Wine lady of the year 2017
New Wine Lady Sybille Troubleyn teaches Belgians to drink wine. With her company WineWise, Sybille is the only one in Belgium to offer the renowned WSET courses (Wine & Spirit Education Trust).
Sybille Troubleyn had already gained a lot of wine knowledge before obtaining the WSET diploma. Her passion for wine started at the Hotel School ‘Spermalie’ in Bruges. She then perfected her skills in Bordeaux. For a few years, she backpacked through the vineyards of the New World, from which a book emerged. She worked at ‘Sopexa’, ‘Vinopress’ and ‘Syntra’, after which she founded her own wine school, ‘WineWise’, which she now runs with her partner, Piet Vannieuwenhuyse.
Did you expect this honorary title?
I found it surprising, as it is a public award and I am not active on social media. I am very proud and I hope that the wine lover will find the way to our courses even more. Better knowledge leads to a better quality offering, in the trade and at restaurants. It is also an honour to follow in the footsteps of my predecessor Virginie Saverys.
Women in the wine world could use some extra attention.
In Belgium they could use some extra attention, but in the rest of the world, women are very well represented in the wine business. In most countries it is about a fifty- fifty representation.
How do you explain this backlog?
I think it depends on the women themselves. I don’t have the feeling that women are offered fewer opportunities. In any case, I have not experienced that myself. I have seen many promising young girls who faded away afterwards. Sometimes it is a pity that they are immediately placed on a pedestal. If they do not quite live up to expectations, they disappear into thin air. Men can work their way up more steadily. We give young women too little opportunity to grow in the profession. When I studied in Bordeaux, not many women took that course. I was a kind of guinea pig, their first international student.
Why did you return to Belgium from a wine country like France after the studies?
To be able to do the studies, I took out a loan in Belgium. It seemed the logic itself to start working in Belgium to pay back the loan.
What else does WineWise do besides the WSET courses?
WineWise also provides in-company training, based on the WSET curriculum, but tailored to the company in question. We work with their wines, check what their staff need, give refresher courses… We have 16 trainers in different regions.
What skills should a good sommelier or wine lady have?
First of all, perseverance, especially if you are self-employed. You also need to have your own vision. That is not the easiest way, but it is the most honest and fair way. You have to be very eager to learn, because in the wine & spirits business you are never fully trained. You always discover new things and meet new people with a completely different vision and insight. That’s what makes it so fascinating.
Can you learn to taste?
Yes, anyone who is eager to learn, can learn to taste. Some will master it faster than others. Prior knowledge of tastes and smells is a plus. You have to teach children to smell things. You cannot name something that you have not registered. Many people can’t tell the difference between acids and sugars.
Can they easily mislead you?
Yeah, luckily. We don’t fixate on dates. There is nothing quite like looking for what’s in the glass and putting the puzzle together.
Do you learn to enjoy wine more when you know more about it?
Absolutely. More knowledge also opens you up as a wine merchant or sommelier to people who have a smaller budget. More knowledge also ensures that you drink less but better.
Is wine also important in your private life?
I can still enjoy it very much. But I don’t drink wine every day, I do taste wine every day.
What are the latest discoveries?
A lot is happening. It is no longer the case that only the know-how of the old world goes to the new world. Classic wine countries are also learning from the New World wines. There is really an exchange between young people there, which is a very good thing. In the future, we will see bubbles emerging, and I am talking about much more than champagne and France. Countries also learn a lot. People sometimes pity South Africa, but that country brings top players. Every country has its own input and merits. People are coming back from wood and are moving towards more accessible wines that focus more on fruit.
Do you see a future for Belgian wines?
It remains a niche product, Belgian wines are also quite expensive. There will always be beautiful Belgian wines and I see a clear improvement, but in terms of production quantity we don’t mean much to the rest of the world. I will never choose a Belgian wine purely out of chauvinism. The quality has to be there, from whatever country.
Are there still too many label drinkers?
Unfortunately, yes. That’s why we called our basic course ‘Looking behind the label’
What do you think of wine lists in restaurants?
The wine lists have evolved positively compared to say, 15 years ago. Certainly in the better restaurants there is a varied selection in different price categories. In brasseries there is still a lot of work to be done. A course such as WSET is never wasted, it is an investment that pays off many times over. It gives you more self-confidence so that you can advise your customers better.
Wine Lady of the Year, a word of explanation
The Wine Lady of the Year is elected by internet users and is an initiative of Foodprint, Meyhui and Winterhalter. A total of around 7300 votes were received. A special election to endorse the importance of women in the world of wine who are all too often overshadowed by men. In a world where masculinity is still the magic word for gaining power and responsibilities, the Wine Lady of the Year sets things straight. Because boys and girls are not judged the same. So it’s high time to change that.