The Liberty Wines Apprentice is a varied and challenging two year programme, which includes two vintages and experience of all aspects of life in one of the UK’s leading wine distributors. Since its launch in 2007, we have seen a phenomenal response to the Liberty Wines Apprenticeship scheme and some outstanding candidates.
Applications for the 2018-20 programme will open in May 2018.
Read on for more about the experiences of our previous and current apprentices and click the link below for details of the two year programme.
The Liberty Wines Apprenticeship is now in its eleventh year. Unique in the industry, our programme offers a detailed yet wide-ranging experience across all aspects of the business as well as funding WSET Diploma Level 4 and two vintages in the northern and southern hemisphere.
The programme runs for two years from September during which time the candidate studies for WSET Diploma by block release, funded by Liberty Wines.
It includes placements within customer services and customer business support, events, communications and sales as well as credit control, shipping and distribution. During the first year, there is a month in Europe helping with the vintage plus two months’ vintage in the southern hemisphere during the second year.
There is a four-month special project, which brings the apprenticeship to a close.
• Bright and enthusiastic, with a passion for wine • Strong written and oral communication skills • Quick learner and good team player • An aptitude for hard work • IT literate • Minimum of WSET Level 3 • Languages desirable but not essential • Permit to work in the UK for a minimum of 5 years
How to apply
Applications for this position will open in May 2018.
“I have learned so much and also discovered new muscles”
By Cecilia Gibbons
I knew doing a vintage would be hard work, but couldn’t have imagined that at 11pm I would be in the winery with Juan, the oenologist at Martín Códax, removing Pinot Noir grapes from a barrel for pressing, standing on a bucket so I could reach down and armed only with a very small sieve!
I have learned so much this week and have also discovered new muscles doing manual punch-downs and carrying boxes of grapes. Initially the boys I am working with in the bodega were reluctant to let me do the tough manual tasks, but after seeing me in action with the rake they just left me to it. They are teaching me some of the local language, Gallego, mostly insults for the time being but it is coming in handy. I have gone days without speaking any English.
Harvesting was fun too – I worked with Diego and Jesús who showed me which bunches to harvest and which to leave. They asked me if it was as a prize or a punishment that I had been sent to harvest, as it is such hard work!
I have been coming home every night tired, with lots of grape juice in my hair, but very happy.
“Seeing the huge range of wines was spectacular”
By Anoushica Matthews
My first day as an apprentice took place at the Oval, where I helped set-up the autumn portfolio tasting. Seeing the huge range of wines was spectacular and gave me good insight into how much there is to learn on just the portfolio alone. After my first month in marketing I spent the Christmas period in customer services where I gained a true understanding of all the logistics involved to get the wine to our customers and seeing how to deal with challenging situations as a team.
After Christmas, I was put to work with the events co-ordinator to plan the annual portfolio tasting. Every aspect of the event was covered and I learnt all the intricate details that contribute to a successful tasting.
Since then I have been working in all across the sales spectrum, from national accounts to regional sales all over the country which has shown me how varied the U.K wine market can be. At only eight months into my apprenticeship, I cannot believe how much my knowledge has progressed due to the fast-paced nature of the role. Once you have got to grips with one department you are then moved on to the next to discover a whole new set of skills.
Every day is always different to the last which keeps it exciting!
"Bringing the pages of the Diploma to life"
It’s incredible seeing the pages of the WSET Diploma come to life and make so much more sense!
To check when the grapes would be ready to be harvested, I had to visit 70 vineyards in one day and to collect samples from each one. The vineyard area here is very fragmented as each member of the co-op owns tiny plots of land dotted all over Rias Baixas. I visited Bierzo where the Mencia is made and Monterrei to see the Godello. It was great to see different training systems, soils and climate types all within Northern Spain.
