Immersion Therapy?

Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.: Will Rogers.

There’s no doubt the greatest journey of my life began when I met my wife.

Then you have kids and careers and life choices (like going overseas to live and work). All are done in a state of total immersion whether you like it or not. Positive or negative; it is going to be intense. A steep learning curve. It is not for many people.

For me personally and now professionally, a truly great moment arrived the day I stepped through the doors at Oddbins: Britain’s quirkiest wine retailer for the first time. I went to ask for a job. I got it.

Oddbins was then riding the crest of a wave which had them again named as the UK’s Wine Merchant of the Year (for 3 successive years).

It would gain the accolade twice more in the next 2 years, then take up the role of judging the contest, itself being precluded from entering for a few years. They were great times and I learned so much about wines from all over the world.

You see, Britain holds a unique position in the wine world. For many centuries the UK has been a rather sketchy place to make wine; global warming is putting paid to those problems as year on year now UK wines from England and Wales are winning awards against the mighty wines of Champagne. (That’s a story for the future).

In the UK wines from all global producing regions are sold, traded and consumed. It has been the benchmark marketplace for centuries: a product of the effectiveness of British trade missions made possible during the glory years of the British Empire, Royal Navy and its vast merchant fleet.

aladdin’s cave of treasures

I had never been to Oddbins prior to needing a part time job to help get me through college. I actually was very nervous and somewhat intimidated.

I had never seen so many wines I knew nothing about. I really didn’t know that I knew nothing about them either. I didn’t really know they were to be known about. That soon changed. It was indeed a great baptism. Total Immersion Therapy followed.

Oddbins held wines from everywhere: all regions and price points from of France, grandly glorious German whites, impressive Italians, superb Spaniards, chirpy Chileans, ample Argentinians, curious Kiwis, oversized Ozzies, soft South Africans, portly Portuguese, budget Bulgarians in red and white, hot harsh Hungarians and amazing Americans.

From that day on I was totally immersed in wine.

Staff were required to study wine. Two reference tomes the names of which now escape me were handed to me. “The test is in 3 months,” I sat the Wine and Spirit Trust certificate an higher exams (and drank a lot too…for research). We were encouraged to write quirky descriptions and engage customers in wine-speak about these beverages from far flung places.

I only stayed there for 2 years but it was like a paid training course. A great and blessed way to learn. Old staff members all seem to have a fond memories for their time at Oddbins. There is even a Linked-In group called Oddbinites.

In 2011 Oddbins collapsed after struggling for years in the face of stiff competition from supermarkets (where it could not compete) and has since risen from the ashes once more, leaner and hopefully, for the state of the industry, hungrier and wiser than ever to bring added value to a wine world often wearied by mediocrity.

The Wine Man January 2012

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