Local Wine Pro Dishes on Mentorship, Exams, Millennials Shaping the Market and More

As one of Vancouver’s foremost wine instructors, having run the now sadly defunct wine program for the Art Institute for 13 years, Mark Shipway has certainly made his mark within the Vancouver wine community. He is now an instructor for Cru Consultancy, which is co-owned and run by long-time Scout contributor, Treve Ring. Mark was also recently named an official Bourgogne wine ambassador, which – coupled with his intention of sitting his Master Sommelier exams next year – makes us think he’s got a heavy schedule ahead of him. I recently spoke with Mark about his career, what his thoughts are on the state of BC’s wine industry, and what’s on the horizon for him personally.

Where are you from? The UK. A small town of 25,000 called Hythe on the south coast.

How long have you lived in Vancouver? 13 years. I moved here in 2005.

When did you start working with wine? 1996. Before that, just amateur interest.

Did you ever have ambitions to do anything else? Yep. Astronomer when I was a kid and in later life, a hair stylist.

Where did you learn? My wine studies started at Plumpton College, affiliated to the University of Brighton, and are still ongoing.

What was your first wine job? In a small boutique wine store in Brighton called St. Martin Vintners.

Have you ever worked in a winery? The school I attended had a winery and I crushed two vintages. Which was enough to stop me wanting to do it again.

Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Yes. Wine Steward at a wine farm called Delheim when I lived in South Africa. Lunch service only. It was a fun time plus the standards were pretty high.

If you could stage as a Sommelier for a week in one Vancouver restaurant, which one would it be? Tough question! Somewhere where I could continue my own professional development with a great wine list and equally importantly, someone to mentor me. There’s quite a few, but Mott 32 & CinCin immediately spring to mind.

If you could stage as a Sommelier for a week in any restaurant outside Vancouver, which one would it be? Frasca or 67 Pall Mall.

You ran the WSET program for The Art Institute. How was that experience? Overall very positive. I worked with a great team of people, made many friends there and the leadership was solid. Needless to say a lot of changes can occur in a business over 13 years and they did.

“I think the next 10 years will be pretty much be determined by the market. A larger percentage of consumers and buyers will be millennials and that will shift the current landscape in terms of taste preference and maybe even farming practices.”

What is the single most important lesson you have learned from being a wine instructor? That it is okay not to know the answer to every question you might be asked.

What tips or advice would you give to someone who might want to start a career in wine? Think carefully about what you actually want to do in the industry and research the positions that are out there including the salary or pay rates. Speak to as many people as you can who actually work in the industry to get their perspectives.

Where are you working now? Currently freelancing until something permanent that excites me pops up on the radar. I recently revised the wine program at La Pentola in the Opus Hotel in Yaletown. I am teaching the French & Italian Wine Scholar classes in Vancouver through Cru Consultancy, which is a Victoria-based company owned by the amazing Treve Ring and Sharon McLean. I am also a part time instructor at PICA on Granville Island, and working together with DJ Kearney to launch the CAPS Sommelier program there in the very near future.

Who have been some of your most impactful mentors? When I was younger, my martial arts instructor, Sam Simmons, who showed me that focus and perseverance can lead to success at maybe something you never thought you could be good at. At Plumpton, the Head of Wine Faculty, Chris Foss, who really explained that passing exams is as much about knowing how to answer them as much as what you actually know about the subject. Joe Wadsack, who I met at Waitrose, for his incredible passion, knowledge, enthusiasm and above all communication skills in the world of wine. More recently, Tim Gaiser MS, another thoughtful and generous human who has given me a lot of guidance in the CMS (Court of Master Advanced Sommelier) program.

Do you have a favourite wine style? Anything I can happily drink a bottle of (or two) and not have to lie down for a nap afterwards. I definitely avoid big, powerful, high octane wines wherever possible.

What about a wine favourite region? That’s easy. Bourgogne (closely followed by Champagne).

What is your favourite type of cuisine to eat? Italian. Which is pretty broad I guess. Also, Japanese food in summer time as it tends to be lighter.

Do you have a favourite BC wine or winery? I have several. Nichol Vineyard, Le Vieux Pin, Tantalus Vineyards and Unsworth Vineyards, to name but four.