I then spent some time in the laboratory carrying out tests on the grapes., then in the winery doing a bit of everything from cleaning tanks to racking to filling filters and checking fermentation. Martin Codax is such a large winery and they are doing so many different things to Albarino that I’m able to see many of the processes in practice that we’ve studied at the WSET.
The harvest is going well and is back in full swing, after the famous Galician rain brought it to a stop for a few days. The atmosphere here is incredible and it is lovely see all the vineyard owners queuing in their tractors waiting to present their grapes to the winery – one morning the huge queue went for miles all the way around the back of the winery!
I became interested in wine at university and law school, but I continued on the path to becoming a lawyer in the City. After six and a half years in that career and having completed my WSET Level 3 as a personal “test” of whether I could turn my now full blown love of wine into a career, I decided it was “now or never” in May 2014 and applied to be the Liberty Apprentice.
I had bags of enthusiasm but no experience of the industry and Liberty Wines stood out. Not only was it the only firm offering a real 360° perspective of how the industry worked, it was clear that it had an entrepreneurial spirit and was happy to consider career changers. Nicola Gutman, the first Liberty Apprentice and a fellow City lawyer who made the transition, was pleased to speak to me about her experiences before I even applied.
The application process was very involved, culminating in a presentation to senior management, so I was ecstatic to be offered a new role of “Sales Apprentice”, a 12-month programme of spending time in each department of the business with an ultimate focus on sales.
I have so far spent time in shipping, logistics, customer services, marketing and credit control (and, at the time of writing, I am not yet half way through the year!) The journey of a bottle of wine from the producer to the consumer is extremely involved, not only in its transportation to the UK but also in demonstrating the uniqueness and value of that wine to the customer. From the beginning it has been clear to me that I have a rare panoramic view of that journey from my position as Apprentice, and that a career in wine was a good move!
“Bring a sense of humour and a big appetite”
“Bring a sense of humour and a big appetite” was my only instruction before coming to Italy. With a Salami festival during my first weekend and a number of curious glances at my gleaming white legs, it was all too prescient.
However, it did become clear that learning about the real importance of wine to people and communities was going to be my most valuable discovery. In the Valpantena valley, which is densely carpeted with vines in every conceivable plot, viticulture gives an identity to whole towns and villages which would not exist without it. A barrel rolling festival in the hilltop village of San Briccio draws crowds of every generation into a single celebration, from excitable grandchildren to well-seasoned grandparents.
I am working with cellar hands whose ages range from 19 to 73. Yet social change also moves in these vineyards, slow but powerful and tectonic. I have seen queues of growers’ tractors snake out of the Cantina’s gates with almost uniformly old men at the wheel and I have seen a younger generation incurring great and precarious cost as they seek to grow, vinify and then market their own (but not necessarily better) wine. I now keep my eyes open for fear of the details I might miss. This is certainly true when I work with Flavio, that 73 year old cellar hand who also comes with a winemaker’s warning: “Be careful when you work with Flavio, you might get very wet, injured or die”.
Like much of the apprenticeship, I spent the first few days feeling fairly baffled but soon got into the swing of things. Working non-stop 12 hour days for four weeks was both physically and mentally difficult. I was very glad to have several years’ worth of long days working in a restaurant behind me. Not only did this experience help me to cope with the long hours on my feet in the cellar, it also meant I was able to remain calm and keep smiling even as the cellar master bombarded me with work orders.
The 2015 vintage in Marlborough has been short and mild this year, a sharp contrast to 2014’s protracted, damp harvest. The fruit quality has been excellent but the yields are significantly lower than average due to spring frost damage and rain during the growing season. While I feel lucky to have escaped the five whole weeks of rain that marred last year, the experience was nonetheless incredibly challenging and rewarding.
