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Hail the Master of wine

Barbara Philip only waitressed while waiting for her acting career to take off. “You’re always in a sense of denial, that this isn’t my real job. That one day I’ll get my big break,” says Philip, 43.

Barbara Philip only waitressed while waiting for her acting career to take off.

“You’re always in a sense of denial, that this isn’t my real job. That one day I’ll get my big break,” says Philip, 43.

The Vancouverite’s big break did come, but it had nothing to do with theatre.

About 15 years ago, she, her husband and a friend started getting into wine; pairing wines at dinner parties, reading about it and taking trips to wine regions.

One day, a chef friend called, saying his restaurant’s sommelier — wine expert — had just quit, and offered her the job.

She ended her contract with her acting agent and dug into wine.

While she worked at the restaurant designing the wine list, ordering wine and helping customers pick their vintage for the night, she began taking courses.

As she furthered her wine knowledge, she heard about something cool: Master of wine certification. The designation was held by less than 200 people in the world at the time.

“If I’m going to be in the wine business, I want to go all the way with it,” Philip said to herself.

She kept working in restaurants, and took courses and travelled to taste as many wines as she could, and learn in detail the wine business, making wine and growing grapes.

Meanwhile, because she was a woman in the wine industry — a rarity at the time — she began getting requests to do talks, run tastings, teach classes and judge events.

By the time she wrote her thesis and sat her master of wine exams in 2005 and 2006, her freelance work was so busy, she quit her restaurant job.

Her husband Iain, who used to work for BC Hydro, also works in wine full time now; they run Barbariain Consulting together and he’s the senior wine instructor at Vancouver’s Art Institute.

Philip now travels a great deal, flying around the world to tastings and competitions.

As well, she now works as the European wine buyer for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) — which means more travel.

She’s constantly tasting wine.

She follows a template to evaluate a wine based on its sight, smell and taste.

“It’s very systematic. Drawing a conclusion about a wine is more about brainwork than taste bud work.”

And while she’ll have a glass at home in the evening, and at dinner parties, most of the time at work, she spits it out. “When you’re reviewing, judging or buying, you have to have your mind about you.”

 
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