Miriam Van Damme & Marie Nuytemans
WSET Level 3 in Wines
Miriam Van Damme (left) and Marie Nuytemans (right) are the owners of the trendy and cozy wine bars ‘Unwined’ and ‘Barzé’ in Mechelen, Belgium.
They both had thriving careers in the media world, but decided to turn their world upside down and chose a new profession. They have never regretted their choice.
Both ladies have their Level 3 certificate.
Can you give a snapshot of your current professional life?
Marie: I worked in the media for 11 years, but along the way I realized I wanted to do something completely different. Now I am co-owner of Unwined and soon we will open Barzé, a bar where you can order all kinds of fish dishes in harmony with our wines.
Miriam: Like Marie, I worked in the media too. My passion, however, is wine. When I was offered a job in a small wine bar in Mechelen, I didn’t hesitate. I soon became a co-owner. I realized that I wanted to grow in this wine story and started looking for a new location with more potential and opportunities. Shortly afterwards I was looking for a sommelier and then Marie came my way.
Would you tell us a bit about your background and what sparked your interest in wine ?
Marie: I grew up in a family where food and wine were important. When I was fourteen, my father encouraged me to take a sip of the wines he served. Those wines were the typical classic Bordeaux ones. I was stimulated and, at the age of 25, I started taking all kinds of evening classes Shortly after, I did my WSET level 3 at WineWise and became sommelier at Unwined.
Miriam: Unlike Marie, I don’t come from a family where wine was part of our daily lives. I just knew I wanted to do something with wine.
How did your WSET education help you with your career?
Marie: I became much more self-assured. When customers ask me questions about the wines we serve, I find it easy to answer. Above all, we want to be a wine bar where people feel they are being helped by professionals who know what they are talking about.
Miriam: I completely agree! Even if customers ask for a wine that we don’t serve, it is now easy to help them. We can refer to other wines and explain them without hesitation.
What challenges did you face during your studies at WineWise?
Marie: I was still working full-time in the media, so in the run-up to the exam I definitely had to study a few days.
Miriam: You have to study! It was quite a challenge to combine this with work. I often studied at the wine bar, encouraged by Marieke and the staff.
Which wine book(s) would you recommend?
Miriam: ‘Cork Dork’ by Bianca Boster, although this is not a book you use during your studies It’s just fun to read. It is great for our customers to work with Madeline Puckette’s ‘Wine Folly’ material.
Marieke: I used ‘The Oxford Companian to Wine’ while studying.
What was the last wine you drank?
Miriam: A Champagne Ruinart, together with Marieke during lunch.
Marie: Last night I had a natural wine, a very fruity Grenache. It was a gift and since we don’t serve natural wines, I was quite curious.
What makes a wine great?
Miriam: Of course a wine has to be good, but even more important to me is the social aspect of drinking wine. One of the most beautiful things about wine is that it brings people together. How you feel, who you drink it with and where.
Marieke: I really enjoy a perfectly balanced wine For me this means refreshing acidity, subtle fruit flavors and a long finish.
What was your most impressive wine trip and why?
Miriam: We once went to Tuscany together to visit Antinori, which was quite impressive. But I think one of the most beautiful wine landscapes can be found in Lanzarote. I’ve been there several times. Enjoying the landscape while enjoying a glass of wine is instant happiness for me.
Marie: I visited Attila Gere in Hungary and it was fantastic to see how this old producer poured wine straight from the barrel. He didn’t speak English but it was great to feel and share his passion for wine. One of my first wine tours was to Champagne with friends and we knocked on the door of Mathieu Gosztyla. A Polish lady who barely spoke English or French was kind enough to let us in. It was the first time I saw Champagne being made. I still buy this champagne.
Which wine region to visit is on top of your bucket list?
Miriam: Where to start, we want to see everything! Next year we will go to Chile and Argentina.
Which graduate do you think we should interview and why?
Marie: I don’t have a specific name in mind. It would be great to see what others are doing in their daily lives with the certificate or diploma.