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    The story of Le Tasting Room in the Loire Valley

    Picture of Cathy Henton
    Cathy Henton 29, January 2021

    It’s September 2003 and I’m sat on the grass at Plumpton Agricultural College in Sussex. 35 of us are about to embark on a 2 year course learning all about growing vines and making wine. I’m 40, have three children and have spent my whole career working in the wine trade but this is something different. This is the practical stuff.

    20 years earlier I started my career in the wine trade. In London, after a brief spell working for a television company, I spotted a job working for the Champagne Sales Manager of Seagram UK (the biggest wine and spirits company in the world at that time). I applied for the job and was successful. This was the start of my wine journey. 

    Over the next 20 years I worked in all areas of the trade. Firstly, in administration, then in Sales. I negotiated contracts with hotel and restaurant groups, developed wine lists and trained staff. I spent 3 years studying wine to achieve my WSET Level 4 Diploma and loved my job.

    After I had the children, I became freelance. I worked directly with winemakers in France and Israel, did PR work, ran wine courses and worked in my local wine shop. In 2002 I went back to sales and wine education, my real love. I sold wine to hotels and restaurants for a local wholesaler and ran training courses for private individuals and wine professionals.

    But what I wanted was the practical skills. The one thing that (until recently) England could not offer. I didn’t need them; I just wanted that knowledge. I’d been teaching people about it for years but had never actually done it myself. 

    So, at 40, while working part-time, I returned to studying. Little did I know it would take my life in a very different direction.

    Nigel was on the same course as me. A farmer’s son, we had very different backgrounds. As one of few people on the course who already had a wine trade background (most people were making a career change), he found me intimidating (he later told me). 

    While digging a soil profile in the middle of a field a couple of weeks later, we came to realise that we actually had quite a lot in common. He was born only half an hour away from me. He loved to cook. He loved music.

    Single, younger than me, neater and tidier. The boot of his car was clean and orderly with everything arranged in boxes. My car was a people carrier littered with children’s mess and disarray. 

    Beam us on to August 2006, we arrived in France with my three children and a chocolate Labrador to start a new life together in the Loire valley. I stepped away from life in the South of England where everyone worked in London, endless driving to activities, dinner parties and the gym. 

    Those first couple of years were hard for everyone. Hard for the children to be away from their Dad. Hard for us to cope with a new language. Hard for us to adapt from living in a small commuter town to the middle of the countryside in a small hamlet just a 10-minute walk from the river Loire. Thank goodness for the Labrador. She saved us.

    We created Le Tasting Room in 2007. Our aim was to work with local winemakers and introduce their wines to like-minded people interested in discovering the wonderful wines of the Loire valley. A small wine tour company but not like any other. A total wine experience – educational yet relaxed, informative yet fun, including a home cooked lunch, a morning tasting of wines from all over the Loire not just our little corner, the chance to meet winemakers. 

    That was 13 years ago and today, based in Noizay,in the heart of the Vouvray appellation, we continue to welcome people from all over the world and share our passion for the wines of the Loire with them.

    We have different skills. I’m the front person, the presenter, the educator. My long wine trade background is useful and I’m grateful I studied wine in the UK rather than France as it gave me a global perspective that I find useful and relevant when talking to people from other countries. 

    Nigel has the agricultural knowledge. Not only was he farming for many years, he then went on to run a vineyard before we left the UK. He knows the soils, can drive the tractor and he understands the viticultural side of things. 

    We both have practical vineyard skills; can prune, tie down, tuck in. We worked for a local grower in Anjou when the business was young and Nigel will be returning to the vineyard this year in Vouvray. 

    In essence we are polar opposites but have the same interests, goals and loves in common. We love life in France. We are complementary to one another. 

    2020 was a challenging year for us all. Growers, restaurateurs, wine shop owners, hoteliers, everyone around us facing the challenges that this virus has thrust upon us. 

    Like many small businesses, we had to adapt, change, become more flexible to survive. We worked hard to promote the growers we work with and switched to doing tastings online. They too have been supportive of us and passed work our way when they can. 

    At some point in 2021 wine tourism will resume when it’s safe for people to travel. We’re well placed to offer small, highly personal experiences away from the crowds and in the beautiful countryside of the Loire valley. In addition, our program of on-line tastings and experiences will continue which will allow us to bring a little of the Loire valley into your home. 

    If you’d like to come and see us or would like to join in with a tasting on-line then do get in touch. The Loire is only 55 minutes by train from Paris. It makes an ideal day trip or short break and offers great wine, beautiful chateau and rural peace.

    Special Offer for Women's Business Link members

    I’m happy to offer a special price for Women’s Business Link Members and friends until the end of February. 50€ for one year’s membership instead of the usual rate of 69€. Just use the code wbll2021 when signing up! In addition, I’ll send you a basic guide to food and wine pairing to welcome you to the club.

    Are you interested in the food and wine? Do you enjoy entertaining and like to have time to spend with your guests rather than slaving over the kitchen stove? Do you like to drink wine that’s top quality and affordable? Would you like to improve your wine knowledge? Then join me!

    Every 3 months I run a live Zoom tasting and update from the Loire valley vineyards at 8pm French time so enthusiasts from around the world can join together for some live wine tasting and education.

    Every month in the private members’ section of the blog you can look forward to:

    • Recipes from Le Tasting Room’s kitchen
    • Wine education with a focus on the Loire valley
    • What’s in season?
    • Technical vocabulary demystified
    • What’s on the cheeseboard?
    • Food and wine pairing tips
    • Profiles of Loire valley winemakers
    • Tasting notes
    • And much more…

    A year’s subscription entitles you to all content on the subscriber-only pages of the blog for a full 12 months and the 4 live Zoom tasting updates in July, October, January and April. Subscription fees will be automatically taken from your chosen payment method at the end of each 12 month period unless cancelled.

    Cathy Henton

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