Mentorship catches on

Aleesha Hansel, winner of the Roederer BAME Bursary

And Roederer’s BAME bursary goes to…

As soon as the BAME Wine Professionals website was launched on 1 September, Champagne Louis Roederer kindly offered a bursary to one of those UK Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic wine professionals. The idea was that Roederer's £2,000 could be spent either on professional wine education or on travel within Roederer’s wine universe. (They have long owned Roederer Estate in northern California and recently added two great California still-wine producers: Merry Edwards in Sonoma in 2019 and Diamond Creek in Napa Valley earlier this year.) At we offered to supplement the prize with the offer of a year’s mentorship.

Last week, along with Alex Tilling of Roederer’s UK agents Maisons, Marques et Domaines, and Mags Janjo, who had the idea of setting up BAME Wine Professionals in the first place, I had the pleasure of judging the entries. We agreed that the outstanding candidate most in need of what the bursary specifically had to offer was freelance wine writer Aleesha Hansel pictured above. (I didn’t realise how glamorous she was until she sent me this picture.)

Aleesha is particularly interested in the anthropological aspects of wine, and wrote in her submission:

As the grandchild of immigrants from the Caribbean, and from India, I'm drawn to tales of adventure and discovery – just as my grandparents would have been in order to have made the decision to uproot and travel across the world.

I see Quartet [Roederer’s California sparkling wine] as being a child of immigrants too. Transported from the soils of Champagne to California, the grapes and winemaking faced new challenges and had to adapt while still wanting to hold onto heritage, tradition and its past.

Having the guidance of such experienced and knowledgeable writers would allow me to learn more about the history of wine regions, the stories of producers past and present, and help me hone my writing style.

We look forward to mentoring Aleesha as much as she looks forward to travelling to California, when permitted by pandemic-related restrictions.

But there were three more applicants we felt we could help in some way. Alden Jacques, of Indian origin, worked his way up through sheer application to become head sommelier of the Savoy hotel in London – quite an achievement. He wrote, heart-rendingly:

Being a person of ethnic minority origin has not always been that easy journey for me in the industry; it is not always welcoming as you want it to be. I am glad to see now this initiative for BAME and hope it changes quickly for good.

Even after holding such a titled position, I struggled to find ways to further my studies in wine – I always wanted to complete my WSET Diploma but it wasn't financially possible for me.

Currently not having a job and being away from work for almost five months, I am missing working with wines. Hopefully I'll get a job soon.’

Mags Janjo spends a considerable time teaching WSET courses so will steer Alden towards the bursaries on offer from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust itself; Alden is surely one of the most deserving recipients.

Anoushica Matthews of mixed Mauritian/German heritage was another applicant who has clearly achieved a great deal already. Having won a coveted Liberty Wines apprenticeship, she is now firmly established on their sales team and passed the WSET Diploma. Last year she launched Sweet Spice wine events in order to raise awareness of BAME individuals in wine. They take place regularly at the Black-owned pub Prince of Peckham, each hosted by a prominent person of colour within the UK wine industry. She wrote:

I am at an exciting stage of my career where I feel there could be a lot of progression on the horizon, given the right guidance. While additional study would be beneficial and widen my knowledge on specific subjects, the primary reason for my application is the mentorship.’

As a result of this, I plan to meet up with Anoushica (when this is allowed) and discuss her career with her.

We were also intrigued by the Black Asian wine communicator known simply as Saira of Pursuit of Grapeness and are delighted that digital drinks communicators Helena Nicklin and Aidy Smith, two of The Three Drinkers, have agreed to provide her with ongoing mentorship.

Helena and Aidy commented, ‘we’ve always been uncomfortable with the lack of diversity in the room at wine and spirits tastings and have been actively taking steps so we can be part of a meaningful change. With Aidy being one of the only TV presenters in the world with Tourette syndrome, alongside LGBTQ+ and female empowerment being at the heart of our business, we are no strangers to flying the flag for equality and want to take this further with the BAME community.’ 

All these mentorships complement the UK drinks trade mentorship initiative recently announced by The Drinks Trust and the UK-wide 10,000 Black Interns initiative.

We were recently delighted to donate a year’s membership of to the 10 winners of Elevate Awards organised by Wine Unify in the US, as explained in this press release.

So things seem to be moving in the right direction towards improved diversity and inclusion in the wine world. Let’s hope we can go a bit faster!