Marlborough Vintners is a contract winery, which means that the wines made there are for many different clients. For Liberty Wines, these include Tinpot Hut, Delta and The Paddler. The winery employs four full-time winemakers, who manage the production of wines for their clients. On my first day I was told that I would be working in the white cellar, and that I would “learn a lot”, which was something of an understatement. While my theoretical knowledge was sound thanks to the WSET diploma and my first vintage in France, there’s nothing quite like being soaked head to toe in lees to help you remember the practical importance of opening the right valve. I also learned to always know where your spanner is and that a good stash of o-rings is vital to having a productive day!
Besides the practical wine making aspect, working in a busy cellar has given me a renewed appreciation of the importance of team work. Even when you work alone, there is always someone behind you who needs the tank that you’re emptying or who will inoculate the juice that you’re racking, so it pays to be thorough and fastidious to make others’ lives and jobs easier.
On my last day at the winery I had the chance to taste through the tanks that are destined to become Tinpot Hut’s 2015 wines with winemaker Fiona Turner. She talked me through the reasons for the differences in character of the various tanks which gave me a greater awareness of the importance of site and vineyard management for grapes and resulting wines. We tasted two tanks of Pinot Gris whose fruit had come from the same vineyard but had their canopies managed differently. You could tell which tank had been made from fruit with more leaf shading as it was more elegant and restrained, while the other tank had a fuller body and more honeyed note. Fiona was very happy with the quality of all of her tanks, leaving the winery with a big smile.
While the yields are down, the buzz around Marlborough is that quality this year has been fantastic and it’s shaping up to be a classic vintage.
"A seemingly endless maze of pipes and hoses"
I have been sent to Caves de Pomerols in the Languedoc for my first ever vintage. While I am here I am under the expert eye of Graeme Paul, a Kiwi winemaker who has been coming to Pomerols for the past six years to make wines exclusively for Liberty Wines in a fresh, easy drinking style. From him and from the French team I have learned the importance of experience and knowledge that a wine maker must have.
On first arriving at the winery, I was greeted by a seemingly endless maze of pipes and hoses, as well as local French spoken with an unusual accent. I quickly found my cellar feet and brushed up my French, poring over the dictionary to find the words for 'bucket', 'tap' and 'tank'. I wish someone had told me how important numbers would be.
Working in a team of three, we check the progress of the ferments daily by taking readings using an integrated hydrometer and thermometer. From these readings, the Chef de Cave can make decisions about whether to chill the fermenting must, whether there is still time for us to add some nutrients to the must to help the ferment along, or if the yeast has fermented the wine to dryness. There is no laboratory on site so these decisions must be guided by instinct and our simple measurements. It is little wonder that many of the wine making team have spent most of their lives working at this winery, developing their intuition.
This vintage has been fraught with difficulty all over Europe, but in the Languedoc the grapes are of excellent quality and concentration. The Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot are particularly impressive this year, with the latter showing intense dark plum. Due to a mild winter the harvest started early, with the Picpoul grapes a whole three weeks ahead of time. The worst news for the growers at the co-op, who are paid by weight, is that their yields are down at least 20%. Graeme remarked that by this stage in the harvest the Chef de Cave is generally desperately trying to figure out where to put all the juice. By contrast, this year there are several tanks that are still empty. While it is a joy for the wine making team to have such ripe and concentrated fruit to work with, one has to wonder what the local community will be drinking this year...
The next two weeks will see the last of the Picpoul arrive along with the late-ripening red varieties. From a winemaking perspective, this year's harvest has been short and sweet. I have just ten days left at the winery to try to soak up as much knowledge as I can ahead of my longer Southern Hemisphere vintage next year.
I had the good fortune of working part time at Liberty for a couple of months before I applied for the Apprenticeship. It gave me an opportunity to get to know everyone in the office and to speak at length to the current Apprentices about their experiences. Both of them, as well as Nicola Gutman – the first ever Apprentice who still works at Liberty full time – gave me their thoughts on the opportunity, and encouraged me to apply as it would teach me a great deal. Coming from a completely different industry (film music), this sounded like a great way to get to grips with the wine trade and I put forward my application.
