Clare Young is the first to acknowledge that pubs need the most help when it comes to their wine lists. She has worked for - and was married into - the family-run, 205-strong pub company and brewery, Young & Co, for the last 17 years, revitalising its wine offering. In the last five years alone, Young & Co has seen wine sales double in most pubs and treble in some, with the number of wines served by the glass increasing to as many as 20, with some wines selling at up to £6.40 a glass.
What's her secret? It's her enthusiastic wine training programme, which covers everything from back-bar design to wine preservation systems and promotions - and, of course, some well chosen wines for the list. That £6.40 wine, by the way, is a 250ml serving of Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis. In fact, it's been such a success that Young has now decided to go it alone with her new company Vintellect (01372 371093). "It focuses on maximising wine sales and profitability in the on-trade through providing bespoke advice on every aspect of wine service in the pub or restaurant environment," she explains.
Young & Co isn't stupid, though - she's still contracted to the brewery for the training side of things. Where would the company be without the much-coveted annual Chairman's Trophy (another Clare Young original), awarded to the best performing member of the Wine Division, and to which membership is permitted only after completion of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Advanced Certificate?
Thanks to Clare, Young & Co now boasts more than 100 members, with a further 250 staff having completed the first certificate stage. Not that this is all down to the WSET's educational prowess. Young has developed her own hugely popular one-day wine training programme (from £550, for five to 20 participants), which is now available to the on-trade through Vintellect.
"The emphasis is on fun," she says. "People often ask me whether they can come back and do it all over again."
The fun starts with a bit of role-playing. One scenario involves A Quiet Bar, and is about how to engage the customer through wine. "It's a way of starting a conversation and making that customer feel special - and you can do that through wine," says Young. In turn, staff gain confidence chatting about the subject.
Then there's the Meal for Six: how not to give the wine list to the wrong person (always the man, I hate that); how to pour the wines; how to continually recommend other wines. There's a tasting, of course, and even a test. "Though they're usually too pissed by then to do it properly," giggles Young.
And in case you're still wondering about Young's credentials, under her direction, Young & Co was the first pub company to install a serious wine preservation system (Le Verre de Vin), and the first to introduce WSET courses for licensees.
Not that Young & Co is completely there yet on the wine front. "They recently took on some more pubs in the West Country, and it was like going back in time," she says. "I hear the same old arguments - ‘there's no demand for it, love,' they say as they deliver wine from an optic. Well, of course there isn't if you don't sell wine properly and give them something decent to drink."
Trophée Gosset Celebris 2004 Shortlist After much scratching of heads, the final 15 establishments have been selected as the shortlist for this year's Troph‚e Gosset Celebris. And listen up - only two come from London. Who said wine lists in the sticks were dull? The 15 (in alphabetical order) are the Almeida, London; the Bath Priory; the Bell at Skenfrith, near Abergavenny; the Box Tree in Ilkley; Brockencote Hall near Kidderminster; Chewton Glen in New Milton, the Grand hotel, Eastbourne; the Harrow at Little Bedwyn, near Marlborough; Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells; Knockinaam Lodge near Portpatrick in Dumfries & Galloway; Northcote Manor near Blackburn; the Peat Inn, Fife; Putney Bridge restaurant, London; Seaham Hall, Co Durham, and Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire. The award judges the Champagne section of a wine list - and it doesn't have to have Gosset on it. This year the judges, comprising yours truly, Tim Atkin, Nick Lander, Christian Davis and Christine Austin, were encouraged by the vast improvement in overall quality of descriptions, spellings and categorisation. The results will be announced on 27 September at a London awards ceremony.
Government thumbs-up for course The Wine & Spirit Education Trust's new level 2 Professional Certificate in Spirits has received accreditation from the Government's regulatory authority for education. This is WSET's fourth qualification to be approved and is now included in the National Qualifications Framework. More than 11,000 people took WSET qualifications last year in 24 countries.
Free spirit And while we're on the subject of training and spirits, this summer sees three major players in the drinks industry join forces to create what they claim is the UK's biggest free training initiative for professional bartenders. Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and IPBartenders have teamed up to deliver a series of training days known as the IPB Bartenders Academies, also launching the Bartender's Bartender of the Year. The training days kicked off in Leeds last month, before hitting Birmingham on 21 July, Liverpool in August and other cities until London next March. Each course has capacity for up to 130 bartenders and includes sections such as How to Improve Gross Profit, and School for Spirits. To attend, contact Sue Keyse at IPB on 020 8962 2752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.