Christophe is an alumni of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), where he graduated with a BSc in Hotel and Restaurant Management (HES).
After a career in the hospitality industry in Canada and the US, Christophe returned to Europe to start his wine business. Christophe’s passion for wine led him to the WSET diploma, after which he joined the MW program in 2015.
Can you give a snapshot of your current professional life?
I am mostly an entrepreneur in the winebusiness. I own several wine import companies in Belgium, France and Luxemburg. My main activity is managing these businesses. With our company ‘Gustoworld’ e.g. we import wines from all over the world (with exception from France), and distribute through wholesales and very high end wineshops. I am based close to Liège (Belgium), but whenever possible, I like to travel abroad.
When exactly did you decide to go for the title ‘Master of Wine’?
I graduated from Lausanne hotelschool (Switzerland) and I worked in hospitality around the world. When I started in the winebusiness, I wasn’t a wineprofessional, I was an entrepreneur with basic wine knowledge. After 8 or 9 years in the business, I met several MW/producers. They were convinced that I had MW potential. They told me, ‘Look Christophe, you are multilingual, you like travelling, you have good knowledge, and you are quite a good taster’. I was not convinced yet, but I slowly started to realise that if I wanted to become a Master of Wine, I should start with the WSET diploma; That was the first time I met Sybille Troubleyn from WineWise. The more I learned about wine, the more I wanted to know about it. it really became a passion!
What advice would you like to give to students starting a WSET course?
A lot of people that I meet through WSET are passionate about learning. If you take lessons from a WSET certified teacher, they pass on this passion for learning. The more you know, the more you want to learn. If anyone is really interested in becoming a MW, I would highly encourage them to pass first WSET Level 3 & Diploma. These are the perfect building blocks. And then MW could be the next huge step. Although it is very different from WSET, it is similar in terms of studying and learning. It requires a lot of stamina, a lot of dedication. It is a bit like prepping for a major sporting event, e.g. the Olympics. You need to be extremely structured in your work. You need to plan and prepare extremely well your timing and skills. But it is an awesome experience! So I would say to all the students, if you are ready to go for it, just be aware that it is going to take a lot of energy. You cannot go thinking ‘I am going to do this let’s say 80% of my potential’. You need to be there at 100%, 120%, and this needs to go on for several years. So please think about that before you engage, but then it is highly rewarded!
Do you have a different view of the wine business now that you are MW?
The education was really eye-opening. I am an importer of wines for many years, and I thought I had a good knowledge of what is going on in terms of wine production. But there is a big difference between what importers think what producers are doing, or to what producers are saying what they are doing and actually doing, and why they would do so. The level of discussion I nowadays have with winemakers is completely different. I can perfectly understand a producer who generates 25 million liters, and I have an equal experience with his colleague who produces 25 barrels. They both have a different approach, but I can relate to both of them. Every part of the winemaking business is important and interesting. I can be interested in natural wines, but I also can understand the importance of bulk-wines and can assure you that basic wines actually can be very good. Master of Wine means after all ‘mastering all the elements in the wine industry’.
Can you endorse the importance of the student community?
The Master of Wine program is targeted at people working in the international wine trade. So along the way you get to meet sommeliers and wine writers, as well as winemakers, wine sellers, and others who make their living in the global wine industry. The key requirements for the program is at least some years experience in the wine trade at the time of application. If you are a student and aiming for a MS title, you must realize that there is a possibility that you will not make it. Only 15% of the people who enter the course, will become MW. But it is the process, the journey that really counts. Your own personal confidence will grow, your knowledge will grow, you will learn so much.
Can you tell us more about your research paper for the Institute of Masters of Wine?
My research paper was about crowdfunding in the wine industry, and it reads in full: ‘An analysis of the use of crowdfunding methods as a tool for financing new vineyard and winery projects worldwide from the perspective of wine entrepreneurs. Wine production is a money-intensive business with financial needs spread over long periods of time and potential unequal returns. Financing projects in the wine industry can be challenging. Smaller wineries face the impossibility of using conventional financing mechanisms and are looking for alternative solutions to finance new vineyard or winery investment projects. Crowdfunding can be a good alternative to meet the financing needs of small businesses and ensure longer-term financial stability. Think, for example of a small wine company that wants to finance the purchase of amphorae via crowdfunding, in order to subsequently be able to produce beautiful, specific wines. If you are interested in this topic, I invite you to read my research paper. You can download the full version from the site of ‘The Institute of Masters of Wine’. On this site, you will find a lot of interesting papers, topics, videos, master classes,…
Which fellow WSET graduate do you think we should interview and why?
I have studied with a lot of nice people, and I am still in contact with many. But I lost track of the Dutch fellow students. Job de Swart can probably put us in touch. I’m curious what they’re up to, how they’re doing.
LinkedIn profile Christophe Heynen: linkedin.com/in/christophe-heynen
Website Christophe Heynen: christopheheynen.com
Website Gustoworld: Gustoworld.eu
Research Paper Christophe Heynen MW – 2020: ‘An analysis of the use of crowdfunding methods as a tool for financing new vineyard and winery projects worldwide from the perspective of wine entrepreneurs’