There is a theory that says that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice will make you an expert in most fields. The concept, featured in best-selling books and motivational speeches around the globe is often linked to proficiency in sports, music and even entrepreneurship or sales. With over 25 years of experience in the food and drinks industry, most of those dedicated to wine, Lynne Coyle fivefolds that figure and whether or not that magic number actually represents the threshold for expertise, she can say with total confidence and the certification to back it up that she is a Master of Wine.
There are more people who’ve been in space than those who have achieved such credential, with less than 350 graduates in the world and only four in Ireland. Lynne, who was born and raised in Scotland, where she got a degree in Hotel Management (a natural inclination coming from a family of hoteliers), puts her knowledge to good use thanks to her role as Wine Director for O’Briens Wines.
“I started in 2009, but I had been thinking about it for a while”, she says and explains that in order to be accepted by The Institute of Masters of Wine applicants need to be experienced in the wine industry. At that point, her CV featured WSET qualifications and several years as Head of Wine Buying in companies including Diageo. The journey to become a MW is divided in three stages and full of challenging tests and assignments at which she excelled, earning a trip to Bordeaux as a scholarship.
Students need to complete a series of papers on different areas of the wine industry as diverse as viticulture and marketing. “You have to pass all and there’s a 65% pass rate”, Lynne says. On the tasting side, “it’s quite challenging, with 36 wines”, divided in three groups, whites, reds and a third one that can include fortified, dessert and sparkling wines. At the third and last stage, students have to write a research paper.
Lynne chose to write about Ingredient Labelling on Wine, “because it is a hot topic in the industry and there are no other dedicated research papers on this topic world wide whilst there are numerous papers on this topic related to food.”
The Difference Between a Master of Wine a Master Sommelier
“A sommelier is more based in the on-trade, the final exam is quite different”, way more focused on the service, Lynne explains. “Both Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine respect each other and the thing that joins them is the passion and love of wine.” For Lynne however, a MW qualification is more theoretical and often pursued by journalists, wine buyers and people who run distribution companies, to give a few examples.
Judging a Wine for a Competition Vs. Considering it as a Buyer
“As a wine buyer, you look for similar attributes than those needed for a competition”, features like a wine’s quality and its tipicity are Lynne’s priorities in both cases, as she says that wine “should taste like it comes from the region it comes from”. Balance and the lack of faults are also important elements in both circumstances and she points out that never worries about the price in her initial approach to a wine.
“Prices are important because you need to provide good value, but during the tasting stage price is never discussed, it’s the last stage of a negotiation”, she explains.
But besides “ticking all the quality boxes”, Lynne values wines that have a “certain something”. For her, wines that have “it” go beyond “doing what they need to do, and engage people.”
Fascinated by all the aspects of wine, Lynne doesn’t give an exact definition on what that “special something” is, and when asked if the instinct to find it is something one’s born with or the product of training, she stops for a few seconds to consider… “I don’t know, I think is a bit of both, instinct that is based on experience.”
Working with Wine, the Day to Day and Where to Start
“We import directly from 90 vineyards”, says Lynne who’s the one in charge of these relationships which she identifies as the reason O’Briens Wines can offer competitive prices. During her day to day, emails and phone calls are exchanged with producers. It’s a small team and they work closely to build long term bonds with their suppliers. Lynne points out that O’Briens is a family-run business and that the original shop opened by the O’Briens family in Bray in 1944 and is still standing. Three of the twelve O’Briens brothers are still actively involved in the business.
She looks after the wine range, “what we sale and what we sale it for”, and she’s also involved in training, specifically in the induction for new staff as well as occasional masterclasses and tastings.
Lynne encourages those interested in pursuing a career in the wine world to consider retail as “it is a good place to learn about wine”, especially independent shops. “You’re working with a good range of wines and if you’re going to sell it you will learn from it, from the other staff and from the customers”, she says.
She also recommends to get a WSET certification which is “good, affordable and internationally recognised”.
A Glass after Work
Personal preferences have no place when judging wines for competitions or as a buyer, but at home, Lynne tends to go for wines that are elegant and delicate. On whites, she likes freshness and minerality, Albariño is one of her favourites and so if is Pessac-Léognan, Puligny Montrachet, Meursault and Alsatian wines. From Italy, she enjoys Campania and Etna Bianco, “all quite mineral, quite dry”. Mosel Riesling is also on the white list. Italian reds as well as Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, New Zealand and Austria are her red wines of choice.
And besides drinking wine, at her home in the countryside Lynne likes to spend time with her family and pets. She smiles while she says she has a horse named Blossom, as well as cats, dogs and ducks. She also enjoys reading and says that currently she’s been reading a lot of classic plays to help her daughter (17), who’s training to become an actress, thanks to this she’s also attending the theatre often. Her other son (20) is also going for a creative career, and is currently studying jewellery at the National College of Art and Design.
If you were a wine, what wine would you be?
“I’d probably be an Albariño. Slightly off the mainstream, no oak, quite uncomplicated and authentic. With Albariño you taste the terroir, it’s too honest. I’m too honest sometimes”, she says and laughs. “I’m always myself”.
Do you have a pet hate related to wine?
“I’m too close to wine to have a hate… but I don’t like bland wine labels.”
Is there a label that you particularly like?
“Ars Nova, it’s linked to music, there’s not other like it.”
Do you Believe Wine Can be Paired with Music?
“Definitively! That’s one of my favourite things. We have a customer for who we match wine and music…”
Lynne mentioned that she wishes to visit Sardinia soon and before saying good-bye she left us with a few interesting wine and music pairings:
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours: Borie de Maurel Espirit d’Automne
“A biodynamic wine from Languedoc, off-beat and with a unique vibe”.
Disturbed – The Sound of Silence: Longview Yakka Shiraz
“His version of the Simon and Garfunkel song is incredible.”
Bob Dylan – Mr Tambourine Man: Rabl Grüner Veltliner Kaferberg
Hozier – Take me to Church: Meursault
“You have to have Hozier, and it has to be a Meursault, definitively.”
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.