Interview With A Wine Educator – Johnathan Garry
8th December 2023
The world of wine can be incredibly fun and engaging, but sometimes it can be overly complex, and it’s down to skillful and passionate educators like Johnathan Garry to help share the world of wine with those excited to learn.
In this feature, we take a moment to speak with Wine Tasting Educator at Bacchus Wine Tasting, Johnathan Garry, located in Liverpool, England. Let’s find out a bit about his life, what inspired him to become a wine educator and some of the best wine regions to explore.
Tell Us About Yourself
“Hi, I’m Johnathan and I’m here just for giggles…” Not my opening to this interview per se but it is how I used to introduce myself when I started my own journey into wine back when studying with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). I was a full-time primary school teacher at the time (insert your own joke about a job driving you to the bottle) but that was just it, I got into wine as a hobby, a serious hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. I enjoyed wine A LOT but, in truth, I knew diddly squat about it.
So, I found the WSET and after studying and completing qualifications up to Level 3 (and doing rather well I might add), I realised there was something more to wine. Wine and I had developed this bond! We were, it has to be said, intrinsically linked by this point-they do say the human body is approximately 60% wine-don’t they…
Fast forward 6 years and I now own my own wine tasting events business (Bacchus Wine Tasting) as well as my own WSET and Ofqual certified wine school (The Bacchus School of Wine). WOW that got serious, didn’t it! Based predominantly in Merseyside but serving the North West of England (and beyond), I host private and public wine tasting events. I also host cross-county vineyard tours across the south east and south west of England for those seeking the ultimate Bacchus experience. And then, there’s my fandabidozi wine school-which I believe is why I am here today, hanging out with your lovely readers.”
Do You Remember Your First Experience With Sparkling Wine? When It Was And What Kind Of Wine It Was?
“Oh my gosh, does Lambrini count…? No… I’ve just checked, it doesn’t (apparently, it’s a sparkling Perry cider-who knew!) Phew-I almost lost all my credentials then!
Now, you really have got me thinking. I certainly don’t come from a ‘privileged background’ so I would discount Champagne. Although, I do recall my dad procuring a bottle of Champagne and giving it to me (he’s not a big drinker) with the following advice: “Look after it son because it will be worth a fortune when you’re older.” I stuffed it in the bottom of my, then, 13-year-old self’s, wardrobe (next to God-knows what) and I haven’t seen it since. Probably a good thing…
Prosecco wasn’t as trendy as it is now so I’d discount this too also. Again, this too is probably a good thing (Oh OK… I’m just not that into Prosecco, sorry).
It was most probably a Cava if I think logically. I didn’t grow up with a wine drinking family in truth, but it was when I met my now wife, that I began to be emerged into the world of wine (you could say I married up). And the wine of choice in my wife’s mum’s house… Cava! Interesting really, my wife adores Champagne (it’s a shame really), as does her mum. But not being able to afford it all too often, they settled for the next best available alternative at the time… Cava! That’s a savvy scouser for you!”
What Inspired You To Become a Wine Educator?
“I’ll never be an Educator. As if I’d put myself through that!”
This still makes me laugh. In fact, my whole journey to where I am now has. Far too often, I said “I won’t do that…”
“I won’t do Level 3” Oops!
“A Diploma in Wine is far too intense and way too expensive, it’s not for me!” Oops!!
“As if I’d be a Wine Educator.” Oops!!!
Thankfully, it appears, I tend not to listen to myself.
I suppose it’s just that, really, that led me to becoming an Educator… Not stopping still. That constant urge to push on, that little bit more. The pursuit of discovery and knowledge. Having a platform to share my burning passion. Opportunities to communicate with like-minded individuals. Meeting new and interesting people. So many pulls!
Working in wine, generally, does all of this but I realised, at some stage, being an Educator in wine would intensify all of the above.
It was then, I said “Yes, I will become a Wine Educator. It seems like a bit of me… actually.”
During Your Time As A Wine Educator, What’s The Most Surprising & Interesting Thing You’ve Learnt?
“If you want to compare wine quality, “…the numbers speak for themselves.”
Seriously… just how many wine geeks there are out there. I thought it was just me! No, honestly, it amazes me how many people come through (the many) Bacchus Wine Tasting doors to geek-out over wine. In school, sure, for education but also in the many wine tasting events I host. People LOVE WINE! And the thirst for knowledge is HUGE! And the vast majority of these people don’t work in the trade-I absolutely love that.
In terms of personal knowledge, it’s definitely worth stating I’m a big believer in the ‘Always Learning’ mantra. I learn something new every day about wine and that’s a fact.
