She is one of the 275 title holders of Master of Wine worldwide. She has been travelling around the world for 25 years, has met he most famous winemakers and has visited the most legendary chateaux. The life of the famous oenologist Angela Muir is like a long walk among green vineyards.
As I was reading her impressive CV, I got stressed. The more I was learning about her and seeing how important she is in that specific subject, the more my anxiety grew. However, I decided to see it otherwise. I would spend a nice afternoon listening to the narratives of a woman who knew the vineyards of the world.
We had an appointment in a bar in the old town in Nicosia. I met her at the entrance. A respectable noble lady approaches me. No strict at all. On the other hand, she is a lady with a sweet smile and a smart look. Soon my tension was replaced by curiosity.
We take a seat and I suggest to have wine which, of course, would be her choice. “No, no, I’ve tried so much these days that I’d like a break” she answers and orders a Margarita. First surprise. As I drink my mojito, she recounts her first tasting in a Mexico tequila factory which had disastrous consequences for her and her palate. We both burst into laughter and the chat automatically becomes looser.
Once upon a time in France
She talks about her teenage years in the late 50s, when she went to France for the first time in a pupil exchange programme. I can imagine her. A fifteen year-old English young lady that leaves her dull country and finds herself in a new, colourful world. There, in France, she lived with a family where gastronomy had a high place in everyday life. In that way she found out that there were many different ways to live and not only those she knew until then.”I was surprised that people there, from parents to children, didn’t drink quantities, but they were tasting several wines”. She began to do the same. A love for wine was born timidly. The following year, again on a school trip, she went to the Alps. But what stayed in her memory was not the snowy mountaintops. It was those enchanting itineraries in Burgundy and Champagne, the French wine areas. She visited many chateaux and fell in love with the wonderful scenery and the vineyards that “dressed” the ground like a painting. What she would never forget was the feeling she had every time she entered a cellar. The smells of wine and wood made her travel to magic places.
Later, while studying Political Sciences and Economics at Bristol University, she joined an important city club that dealt with wine. So, in just her twenties, she began tasting various kinds of wine and recognizing smells and flavors.
The wine road
Graduating the University and following her instincts, she found that what she really wanted to do was to deal with wine. Then a chance appeared, one of those which may come by luck or, like Coelho wrote, when you want something so much, then the universe conspires to get it. In her case, rather the later. A post appeared in a great local wine import company. She was accepted and, within a few months, her superiors, seeing her passion for wine, put her in the tasting group for sherry and port. She did everything like organising groups, writing the lists for customers and trying learning everything about wine.
After 6-7 years, she got a scholarship from a union/Guild, in London. She will remember the year 1975 forever. For six months, as part of the scholarship, she was travelling in France and Germany. She visited the best vineyards and wineries keeping a diary about what she was experiencing: smelling, tasting and…learning. Returning to England, she decided that it was time to go on. She was lucky again. She found a job in a similar company, and for 10 years, she worked as a buyer. She was tasting wines and was ordering quantities for hotels and restaurants throughout the United Kingdom. It was the best education she could have.
She began to travel around the world, visiting vineyards in Europe, California, Australia and the South America. She met famous winemakers, such as the “charming”, as she says, owner of the renowned Chateau Petrus. After that, along with her husband Peter, she set up her own company, Cellarworld International. She travels as a freelancer and goes wherever they call her to offer her knowledge.
Discovering the Cypriot vineyards
Cyprus has entered the map of Angela Muir in the last 5 or 6 years when she began to work as a consultant for local wineries. She knows Cyprus wine very well. She talks with passion about a plateau of the Cypriot mountains-” a wonderful landscape near Malia”, knows everything about the Cypriot varieties and declares, with absolute certainty, that wine production here has come a long way ahead in recent years.
I am impressed by how much illuminated her look is when she talks about wine and how often she uses the words “fascinating” (exciting) and “fantastic”. This is the real passion for your job.
Let’s fix it!
When I was looking for information about her on the Internet, I read a characterization that has been attributed to her many times. They say “Mrs. Fix it” i.e. the Lady ‘Correct’ . She explains that, when a winery has a problem with a particular wine or they want to create a new one, they come in contact with her. She, as the “Deus Ex Machina”, arrives in the country and starts working. “I try to tell the people the truth. I want to talk in a way that I won’t hurt their feelings, because the truth is only useful when it is constructive”. I imagine her being like a modern Alchemist playing with glasses and dosages. What she does is to take a variety that fits with the characteristics of the other. So, she blends mixtures of wine, or, as she says, she “builds” wine. However, she can go even further back, to the basics of wine. “Sometimes you need to cultivate vines more or to change some operational points in wineries. What we try to do is to take the best vines, from the particular ground and the particular climate”.
The time is already 8 past at night. I find myself somewhere between the Argentinean vineyards, the mountains of Cyprus and the French chateaux. Each scene, she describes, takes me into a magical backdrop. I feel that all my senses are fully operational.
Before coming back to reality, I have a last question. Eventually, does she know everything about wine? She looks at me smiling with that bright look: ‘ the world with wine is your shell. Anything you learn about humanity contains information about the wine, too. I can’t say that I know everything, I still meet surprises, bad and good. If you say that you know everything, then you have better stop “.
I met Angela Muir in June 2009. The above article was published in TASTE magazine in July 2009. Photos were taken by Sotiria Giannaka.