Tom Harrow, 36, wine director of Honest Grapes
Photography ©Rob Greig
How does one become a wine expert?
‘When I was 15, I had a French teacher who insisted on doing wine-tasting classes after school for some of her favourite pupils, of which I was one.’
That sounds very illegal, but go on.
‘No, because it was a tasting! We had spittoons and everything. It was cultural, artistic: a social skill, like ballroom dancing.’
So when did you decide that wine would be your life?
‘At university, my best friend and I would pool resources and buy a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape for £15 each week. Fifteen pounds for a student in 1996 was a fucking colossal amount of money for a single bottle of alcohol. I kind of realised that it was something I wanted to pursue. There were options for travel, meeting fun people and trying lots of wines. So I got a job with a wine merchant, largely on the basis of a shared interest in bullfighting with the director. I then left to start my own business and it grew from there.’
So, do you have tons of priceless wine knocking about in your cellar?
‘Rather than having a big warehouse full of wine like a traditional merchant, my starting point is the client. I find out what the client likes, what their interests are, make the recommendations and then I go out and get the wine.’
Who’s buying this wine, then? ‘
It’s usually affluent people, of course, and more often than not they’re pretty international, though they usually have at least one home in the UK.’
Is money no object for them?
‘There are wines which run into the thousands of pounds for a bottle. But sometimes it’s not even about the price, as much as the exclusivity. Thereís a particular wine from the lagoon in Venice and itís about £150 for a bottle. But they only make a couple of thousand bottles a year, and in order to get access to it you have to know the owner, go and pick it up yourself, that sort of thing. It’s the lack of accessibility that’s the key factor.’
Hours 50hrs+ p/w
Starting salary Varies, but includes a number of lifestyle benefits
Qualifications Good wine knowledge, an extensive network of contacts
Or why not become a conservator?
Interview by Eddy Frankel