With being a WSET Diploma student, I would say the most surprising knowledge I’ve picked up is around yields (how much wine can be produced from grapes harvested from a given area) and how this impacts the quality of the finished wine. Forgive me, I’m going to geek-out myself for a moment: Let’s compare Prosecco, Champagne and English Sparkling Wine for example. Take the same standardised area (a hectare/ha: 100m by 100m) and volume (a hectolitre/hl: 100L). Now, in Prosecco, as you might imagine, the permitted yield is super generous: 125hl/ha. Grapes at this level, typically lack concentration and thus produce wine with fairly dilute flavours (sorry Veneto!). In Champagne, by contrast, the regulations are far less lenient. Maximum yields do vary year on year (depending on what the weather and global economics are saying). In Champagne if global demand is low, the authorities (Comité Champagne) have the power to reduce the permitted yield for growers in order to keep stocks down and the price high – it really is liquid gold. Generally speaking, yields in the last decade have fluctuated between 65-105hl/ha. It can, therefore, be drastically lower than Prosecco and this can have a significant impact on the quality of the juice (especially if vines are ‘green harvested’ to deliberately make the vine produce less fruit). But hang on, the argument is not over yet, what about that far flung country England… For our very own premium sparkling wine, maximum yields are set at a mere 80hl/ha. What’s more, due to our cool maritime climate (I’m using polite terms for a marginal climate here), our yields rarely reach this upper limit – you’re closer to the 50hl/ha mark in reality, if not even lower! You really do get a lot of bang for your English pound when it comes to the Great British Classic Method (I believe that’s what we’re meant to call it these days). To be fair, there are many, many caveats to consider when assessing the overall quality of wine but if you’re to take maximum permitted yields, derived from the harvest, as a significant indicator of the quality of juice, well then, the numbers speak for themselves!”
What Sparkling Wine Producing Countries or Regions Hold A Special Place In Your Heart?
“When it comes to Champagne, forget the big boys, go for a small fish!”
There are two and in the interest of fairness, I will share one ‘old world’ and one ‘new world’. How very diplomatic of me.
Of course, Champagne has to be the first. I’ve only visited the region once but it left the most profound impression on me. I visited obvious stomping grounds such as Moët & Chandon, Lanson and Mumm but I was also lucky enough to secure an intimate tour of the Bollinger House including their cellars and exclusive ‘Clos’ walled vineyard (my goodness me, what an experience this was)! In addition to this, I also hired a private driver one day to take me to lesser-known grower-producers: the so called ‘Grower Champagnes’. Now, with the possible exception of the Bollinger experience (this, truly, was magical), I would honestly say, this was where all the action was. That’s the funny thing about Champagne, the economics and business structure within the region, I would say, are unlike what most consumers envisage. You can forget that quaint image you have in your mind’s eye; the chateau, vineyard and winery all in one spot. The big houses are buying in fruit from growers from across the region (there are positives to this of course – just ask Dom Pérignon) but if you’re really driven by appreciating a sense of place and you want to enjoy something more, shall we say… artisan, then, actually, it’s a Grower Champagne you want. These guys are growing their own fruit, typically from small plots, and seeing the whole Champagne production process through from grape to glass. When it comes to Champagne, forget the big boys, go for a small fish!
My other country would be South Africa… And a consumer tip, if I may. You hear a lot of people promoting Crémant (traditional method sparkling wine produced in France, just not in Champagne) being touted as the best Champagne alternatives. A good tip, don’t get me wrong; it’s made the same way and it’s French and sure, it’s a whole whack cheaper! However, with the exception of Crémant de Bourgonge, a lot of Crémants are grown a considerable distance from the Champagne region and thus the terroir (all this climatic, geographic and geological chat) is vastly differently. Not only this, but the grape varieties are often different too (you won’t find Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling in Champagne!) So sure, it’s cheaper, but very often, it’s also very, very different.
So, what of South Africa… Enter Cap Classique: traditional method bubbles made with the Champagne varieties and with a minimum ageing that legally surpasses that of Crémant (12months on lees over a mere 9). Well, now you’re talking my friends! Entry level, you can’t go wrong with Graham Beck NV but there is no glass ceiling here. Don’t be afraid to pay a near ‘Champagne-like’ price tag for a Cap Classique, the quality is there in spades and great value can most certainly be found! Good fortune, fellow bubbly lovers, favours the brave!”
Where’s The Most Memorable Place You’ve Enjoyed A Glass of Bubbly?
“Isn’t that the beauty of sparkling wine… [It’s] privileged position to bind to those cherished moments in our lives.”
What a great question! Isn’t that just the beauty of sparkling wine though. It’s magical ability to bind to our memories. Wine of all styles does this – it sticks to the senses. But sparkling wine…. Well, those corks are typically just being popped for those special occasions, so they have the privileged position to bind to those cherished moments in our lives.
For me, I proposed to my wife in Egypt in a roof-top restaurant overlooking the Red Sea – it was quite the scene. I remember the sparkling wine, Champagne of course, because I had entrusted the waiter with the ring as he had suggested putting it in the Champagne flute (super cheesy, I know, but he was so enthusiastic because he’d seen it in a Spider Man film apparently). Unfortunately, my wife didn’t notice the ring in her glass (perhaps the rock wasn’t big enough…) and the waiter had to prompt her “Lady, is there something in your glass”. Despite the awkwardness, she did say yes and we enjoyed our bubbly, meal and evening immensely; a beautifully funny memory, with bubbles centre stage. I can’t for the life of me remember what Champagne it was though!”
If you’re in England and local to Merseyside and the North West and you’d like to catch-up with Johnathan at one of his many events or at his Wine School, you can find everything you need here: www.bacchuswinetasting.co.uk
Thank you very much for your time, Johnathan, and for sharing your words, knowledge and experience with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!
Images belong to Johnathan Garry. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.