I had taken the Intermediate WSET course but outside the WSET text books, I had very little knowledge and the Apprenticeship promised a wonderfully broad possibility of experience. The application process was extremely daunting, having had very few previous jobs that involved formal interviews, and in the final round I had my first experience of putting together a presentation. I grilled everyone I knew with links to the wine trade and got their opinions on various 'hot topics', which were surprisingly varied and sometimes opposing, which gave me my first insight into the complexities of the worldwide wine business.
"A wonderful opportunity to get to know a few of Liberty Wines' producers"
When I was told I would be spending my first vintage experience in the South of France, you can imagine my surprise when over the course of the following month I found myself mostly in the company of New Zealanders.
I was struck instantly with the revelation that the Languedoc, from the end of August until mid-late October, is teaming with winemakers from New Zealand who have been imported for the season to make wine for the French!
I was even more surprised to find the French most uncharacteristically stepping back and nodding obligingly, while the New World winemakers offered their knowledge and expertise on how to make a fresh, fruity, affordable, early-drinking wine that is guaranteed to export successfully. "What has happened to the French??" I was asked each time I revealed to friends and family this new attitude in the South of France.
On my arrival in Pomérols at the end of August, I was greeted by a storm of biblical proportions which delayed the harvest by a few days. That and threats of hail storms to come left us all on tenterhooks, with fears that the Languedoc would face the same fate as Burgundy and Champagne this year. Thankfully the hail bypassed us and the grapes survived unscathed. The few days' delay in harvest gave me the opportunity to have a grand tour of the winery before work began.
I was heartily thrown into the winemaking process at 6am on a Monday. Cave de Pomérols is an incredibly well-run, efficient cooperative that produces our Monrouby, Vignes de L'Eglise and Baron de Badassière wines. I was confined mainly to the "white" side of the cellar, concentrating on next year's Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Chardonnay and Picpoul de Pinet for Liberty Wines, as well as helping with the cave's "house" wines.
I found the yeast inoculation process fascinating, not least for the different methods used by Graeme Paul (our very own imported New Zealand winemaker) and the French Chef de Cave. I was also initiated into the powdery world of fining agents and yeast boosting additions, which proved a particularly lively experience when applying them to the outdoor cuves on a blustery day.
During my stay at Pomérols, Graeme and I went up to visit Camille Cayran, another of Liberty Wines' producers in the Southern Rhone, to check on this year's ferments and to sample some wines that were ready for bottling. I was also able to drive over to Mas La Chevalière (a large winery with high quality control and all hand-picked fruit) near Beziers, and Domaine de Sainte Croix (a very intimate, family-run business) near Mezes to make the acquaintance of the winemakers there. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a few of Liberty Wines' producers, improve my French and note the very different methods employed at the different sized wineries.
Next Spring I will go to Graeme Paul's winery in New Zealand. Now that I have seen his vinification methods applied to wines in France, I am full of anticipation to see how very different the resulting wines will be from fruit grown in the Southern Hemisphere, using the same methods of production. It will be interesting to note how much of the difference comes down to the growing methods, soils and climate.
Although it came as a surprise to be using New World methods to make wine in France, this experience of New and Old World experts working together soon gave me a much firmer understanding of today's wine market on a global scale. Liberty Wines is built on the ethos of finding well-made wines from all over the world, which express the local sites and the characteristics of their origins. Combining the knowledge and methods of both traditional and modern winemaking strikes me as the best possible way of achieving just that.
When I had finished my interview for the Apprenticeship at Liberty last year I was invited to sit down and have a cup of tea with the incumbent and former Apprentices, so that I might question them on what the job is really like. “It all seems pretty straightforward,” I remember thinking. “What on Earth am I going to ask them?”
True, in a way, because no answers they could have given me would have really told me what I was in for! Yes, I knew I'd be working in lots of different departments. But there was no way they could have told me what it would be like to see wine and the wine business from so many different angles in such a few short months.
