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GLAMOUR Exclusive: Become a wine expert at home with Carole Mac’s online sommelier school

WIne, Image: Unsplash
WIne, Image: Unsplash

WIne, Image: Unsplash

If you loved taking up new skills during lockdown, why stop now? There are so many creative outlets online to guide you through embracing new hobbies and learning more about the world, and even as life returns to normal, we can still grasp all of these opportunities and taking advantage of all the areas of expertise we have yet to tap into. 

Throughout lockdown, many people have loved taking virtual wine tours, creating nifty cocktails at home, and learning about the best liquor and cuisine pairings. Especially now, with alcohol back on the shelves, there’s never been a better time to continue learning the tricks of the trade - and thanks to Carol Mac, you’ll be a wine master in no time.

With over 15 years experience, Carole’s mission is to enhance joy, fun, and inspiration through food and wine. She is a food journalist, author, executive producer, and host of shows featuring the world’s best chefs, sommeliers, and winemakers on Wine4Food.com, and she has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, and USA TODAY. 

Her latest series, Somm School Insider,follows her journey inside the Sommelier Society of America, and appears on Wine4Food.com, Youtube, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV through Binge Networks, and coming soon to Roku globally. 

Carole’s food and wine career began by creating a culinary event company offering private chef wine dinners and cooking classes. After selling that company, she pursued a celebrated career in journalism, filmmaking, and book-writing. Carole spoke exclusively to GLAMOUR South Africa about her experience in the wine industry, and how anyone can follow along and become an expert themselves, despite their level of experience. 

So, do you have what it takes? Let Carole guide you through the process!

GLAMOUR:

What drove you into the world of wine?

Carole Mac:

I’m obsessed with flavour. From hunting down the most strawberry-tasting strawberries, to understanding the nuances of Marmite, my mission is to taste the most exciting bites and sips in the world. Four years ago, I started a web show called Follow That Somm following sommeliers around New York City. As I interviewed somm after somm, I learned that sommeliers have a masterful command of flavour. They could smell a wine, and list up to 20 flavours that they smelled. Then they could taste that wine, and name the grape varietal, year, and location where that wine was made! I was hooked. I knew that I needed to be part of the wine world.

GLAMOUR: What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

CM:

Just after I moved to New York City seven years ago, I met with a prominent professional in my industry to ask for advice. He basically told me that I didn’t have what it takes to make it. It hurt deeply, but I knew that he was wrong. I used it as fuel to fan the fire of my determination, and help rocket me toward my dreams. 

 GLAMOUR: Seeing that wines are premium products, how would you market it to a millennial audience?

CM:

That’s a great question. I’ve actually seen a trend with millennials buying wine over spirits because they can find less expensive wines versus cocktails. Now that we are in a period of dining at home, the key is offering the millennial crowd quality bottles of wine that are also a great value.  

 GLAMOUR:

How would you describe Wine4Food to someone who knows nothing about wine? How do you make them part of that conversation?

CM:

Wine4Food.com speaks to food and wine lovers with all amounts of experience, including no experience at all. We offer videos, articles, and recipes from industry experts who teach us how to pair food with wine. For those who know nothing about wine, we speak directly to them with two-minute videos such as What is Wine, What is Terroir, and How To Saber Champagne, and Wine 101 articles such as What You Need to Know About South African Wines. We want everyone to be part of our conversation. 

 GLAMOUR:

What have been some of your favourite places you've travelled to during your career? Have you been to South Africa?

CM:

Last year I went on an unforgettable sommelier trip to Luberon and Costières de Nîmes, which are wine regions in the south of France. I visited several wine producers and tasted up to 30 wines per day. It was dreamy. I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel throughout Europe, Thailand, and Southeast Asia. Exploring the flavours of these areas are some of the best experiences of my life. I have not yet been to South Africa, but it is high on my list! I cannot wait to taste Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc from your vineyards. Until then, I’ll have to experience your country through food and wine. 

