This year's final set of announcements of these great diversity and inclusion initiatives.
We have already announced the first tranche of winners of this year's Golden Vines awards, designed to increase diversity and inclusion in the wine, spirits and hospitality businesses as a tribute to the memory of the late Gérard Basset. The three 2022 winners of the most valuable scholarships, the Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships worth £55,000 plus mentorship and a host of glamorous internships, have just been announced. Here they are in strictly alphabetical order, with the qualification they seek:
Jarrett Buffington of Australia – Master Sommelier
Sandeep Ghaey of Illinois – Master of Wine
Carrie Rau of Ontario – Master of Wine
Jarrett Buffington, pictured above, applied for a Taylor's Port Golden Vines scholarship last year and, while we could see great potential in him, he seemed to be a little too disorganised to entrust with such a massive responsibility. But when we interviewed him this year we were impressed by his additional maturity. You can read more about his background in this profile we published last year. He had a very difficult start in life, in Texas, but seems to have been growing into a well-balanced wine professional.
In this year’s application he wrote, ‘I want to pass the Master Sommelier exam because I see it as a chapter in my journey as a wine professional and not the finale. It’s my chance to do what few people who look like me have achieved. All while being a kind and thoughtful human being who loves knowledge but also realises wine is just fermented grape juice that makes you feel funny if you drink too much of it.’
From his base in Sydney he spent much of the last year travelling to Australian wine regions in his quest for a deeper understanding of Australian wine, although he says that tasting the wines of the world, ‘will always be a passion of mine, as I have always seen it as a chance to travel without a plane ticket’.
‘I am passionate about the progression of my studies at the moment. I’m in my books constantly. Inside Burgundy by Jasper Morris, Terroir Footprints by Pedro Parra and Champagne by Peter Liem are a few of my favourites.
‘Seeking out mentorship from those who have come before me in this journey has been quite new for me as of last year. I never felt like I could approach them – as if I didn’t belong. But I realise that I do deserve to be here and I deserve good things and mentors in my life. I am dedicated and confident but humble enough to want to break away from habits that haven’t served my best interests in the past. I’d really love to get my chance to prove myself in this exam because I will pass it.
‘I’m a classically trained singer, I adore travelling, I’m a massive Hip Hop fan, I love sports, gastronomy, and I believe in people’s rights to feel liberated sexually. I’ve worked through depression, the suicide of a brother and I’ve started over more times than I can count. I believe I’ve been in almost every situation imaginable but I still get nervous at a wine tasting if I feel underdressed, as if I wasn’t taught properly.’
We really hope that Jarrett will prove worthy of his Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship and will eventually qualify as an MS.
The next winner of a Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship this year is Sandeep Ghaey, pictured above. An American citizen of South Asian descent, he is already well stuck into his Master of Wine studies but could do with much more exposure to the wider wine world.
He studied philosophy and chemistry at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he first became intrigued by wine and sought out a job in the one and only wine bar in Champaign in the rural Midwest.
When he decided to study wine he says he had to ‘drive several hours to major cities for my introductory and certified Court of Master Sommelier exams, not knowing or recognising anybody, and feeling every bit the rube. Despite success in these exams, much of my wine knowledge felt patchwork with foundations based on myth or marketing. After graduating, I worked for distributors for many years, first with commodity brands, then with fine wines. However, I found that without BIPOC leadership who could guide and mentor me, I was passed up for more lucrative sales routes, despite top growth numbers and better qualifications. So I decided to open my own wine store. Starting with limited funds and modest stock, I have grown the business [Vinic Wine Store in Evanston, a Chicago suburb] into a respected fine wine store over the last 13 years.
‘I continued my wine studies, making unsuccessful attempts at the Advanced certificate, thwarted repeatedly by the tasting component. To overcome this, I created and joined various tasting groups, but often it was the blind leading the blind without Chicago’s top sommeliers. Eventually Second City Somms (SCS) invited me to join a study and tasting group with many of the city’s best wine professionals. Having better grasped the deductive exercise of blind tasting, I achieved my Advanced CMS certificate in 2016.’
Sandeep is now on the board of SCS and, for more stimulation and career advancement, embarked on the MW programme. But it hasn’t been easy. ‘The first year my closest tasting partner was in St Louis. After he dropped out of the programme I met the new MW student from Chicago, but they are a travelling winemaker and live 10+ months of the year in Central Otago and Douro. For my studies, I’ve spent personal vacation time driving hundreds of miles to be stood up or passed off by experts and viticulturists.
‘I’m positive the internships in the Taylor’s Port scholarship programme will enable the in-depth expert access needed to refine my wine knowledge. With the vagaries of COVID, challenges of the US three-tier system, and changes in family obligations, I made the decision to wind down my store. With its closing, my access to tastings, junkets, and winemaker visits goes away too. Fortunately, I now have the time and location flexibility that this programme requires.’
So Sandeep, who has overcome so many obstacles, is now free to travel and take advantage of the amazing range of internships offered with the scholarship thanks to generous donors in the wine trade and the fundraising efforts of the indefatigable Lewis Chester of Liquid Icons, who had the idea for these scholarships in the first place.
I have offered to mentor Sandeep’s essay-writing and I can tell that he is a most methodical, dedicated student. We wish Sandeep every success in clearing the final hurdle in the way of those precious two letters after his name. As he puts it, ‘the MW instantly credentialises minorities in an industry that otherwise questions their expertise’ and, like so many applicants for these diversity scholarships, wants to act as a role model for people of colour in the wine business.
Carrie Rau (pictured above), the third winner of a Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship this year, stood out immediately when we interviewed her as a candidate on the shortlist. She’s an indigenous Canadian chef who has already done great work for equity and is at a perfect point in her life to take on internships and the MW. When asked to specify her ethnicity on the application form, she wrote, ‘the Cree band from Western Canada, Treaty Number 536’.
Carrie has earned her living as a chef, sommelier and wine educator in Toronto, carefully using her income to develop professionally, until now. She couldn’t afford a college education and says that not having a degree has been her prime motivation to keep educating herself. She wrote, ‘If I was successful, how would I contribute to our global wine community? I have thought about this a lot, to be honest. I already contribute through teaching and mentorship but for me representation matters, and I would like to encourage and inspire other young Indigenous hospitality professionals like the ones who have inspired me – Elaine Chukan Brown and Tara Gomez. Dynamic Indigenous women taking the wine world by storm.
‘There aren’t many of us and therefore this is so important. I will also continue to help grow Vinequity, reaching the furthest corners of our amazing country and building our directory, but a dream of mine would be to help launch new Indigenous wine producers who are building their brands here in Canada. I would love to create a Vinequity wine with our members in a agri-diversity program with vini/viticultural opportunities to create a branded product for fundraising.’
When she applied earlier this year Carrie and her spouse were in the process of moving out of Toronto to Prince Edward County, where she is currently working harvest at Lighthall Vineyards as well as teaching WSET courses again for IWEG Drinks Academy. She says she is ‘so happy to be back in the classroom after the summer break’ and feels the timing of the move aligns perfectly with being freer to undertake the study and internships offered to her as part of the scholarship package. I’m sure Carrie will be an outstanding and highly distinctive student.
See this round-up of all scholarships and scholars awarded by the Gérard Basset Foundation.
And this list of the many grants the Foundation has been able to make in cause of education and increasing diversity in the worlds of wine, spirits and hospitality.