Wild Wine School Q&A
Whether you’re thirsty to discover more about wine, passionate about sustainability or in search of a new adventure, Wild Wine School has it all.
Experiences to submerge your senses and explore the story of wine, set against a backdrop of Cornwall’s natural beauty. We chat with Debbie Siobhan Warner, the founder of the school to find out more…
What were you doing before you founded Wild Wine School (WWS)?
I studied marine biology at university but by the time I’d finished my dissertation, I realised I didn’t want to be an academic, and some of the other career prospects, such as working for an oil company, really didn’t appeal to me. After moving back to London, I spent time in Cornwall and loved the idea of being back by the coast full-time, so I applied for a job at a Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall, formerly at Watergate Bay. A space came up last-minute on a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 2 course and I absolutely loved it; I knew wine was what I wanted to do!
Learning about wine is like entering the rabbit hole; all I wanted to do was discover more about wine, how it’s made and where it’s from. I’d save all my tips from the restaurant to go to different wine regions and meet winemakers. I secured a position in the wine department at Fifteen, then I worked as a wine consultant and in sales for a wine wholesaler. It was all very fortuitous.
“There is an experience for everyone. I teach introductory courses that are perfect for curious consumers. We explore different wine regions, the main eight grape varieties and how to pair wine with food.”
What inspired you to begin WWS?
Most of my wine education was at the back of a restaurant or a college classroom, but my favourite experiences were out in vineyards – a classroom in the vines. We also studied very traditional wines, with little consideration for sustainability and the environment. I felt like there was a better way of doing it, where people are outside, learning about new, exciting wines.
Initially, I started with a supper club, Wild Wine Club. I’d work with chefs to design a menu to work with the wines I’d be showing; we’d have supper outside and I’d share everything I was learning about wines from all over the world. It felt amazing to be sharing this knowledge and guests kept asking how they could learn more so eventually I thought ‘hang on, I could develop this’. The rest is history.
What are the experiences you offer?
There is an experience for everyone. I teach introductory courses that are perfect for curious consumers. We explore different wine regions, the main eight grape varieties and how to pair wine with food.
There’s also an organic and biodynamic workshop focusing on wines made from sustainably and regeneratively farmed grapes. In the afternoon, we make a biodynamic preparation. It’s a bit wild and wonderful, but it’s fun and the wine is proven to taste better.
All of the experiences include lunch and wine tasting, working with local chefs to create the menus. For courses hosted at Trevibban Mill Vineyard, we have amazing charcuterie and cheese boards with homemade hummus by Tom, the son of owners' Liz and Engin. For another, we team-up with Gorse Bakery in Newquay to serve a mushroom and brie wellington accompanied by their delicious sourdough and fresh salads.
What is the ethos behind the school?
I want Wild Wine School to challenge the way that wine education is taught, creating modern courses that look at how we can enjoy wine but also make better choices for our planet. So, the different ways of transporting wine, new formats beyond the glass bottle, and refill or preservation systems.
“I hope people feel inspired and confident to try wines out of their comfort zone.”
I think people can forget that wine is an agricultural product. It’s easy to forget about the farmer that made it, the horses that ploughed the ground, the weather conditions each season; there’s so much beyond what we see. Being outside helps people connect to this story behind the bottle.
Is it important for WWS to be in Cornwall?
Cornwall is the most amazing place. We have an incredible hospitality scene here with some of the top restaurants in the country. We’ve got this brilliant wine industry that’s still in its infancy and has exciting prospects bubbling on the horizon.
“One of the hardest elements to expanding your wine knowledge can be identifying and articulating the different flavours you’re tasting.”
There is also a blossoming regenerative farming scene here in Cornwall and experimental businesses such as New Dawn Traders who are challenging the way we transport food and drink around the world; it's inspiring to see this push for positive change.
How do you want people to feel coming away from an experience at the school?
I hope people feel inspired and confident to try wines out of their comfort zone. I think one of the hardest elements of expanding your wine knowledge can be identifying and articulating the different flavours you’re tasting. So many people say ‘it’s familiar but I can’t quite put my finger on it.’ This is the first step to branching out, little by little. It’s not just about wine either, it can help you be mindful with everything you taste.
The wine industry is historically elitist and intimidating. Even when I joined, it felt like an old boys’ club. But that’s changing, there’s so many younger people opening up the space, making it more accessible and bringing in a wave of fresh air. I hope everyone who comes on one of our courses or workshops feels excited to learn more!
Credit Lewis Harrison Pinder