GLAMOUR:

Having travelled the world, who are the most acclaimed chefs and winemakers you've met? Did any surprise you?

CM:

I’m extraordinarily lucky to have featured many of the world’s top chefs, sommeliers and winemakers in my articles and videos throughout my career. A few of my many favourites include Chefs Jacques Pépin, Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller, Michael Anthony, and Joseph Leiser of Alsace, France. Some of my favourite sommeliers include Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier, Head Sommelier of the University Club of New York Yannick Benjamin, Head Sommelier of Café Boulud Kimberly Proskoshyn, Anna-Christina Cabrales of Morrell Wine Bar, Denise Barker of TWINS Bordeaux, Rüdi Eilers and Dylan York of the Sommelier Society of America, Keri Levens of Chefs Club, and Paul Grieco of Terroir Tribeca. I’ve also had the good fortune of featuring winemakers Sophie Gonet and Fabrice Pouillon on location in Champagne, France. Ah, there are many more that I haven’t named. And yes, Jacques Pépin, Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller each surprised me with their graciousness and generosity.

 I interviewed each one of them early in my career. They could have easily turned down the interview. I had much more to gain from them, than they did by my interview. And yet, they were beyond generous with their time and knowledge. They set the bar for giving interviews with utmost professionalism and kindness. I quickly understood how they came to be legends.

GLAMOUR:

What inspired you to start the

CM:

It all comes back to learning flavour mastery. Once I discovered that sommeliers have some of the best flavour mastery in the world, I had to go to somm school. As I dreamed of this possibility, I came up with the idea of filming my experience so that Wine4Food could bring somm school to all wine lovers. 

Next I searched for the right somm school. Within five minutes of speaking with Carrie Puchkoff of the Sommelier Society of America, the oldest wine school in the country, I knew that Somm School Insider was born. After lots of twists and turns, including finding the incredible cinematography and editing partner Andrew Hendrix of Circulatory Cinema, together we all built a fun and exciting 7-episode series following my lessons inside somm school.

GLAMOUR: Tell us about your experience with the Sommelier Society of America.

CM:

Going to school, and making Somm School Insider, with Sommelier Society of America was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. School consisted of four months of classes, once a week. The first half of class was theory (learning about wine regions, grape varietals, terroir, business, etc). 

The second half of class was tasting! We tasted eight wines each class. The instructors helped us learn how to taste the wines, so that by the end of the program, we were capable of blind tasting the wines and naming the grape varietal as well as the location of each wine. We took a sommelier certification exam which included theory and blind tasting. If we got at least 75% correct on that exam, we would earn a sommelier certification. 

In addition to going to school, studying, and tasting, we shot our series following my actual instructors in real time. Our episodes follow the curriculum, but we summarize the lessons. I wanted Somm School Insider to make wine easy, fun, and accessible. We play wine tasting games in every episode, and I also get blindfolded. This experience was easily in the top ten of my career.

 GLAMOUR:

What are your future goals for your business endeavors?

CM:

I’m currently writing a memoir about how I learned how to thrive after losing my son TJ, and working on a new show that makes people’s culinary dreams come true. There will also be plenty more food and wine pairing content on Wine4Food.com

GLAMOUR: Where do you see the wine industry going in the next 5 or so years?

CM:

I would love to see the wine industry expand its boutique labels and sustainable farming. 

GLAMOUR: How do you think, if at all, that the pandemic has affected the way people view wine?

CM:

The pandemic has increased the demand of wine. I’m also hoping that the slower pace that we are now experiencing encourages more wine tasting and learning, and therefore passionate and knowledgeable wine drinkers. That way, we all can drink more of the wine that we love most!

Want to Learn About Wine at Home? Enjoy our fun, informative new series, Somm School Insider, following Wine4Food's Carole Mac's journey inside the Sommelier Society of America. To watch these short, shareable episodes, visit Wine4Food.com (@wine_4_food).

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