You recently passed your Court of Master Advanced Sommelier exam. How was that experience? Preparing for the exam was all consuming; sitting the exam was very stressful; and passing the exam was incredibly uplifting! I do not believe it is possible to pass the exam without the support of your peers. There is no published curriculum and you have to rely on the guidance provided by others who have gone before you and as many MS’s as possible. The CMS program is very much about professional community and mentorship, which are both values I truly believe in. Approximately 5% of candidates pass the exam on the first attempt and I could not have been one of that number without the support of my group here in Vancouver.

Do you intend to sit the Master Sommelier exam? Yes. I will be submitting an intention this year to sit the theory portion in 2019.

Would you ever consider the Master of Wine route? I tried it once in 2009 but didn’t fully inhale. Just enough to make me feel dizzy and slightly nauseous.

Is there a winery or wine region you’ve yet to visit that you’re still dying to? So many it would take too long to list them.

What are your thoughts on the BC wine industry? How do you see it evolving over the next 10 years? The industry in terms of wine production is gradually getting more terroir-focused, which is a good thing. I think the next 10 years will be pretty much be determined by the market. A larger percentage of consumers and buyers will be millennials and that will shift the current landscape in terms of taste preference and maybe even farming practices. Hopefully that means less over-extracted, over-oaked, highly alcoholic Bordeaux blends than are currently being produced.

If you could sit with the BC government and discuss with them on how to improve our wine industry, what changes or improvements would you recommend? Simple. Create an advisory panel of industry experts, listen to and act on their advice.

If you had a chance to open up your own wine bar, what might the concept look like? The wine program would be 100% ‘new world’. Beyond that, the concept would be accessible and interesting enough to be full every night.

Where do you see yourself, career-wise, in five years? Being paid large sums of money to taste wine all day and travel the world. Which is kinda what non-industry peeps think we do as a profession anyways. That job actually, right….?

You were just named an official Bourgogne wine ambassador, how was that experience? Intense, exhilarating and exhausting. It was amazing to learn from Jean-Pierre Renard, a real expert on the region.

Name your all-time favourite three wine varietals. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo.

If you could recommend just one wine book for any aspiring young Sommelier what would it be? The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson

If you could give a tip to someone who knows nothing about wine what would it be? Let’s say they need to buy a bottle for tonight, how should they proceed? Go to one of our amazing private wine stores and ask the staff for assistance with the selection. There are also some very helpful and knowledgeable Product Consultants in some of the BC Liquor Stores.

What’s the most rewarding part of having a career in wine? The people you get to meet and share your passion with.

You’ve just clocked out for the day and you’re starving. Where are you going and what are you eating/drinking? Juke Fried Chicken, Chambar, Campagnolo Upstairs. Anything and everything they have on the menu.

Outside of wine, what are some of your other passions? Bouldering. You can find me at The Hive three times a week. I am also a huge film nut.

Krug or Dom? Dom but the one that ends with the word Ruinart, the ’96 of which is one of my three all time great champagnes. Blanc de Blancs is my jam.

Are you in favour or against the 100 point wine rating system? Bring. The system. Down. Always…

What country or wine region do you feel offers the best value? Right now it is Italy and just about every region in Italy offers great value. Outside of Italy, the Loire Valley and Languedoc Roussillon.

What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted? What’s the story? Wow, this is a tricky one as I have been lucky enough to have tasted many amazing wines! Maybe the most memorable experiences are those that are in some way formative and one that sticks out for me was a taste of ’66 Nacional from Quinta da Noval. It was whilst I was staging at Waitrose and was in attendance with the buying team at a wine fair in London. At this fair, Decanter magazine were hosting several Masterclasses which were extremely hard to get into and I had no ticket but my friend and mentor Joe Wadsack did. At the end of the Port masterclass, he came back into the main tasting hall with four ISO’s with Saran wrap over them and 1/2 oz of amazing port in each one for me to taste. There was a ’28 Dow’s Colheita in one of the glasses but the ’66 Nacional was sensational – beyond anything I had ever tasted to that point. It was really his excitement for me to taste these magnificent wines and the thoughtful gesture that made the experience stick so clearly in my brain though. Exploring great wines with like-minded people – nothing better than that!

What’s the most enjoyable part of your job? Seeing the success of the folks I’ve played a role in educating is the greatest reward. It really is!

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