Tim Jackson MW writes about himself, ‘Born in 1975, I grew up in south London. I studied Chemistry at Oxford 1993-97, then worked in business strategy consulting before going to London Business School, getting my MBA in 2004. I've worked in finance then in marketing for the last 10 years, primarily in financial services. I'm now doing some freelance wine consulting and filling up winebook.co.uk a bit. I've coxed rowing crews on and off for nearly 25 years, though officially retired in 2011 after losing my 3rd Henley Royal Regatta final. I also retired from marathon running that year after Berlin. Now I mostly cycle up mountains for fun (going back to Ventoux in a few days) and occasionally climb them too. I became a Master of Wine in 2017.’ His (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition follows.
Ahh, the origin story; mainstay of every comic-book superhero franchise. Kal-El’s journey through the stars to our yellow Sun, giving him the powers of Superman. Bruce Wayne seeing his parents killed at the hands of The Joker, driving him into the darkness of Batman. Inhuman prison experiments creating the invulnerable Luke Cage.
There’s always a backstory to tell and it always gets told. Whether upfront to convince the reader or revealed in glimpses over time (especially to fill out an entire Netflix season), this enriches the character and explains their powers.
My wine origin story is far more prosaic. Whilst I was certainly bitten by the bug, it sadly wasn’t an atomic spider. Nor can I claim a Damascene conversion in the (gamma) radiant light of a 1959 Chambolle Amoureuses.
But there is a beginning. A time after which wine was Something Worth Paying Attention To.
[Flashback] 1994. July. Chablis. 9am. Office du Tourisme. If it started anywhere, it started here. Wine had been around at home of course – the odd Weinbach Gewürztraminer gracing the family table. But not until my first university summer vacation did things really kick in.
Dad and I booked a car ferry ticket to Calais and not much else, with a vague plan to visit Burgundy. He drove overnight and we got as far as Chablis, where the Tourist office booked us into a B&B in nearby Courgis that happened to be on a vineyard – Domaine de la Conciergerie, then run by Christian Adine.
The choice of Chablis? Well, 9km away the local patron saint, St Edme is buried in the large Cistercian abbey of Pontigny. Better known to history as Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234. And erstwhile founder of St Edmund Hall, the Oxford college I was studying at and that Dad had too.
A fortunate association, because we quickly came to like the place and the wines. It was easy, with many producers having boutiques in the village centre. It was picturesque. It was welcoming – Madame Adine ran a friendly B&B with a great breakfast. We left with several choice bottles, including some 1993 Grand Cru Les Clos from Jean-Marc Brocard’s shop, and we’ve been back on several occasions.
From there, we headed to the Côte d’Or. Once again, benevolent coincidence had its influence: my great, great, great, great grandfather has his birthplace marked with a plaque in Dijon city centre (he was Général de Division under Napoleon). Continuing the wine theme was only natural, stopping in at places like the Clos de Vougeot and Domaine Bertagna next door, before returning home through the Loire Valley.
I was hooked.
[Training montage] The following year was Bordeaux – then, incidentally, terribly set up for wine tourists. After that, the Rhône, then to Alsace and Burgundy again after my final year in 1997. The snowball was definitely rolling by the time I started work. By the end of 1998, as I began to explore more widely, to help me remember what I was drinking I started keeping the labels of interesting wines in a wine book.
Over time, this became something of a wine diary. Now on Book 7, I have recently been transcribing these onto my appropriately-titled website, winebook.co.uk, which has given me the opportunity to re-read what I wrote then, and to look back on my own learning and development – highlights, disappointments, experiences and mistakes included.
That development included both the informal, like joining Purple Pages around 2006, and the formal, through WSET. I did Level 3 in a block week in 2004, then 2007-2009 took their Diploma (though, curiously, graduated in 2010), winning the McNie Tasting Trophy along the way. Diploma especially expanded my wine horizons, such as discovering South African fine wine.
The climax of superhero stories always has them facing their ultimate challenge. 2013. The eve of the Marathon du Médoc (incidentally, the best way to visit Bordeaux Châteaux). I posted my application to attempt the Everest of wine: the MW study programme.
Without needing to reprise Mr Hemming’s comprehensive overview of what that entails, I’ll summarise it as 4 years of tasting, visiting, discussing, enjoying, suffering and passing ammo in the trenches, that culminated in the magic 2 letters last September.
MW brings deep understanding of what wines are, but above all, why they are. It certainly transformed my tasting, especially the capacity to assess wine quality, objectively and honestly. It also brings a fantastic network of friends, colleagues, winemakers and wine lovers.
Wine Superhero then? Nah. Not only could I not claim that (that’s my old mentor, Barry Dick MW, winesuperhero.com) but also I would not.
The real superheroes of wine are those who strive to craft the great wines we love to drink, handling the vagaries of growing seasons, regulators and accountants, often for scant financial reward.
I’m just a wine drinker whose hobby got slightly out of hand.