From working in a bar to securing a role as head of wine, Isabelle Lynch’s route into the wine industry was far from orthodox. We sat down with Isabelle to discuss the day-to-day of a sommelier, why every bottle has a story, and how she landed her dream job!
Tell us a bit about what you do
I'm head of wine at Wine List. It's a wine subscription company where our focus is to help people learn about wine in an unfussy, easy way. We import wines from little known winemakers across the world, wines that have never been in the UK before. We're a really small team and only a year and a half old but growing very quickly.
What was your route into the wine industry?
After I finished university (in finance - it was nothing to do with wine) I decided to take a year to work in a bar. They allowed me to go through wine exams and wine training. I loved it and ended up being the sommelier in their fine dining restaurant. I worked there for years before going out on my own as a freelance sommelier. This was a great chance to test out what was out there, what I could do and which parts of the wine industry were my favourite. From there, I started working with Wine List and after a few months they brought me on as their head of wine.
What does day to day look like for you?
I taste some wine samples that we want to import. I like to work closely with our producers. With all our imported wines I write tasting cards so you can learn more about the winemaker, the grape, region and food that pairs with the wine. I enjoy finding out those wonderful stories that make your wine taste even better. One of our winemakers had a beautiful story about a plot of land he bought which coincidentally belonged to his great grandfather before the Czech Republic was taken over by the USSR. A huge part is being able to research wineries, find them and build relationships with them.
What would you say to people wanting to break into the wine industry?
I would say don't worry about the perceived pretence of the wine industry, that's changing. There's a lot less stuffiness in wine these days. There are also so many different avenues to go down, just go with the flow and seek out what feels the best fit for you. For me, I much prefer teaching people about wine, I never thought that would be my favourite part until I tried it.
What has been a personal career highlight?
It's every time someone comes back to me saying they've learnt something and they've been able to use it when they were out with friends drinking wine or when they had to pick a present for a colleague. It brings me so much joy every time! I love being able to teach people new things.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you started working in wine?
I wish I knew that no one knows everything there is to know about wine. Starting out, I always thought everyone else knew so much.
Have there been any obstacles you've had to overcome to get to where you are?
There was a whole lot of learning I had to do. There was also the invaluable experience of meeting customers every day in the restaurant where you can learn about people, see the trends and hear people's experiences with wines. A lot of listening to people is so important.
What are your goals for the future?
Master of Wine is the highest level of exams you can get to in wine. There are only 416 Masters of Wine in the entire world. It's an incredibly difficult exam but one day I would love to get there.
What is your favourite part about your job?
I love every single part, it is my dream job. The part I am the luckiest with is our office environment. Spending so much of your week with the same people means it's so important that you all fit together well. We have a really great work culture where it's so supportive, you're able to work at your very best without having to worry about anything. Teams are so important.
You can find more out about The Wine List here.
Words: Grace Goslin