and supporting your peers strengthens the entire region.

What’s your favourite, yet slightly weird, wine and food pairing?

I had an incredible meal at Timberyard in Edinburgh last year. The Sommelier suggested an Italian orange wine with lees contact. The ‘Cantina Giardino Paski Coda di Volpe Campania IGT’. It was textural, interesting, well-structured and worked perfectly through a 5 course degustation from scallop to partridge.

The Story So Far

What led you into the wine industry, and where has your journey taken you so far?

Growing up in the Barossa I was surrounded by the wine industry. Having friends raid their parents’ cellars for bonfire parties was a pretty standard Saturday night. I began my professional wine journey with studying wine assessment at the Nuriootpa TAFE SA. I then worked in some wonderful Cellar Doors in the Barossa and dipped my toe into cellar operations too. I moved with my family to England in 2015, and began my Diploma of Wine and Spirits. I now live in Bedfordshire, about an hour North of London.

Tell me a bit about what you get up to on the buying team at Enotria & Coe?

The most interesting part is discovering new suppliers, sourcing wines, selecting the range, bringing that new supplier on board and successfully launching them into the UK market. That’s also the most fun part too! On the technical side, I set up all wine products onto our system, making sure all technical information, pricing and sale terms, bottle images are correct, liaise with our demand planners on stock levels and potential delays. As part of my job I taste amazing wines from each corner of the winemaking world with my team. This has developed my palate enormously.

What are wine distributors in the U.K. looking for when it comes to selecting the wines in their portfolio, and what is your selection process?

Each distributor will have different parameters, depending on their customer base and business focus. For example, Enotria & Coe are predominately London On Trade focused, so we look for wines that have an appeal for restaurants, pubs and cafe wine lists. For this it will be a well-known, highly recognisable region, varietal or fashionable style (Provence Rosé was highly sought after this summer). We also look for wines that a Sommelier would relish handselling with a compelling story, exciting packaging and strong margins. Appeal (both the juice and package) and price are incredibly important.

How does the U.K. wine market and consumer compare to Australia?

The UK wine market is incredibly international, especially compared with Australia. As there is only a fledgling wine industry in UK the lion’s share of wines are from international. Each region has its own consumer demographic, ie London drinks differently to Manchester who drinks differently to Edinburgh. I remember standing in the Vine Inn drive through in Nuriootpa looking at all the 100’s local wines (so many Rieslings!). In the UK I can stand in a wine store and see almost as many wines from Austria I can from Australia. That’s an incredibly vibrant and exciting thing to be a part of. Each time I am out I can sip on wines from across the world and really get a feel for emerging regions and styles.

What advice would you give to Australian wineries exporting their wines to the U.K.?

As I mentioned, the UK market is in fact many different markets in one spot on the map. On and Off Trade are looking for different things. The Cardiff consumer is different to the Cambridge consumer and likewise London is its own multi-segment. To the Australian wine exporter my advice would be learn the UK market, know who you are targeting and make our communication clear and your brand messaging aligned.

What do you think the next wine trend will be in the U.K., Australia and globally?

I believe we will see across Australia, UK and globally sustainability, mindful wine consumption and consumers expecting wineries to align with their values. That may be supporting the arts, contributing to wildlife programs or advocating for fair trade and diversity within the wine industry.

Wine producers will need to be more striking than booze in a bottle, more charming than telling us what their great grandad did.

The thirst for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is still insatiable and I can only see low yields in the 2021 vintage compounding that. Orange wine as a category is emerging over here and I am beginning to see better examples of wines with character and discernable aromatics. I believe this is a category that will really take hold over the next few years.

Climate change will continue to alter where and which variety’s can be grown. We will start to see more reds emerging from England, more ripe reds from Germany and perhaps even Polish and Danish vineyards being planted.

You’ve completed your Diploma in Wine through WSET (great work!), what was the process like and how did it impact the way you enjoy and work with wine?

Thank you! It was a huge undertaking and something I am incredibly proud of. The DipWSET was difficult, challenging and made me question what I knew (or in fact, didn’t know). The study was also incredibly rewarding and affirming that wine, the industry and the people is something I get so much joy from. I have made friends from my time studying that I adore, and I love watching them go from strength to strength in their wine careers. 

For a while I stopped drinking wine for pleasure, especially when I was preparing for the major Unit 3 exams. If it was in a glass it needed to be assessed – and that was exhausting. Luckily that’s what a cleansing pale ale is for! Already I am a ‘Silver Lining’ wine assessor; I always look for a positive in the intention of the winemaker and the interpretation of the fruit.

In June this year I sat the entrance exam for the Masters of Wine, which is by all accounts completely life consuming. I will find out in the next couple of weeks if I’ve secured a place for the next academic intake. I imagine this will further change the way I both enjoy and work with wine. I hope that my depth of understanding will enhance my appreciation for both the vigneron and the winemaker. I can also see me going full circle and looking for simplicity when I pour myself a glass at the end of the day. 

*edit this week I found out that I have achieved a place on the Master of Wine Program. Oh heck!

How did you get into wine show judging, and what have you learned about the industry through the experience?

Wine Judging has been such a proud experience for me. It was 8 years ago that I secured a spot as an Associate Judge at the Barossa Wine Show and in a few weeks I will be judging Australia, New Zealand and South Africa categories and the International Wine and Spirit Challenge (IWSC). I achieved my BWS place after getting the second highest score in blind judging on the AWAC course I did. The IWSC has been through a wonderful woman who has been mentoring me and helping me with my professional development through the Drinks Trust. The intensity, comradery and and fervor of judging days is completely exhilarating and I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world I would rather be.

Given your experience working in many different areas of the industry, what do you think wineries should be focusing on in the next 5 years?

Diversity; in both people and lists. I still feel like I need to ‘prove’ myself when I walk into a tasting, especially when it’s a room full of older men. Seeing more women and people of different ethnic backgrounds being visibly represented within all areas of wine trade is something businesses should be looking at encouraging. This will in turn help give diversity of opinion, of palate and broader appeal.

Diversity in lists means that wines from Lebanon, Romania, Patagonia, the Azores will allow wine lists to become richer and less predictable. Finding a wine to match with Ethiopian cuisine means expanding beyond France and Italy.

I mentioned sustainability before – having a tangible sustainability plan and aligning with other businesses that support the same values will become more important. People want to know the businesses they are purchasing from are helpful, not harmful to the environment.

I still believe that a strong sense of place will be vital for wineries to continue concentrating on. It will be their point of difference as well as their connection to people within the UK market. Australia has so many incredible wine areas and capturing that terroir, that provenance, within their band will strengthen their integrity and capture the consumers imagination.

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