I spent weeks learning the intricate network of logistics which takes wine to far-flung customers; ringing up courier companies, and moving boxes. How many cases fit on to a pallet? How many kilograms is a case? I came to see wine as freight, and was amazed by the unseen links in the chain between the producer and the end customer.
"An in-depth perspective on an industry from so many viewpoints"
Then, just as I thought I knew what I was doing, I was plucked out of the office and packed off all over the country to visit customers with the Sales team. I found myself marching between restaurants and shops, price lists clutched earnestly under my arm, tasting through samples with sommeliers and buyers. Wine became a commodity- was it the right price point? Would this sell at this time of year? Could this one feature on the 'by the glass' list?
Then I was whisked away again, and found myself booted up and scrubbing out fermentation vats in the South of France. Wine then became tanks of bubbling grape juice that arrived as fruit from the fields, to be fastidiously cared for on their way towards the bottling line. I found myself wandering through vineyards judging the ripeness of the grapes, and elbow-deep in buckets of frothing yeast. I began to see wine from a producer's point of view.
This is the real value of the Apprenticeship, and what makes it such a unique experience. Nothing else out there gives you such an in-depth perspective on an industry from so many viewpoints. It is just as fun and challenging as I thought it would be, but I had no idea just how much it would broaden my horizons!
"Pumping in 40 degree heat"
Plantagenet Wines was the first producer to appear in Western Australia's Great Southern region, when Englishman Tony Smith bought a farm in Plantagenet Shire and planted it with vines. 1974 was the first vintage; the next year, he bought an apple packing shed in the small town of Mount Barker and converted it to a winery. It was to this prestigious spot I arrived in early March, ready to get stuck into the 2012 vintage.
I was greeted at the winery by renowned winemaker John Durham and his right-hand man Jez; who, as soon as I'd dumped my bag, whisked me away for a look around the vineyards. So within three hours of getting off the plane I found myself in the back of a golf buggy, clinging on as we whizzed up and down rows of Riesling. That weekend was the hottest Mount Barker had had for quite a while - 40-degree hot, in fact - so the Js were concerned that the grapes' baume (sugar ripeness) would shoot up overnight.
Thankfully, later that day I was allowed to collapse in the Vintage House, the digs I was to share with Jez. This was a cheerfully rudimentary affair but to me the squeaky camp bed and barrels for furniture were heaven after 20 hours in the air!
The next day saw this pasty Englishman booted up and ready to go. The two hot days over the weekend had indeed sent the grapes rocketing to ripeness, so that day the white varieties began hitting the receiving bins in earnest. The earliest-picked were from the younger vines, destined for Plantagenet's Omrah range. It was fascinating to taste the fresh juice as it came off the press; such is the quality of the fruit from those vineyards that the varieties were clearly discernible. The Semillon juice was rich and waxy, the Sauvignon green and zingy and the Riesling, the Great Southern's darling grape, beautifully taut and limey. I soon stopped marvelling over the grapes, though, when I found myself scraping them out of a pneumatic press!
And so began work as usual for the first few weeks of my vintage. The Sauvignon and Riesling gradually gave way to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, then Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet. All arrived in small one-tonne crates which protect the fruit from being crushed under its own weight. Through the de-stemmer they went, and either straight into one of the two revolving presses (for the whites) or into a tank ready for inoculation (reds).
Once the stainless steel tanks had started filling up with fizzing reds I was tasked with looking after them. Embryonic red wine needs a lot of attention, I learnt, to coax colour, flavour and tannin from the skins of the grapes into the juice. This was to be done by pumping juice from the bottom of the tanks and spraying it over the floating mass of skins; or, more vigorously, plunging the skins down into the juice by hand. I was often to be found sweating away over the open-top tanks of small parcels of Cabernet and Shiraz, plunger in hand! Seeing the juice take on deep colour and develop recognisable aromas of the variety over the course of the fermentation really brought to life what I'd learnt on wine courses back in London.
