The Drinks Trust Interview Charles Taverner

1. Hi Charles, thanks for kindly agreeing to participate in our monthly newsletter. For those who might not know you, would you mind introducing yourself to our readers?

Hi, I’m Charles and have been working in the UK drinks trade for over three decades. My first ‘proper job’ in the trade was with Mentzendorff in late 1993 as a customer service assistant and I managed their cellar at the Gt. Peter St. offices. On the recommendation of an older colleague (who still plays golf for the club), I joined the Wine Trade Sports Club, which as an enthusiastic sportsman has played a big part in my working life.

I became the cricket secretary in 2005 and was then President from 2010-2013, and I have been involved in the club’s trade charity - the Foundation, ever since. Many of my great friendships in the trade have been made via the sports club, and it has created a lot of great memories over the years. As well as a social and business networking platform, it is very satisfying to put something back into the industry specifically with the club’s charity work.

2. You’re the National Accounts Director at Maisons Marques et Domaines. Could you tell us more about the beginning of your career and why you decided to work in the drinks industry?

Besides a brief summer holiday job as a van driver’s assistant for ‘Peter Dominic’ when I was 16, my first real experience of the drinks trade was working in Beaune in 1992 as an assistant and ‘odd job man’ for one of the Bouchard family, a friend of my Father’s (who himself was in the drinks trade for over 60 years!) I would deliver wine in a beaten-up old Renault 4, help in his office, work in the vineyard – anything that needed a hand with I was there! I went back a couple of years later and worked the vintage in a cellar in Savigny Les Beaune which was great fun and allowed a proper understanding of how wine is made. As a young man, I was amazed how the local vineyard workers met in a bar at 7am for a glass of red or a brandy before heading off to work! I had no long-term plan to stay in the industry at all but when I came back to the UK I figured as I now had some better knowledge of wine, and needed a job I worked in a wine shop for a bit – Bin Ends in Oxford.

This business closed fairly unceremoniously, so I got another retail job with a family-owned company Stevens Garnier (Grape Ideas) also in Oxford, which soon after led to my first sales role. They gave me a Renault 5 and a price list and set me off with a list of leads, so I travelled around the south of England trying to sell a selection of wines from around the world to anyone who was buying really! Amazingly there were 3 Masters of Wine involved in this small business at the time, so it was an interesting learning curve. I then moved up to London and worked with Matthew Clark for 2 years which was a great way to experience the entire spectrum of the drinks industry, before joining Paragon Vintners in 1999. When Veuve Clicquot and the Rothschilds parted their separate ways in 2004 I joined MMD to manage the London on trade, thinking I’d do a couple more years in wine before working out what I really wanted to do….20 years later, and I’m still deciding!

3. What advice would you give anyone considering working in the drinks industry?

Don’t! Go and earn some proper money in blockchain technology instead! No, I’d say turn up on time, be yourself, put in the hard work and then enjoy all the spoils it affords (in moderation). There are so many aspects to the industry and always so many interesting and emerging innovations or businesses, but the one constant I have found is whilst it is competitive and can be demanding, it’s also a very friendly and unsurprisingly I suppose, convivial industry.

As a ‘champagne man’ I shouldn’t really say it but as an ‘Englishman’ seeing the English Sparkling wine category develop over the years from a novelty to a high-quality product has been quite something, and I would suggest this will certainly continue to be an exciting growth area to be involved with, or equally the no/lo category will develop interestingly in future I am sure.

4. You’re also the Chairman of the Wine Trade Sports Club Foundation. Could you please explain to our reader what the Wine Trade Sports Club is, what activities are available, and what the mission of the Foundation is?

The Wine Trade Sports Club is essentially a social networking club or organization providing sport for all members of the drinks industry – past or present, and not just wine trade – if you are connected in any way to drinks via your work please join us! The managing committee enable a number of sporting fixtures and social events throughout the year – cricket matches, tennis tournaments, golf, squash, soccer, rugby, padel, cycling, yachting, quiz nights, and walks have all been managed by the club members over the years. And if it isn’t currently on offer then with your support and enthusiasm the club will make it happen. It is a great way to meet people across the industry and play competitive but social games at some superb sporting venues.

The Foundation was created just over 50 years ago by the late Michael Hasslacher and trade friends as the club’s registered charity, and over the intervening years has given away almost £1 million to help anyone in the trade or affiliated industries. Our mission is to raise money alongside the great work The Drinks Trust does to benefit those most in need.

5. You are recruiting new members to the WTSC. Could you explain how the membership works and why it’s worth joining?

Membership is just £20 a year or £200 for lifetime membership and allows you to get involved in all aspects of the club. The club and charity are looking at corporate membership in fact for the future so this may change, but it if you want to play sport at some great venues and network across the drinks industry it really is great fun being a part of it and a bargain too so please join up via the website  Personally speaking, I have made so many great friends through the club over the years, managed to get a job through its connections on more than one occasion, and even captained ex-England cricketers!

6. For its consecutive year, The Drinks Trust and the Wine Trade Sports Club are inviting industry riders to the Harvest Tour, a 3-day bike ride. This year, the peloton will set off from Bristol on Friday, 27th September. What should riders expect and why should people take part in the ride?

After last year’s hugely successful event this will no doubt be another really fun few days of great camaraderie and riding on some quieter roads in groups of riders at your own similar level, all managed by a really professional specialist company. We will cover some possibly challenging, but certainly manageable distances each day, with plenty of time to refuel at various drinks venues we will visit along the route, including breweries, distilleries, businesses and vineyards. Collectively riders are being asked to raise funds for The Drinks Trust to support those in need across our industry. It’s going to be truly memorable I am sure!

7. More personal question: desert island meal including drinks?

Really tough one! But I do love sushi/Asian food so maybe a selection of the best Nobu, Zuma and Novikov can offer… drinks would certainly involve Louis Roederer champagnes, Bienvenues Batard Montrachet or other grand cru white Burgundy, some mature claret (maybe Mouton for old times sake), Yquem, Noval Nacional, and a Macallan whiskey to top it all off. But I wouldn’t want to overdo it of course! I’d like all my friends there and some live music please, and I may also need a hammock I expect...