Tom Cannavan is a wine writer, broadcaster, publisher, and founder of the hugely successful wine-pages.com and The Festivals of Wine. In 2017, he celebrated 22 years of publishing Wine Pages, and launched three sell-out consumer wine festivals in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Shortlisted by the IWSC for Wine Communicator of the Year 2018, category judge and IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year 2017 Joe Fattorini commented that “what shines through is the importance and loyalty of Tom’s community. People are brought together by his love of wine and his commitment to sharing his knowledge”.
Here, the IWSC hears more from Tom about his journey into wine, his favourite regions and the highlights of his extensive career.
How did you first become interested in wine?
I studied at Glasgow School of Art, and a small group of us became interested in cooking and wine. Once a month we’d gather in someone’s house and basically learn to cook dishes from scratch, whether making a beef Wellington or an Indian curry. We’d all research authentic recipes and get involved, and always try to match the right wine (or beer) with the food. I became ‘the wine man’ pretty quickly and still have my first record book from 1981, with all the wines tasted along with my notes.
How long have you been in the wine business?
Though I’d had the very occasional wine article published in local press, my ‘career’ in wine started in 1995 when I launched wine-pages.com. At that time, I was still holding down a day job teaching at the University of Glasgow, but soon the website really took off. I was offered regular columns in magazines and newspapers, and more freelance writing came along. By 2002, it was a fairly easy decision to resign from the day job and devote 100% of my time to wine and writing.
Which is your favourite region and why?
Impossible to answer. For both scenery and wine, the Douro Valley and the Cape Winelands are pretty hard to beat. Indeed, it is still always a thrill to travel anywhere in the southern hemisphere and I love Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. The relatively young quality wine industries there are full of excitement, and I love the different quality of light and the night sky. But so many parts of Europe are wonderful in terms of wine, food and scenery too. As a dyed-in-the-wool wine geek, I’m very happy pottering around even fairly uninspiring landscapes like the Médoc or Champagne: the excitement there is just in seeing such famous terroirs because I love the wines so much. Did I mention that I’m crazy for California, Oregon, Lebanon and Georgia too? I told you it was impossible!
Which winemaker do you most admire?
Well, all winemakers are heroes really. I know with modern transport it’s possible for a winemaker to experience two vintages per year, working both northern and southern hemispheres, but for the vast majority they will get their first head winemaker position at, what, the age of 40 maybe? So only another 20 or 25 chances to ever get it absolutely right, with all the responsibility of having waited a whole year for the harvest resting on their shoulders each vintage. That’s a challenge.
What do you do to relax?
Well, travel, food and wine play a huge part of course. Although that’s pretty much the same as my day job, it’s great to just enjoy without the professional pressures. Other than that, music is a big part of my life and always has been since playing in a band when I was a lot younger. In fact, my old band has recently reformed and we are having a great time playing our old songs – purely for fun I may add, in case talent scouts start hounding me.
What’s been your greatest triumph?
I guess 23 years of continuously and successfully publishing wine-pages and turning a hobby into a career has to be it, but I’m buzzing about the success of my Festivals of Wine. I launched those last year in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London and have been blown away with the success. They were supported quite wonderfully by the UK and global wine trade who took all exhibitor spaces, and wine lovers snapped up almost 2,000 tickets months in advance for three sell-out shows. We’re geared up for the same again this year.
And what’s your most embarrassing moment?
Ah… which one to choose? I’m normally a very organised person, but several years ago I was guest international judge at an Australian national wine show. I turned up at the airport all packed and ready for the adventure, to discover I was 24 hours too late. I still don’t know how I did it, but I’d put the wrong date in my diary. Understandably, the airline showed little sympathy. Making the phone call to Australia to tell them was just excruciating, but they generously offered to pay for a whole new flight. I flew out next day, missing only one morning of judging, but I still wonder what my hosts really thought of me!
The IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year 2018 will be announced at the Vinitaly Gala Dinner on 14 April in Verona.