The weather continued gloriously day after day. Often I would wander into the lab to find Jez exclaiming with delight a perfectly ripe sample - no adverse conditions forced us into harvesting at any other than the perfect time for all varieties. The only real hurdle I noticed was that a few vineyards had been nibbled by Silvereyes, a bird pest common to Western Australia - but Jordan, the nonchalant vineyard manager, simply made sure any affected grapes weren't picked.
The run of fine days came to an end over Easter. We gloomily watched pixelated clouds block out the Great Southern on the weather forecast, and prepared for the worst. The last remaining parcels of Cabernet were picked quickly before the rains came. The other cellar hands delighted in asking if I felt at home as the deluge hammered on the winery's tin roof!
The sun was shining again within a day or so, and all of a sudden it was my last day. As a parting gift I was told to tread a batch of Sangiovese barefoot while most of the laughing winery staff watched, camera phones in hand! I suspect it was revenge for my part in the water-bucket warfare we cellar-hands had been waging for the past few weeks!
I was genuinely sad to be leaving such a beautiful place and some of the kindest, most welcoming people I've met. Despite Plantagenet's prestigious heritage their wines are still simply products of their unique region, made by local, proud and deeply passionate people. The 2012 vintage looks to be absolutely terrific with the possible exception of the Sangiovese!
After a long and nerve wracking interview process I was offered the position as the new Liberty Apprentice in August 2009 following on from Nicola and Michelle. I had just spent a few months working at the opening of the first London restaurant in a rapidly expanding group and having spent the previous 4 years managing a couple of smaller, independently owned bar/restaurants I knew very well what it was like to be busy! This was my opportunity to make the step into the wine trade.
I‘ve been equally busy over the last 2 years doing a variety of jobs within each area of the company. It has given me a great experience of how Liberty Wines operates, a greater understanding of the wine trade in general, and with the opportunity to meet and spend time with a number of winemakers, a much greater understanding of viticulture and the production side of the industry.
"A fantastic way of gaining well rounded experience in the trade"
Studying for the WSET Diploma helps to complement knowledge and experience you pick up from working and tasting so it's a fantastic way of gaining well rounded experience in the trade.
For me personally the winemaking was a real highlight. This year at South Pacific cellars in New Zealand, I took a more hands on role making additions, plunging the Pinot Noir daily, helping with inoculations, preparing and filling barrels and a huge amount of cleaning tanks and digging out Pinot Noir skins! I was given 800kg of Pinot Noir to make some wine myself so I made a couple of barrels using a small open top dairy vat. Natural yeasts with some nutrient additions only, the ferment went well once I got it warmed up! Spending some time in the vineyards and working as a cellar hand gives you a chance to see the winemaking process in its entirety.
Michelle Lawlor and I were the first apprentices. Before joining Liberty, Michelle had worked in a restaurant in Covent Garden, with the responsibility of maintaining the wine list, and I was a City lawyer...
I'd been looking for an opportunity to join the wine trade and the apprenticeship presented a great opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of the trade.
It's a hectic and intense learning experience. One month you're sitting at a desk organising customer events and supplier visits, and the next you're on the other side of the world digging grape skins out of a tank.
"Broad and varied industry experience"
The great advantage of being an Apprentice is the breadth of wine industry experience you gain, from making wine to sales, logistics, marketing and finance. It really offers an insight into where your strengths and passions lie.
The absolute highlight of the two years for me was working the two vintages.
The first was in Friuli with Michelle. After a gruelling twelve hour shift in the winery we'd amble to the local osteria for primi, secondi and large glasses of vino rosso!
My second vintage was in New Zealand: another intense, boot camp-like experience with a great team of people. I was collecting samples in the vineyards, plunging the pinot noir tanks, testing sugar levels, racking whites, doing inoculations, cleaning the presses, monitoring temperatures, tasting the ferments, digging grape skins out of tanks, and of course cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning...