Gusbourne’s Global Brand Ambassador Laura Rhys earned her wine stripes at prestigious international competitions and in Michelin-starred dining rooms. A Master Sommelier since 2010, Laura brings her world-class experience to our corner of Kent.
Wine wasn’t the first career option on Laura’s mind. Far from it – she’d set her sights on law. But a weekend job absorbing the buzz of life in a restaurant turned her head. Before she could pick up a book on tort, tarte tatin got in the way. The new plan? Cardiff to study International Hospitality Management. Then came learning about and falling in love with wine, through the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). Becoming a sommelier was a natural next step.
University degree and Level 3 WSET complete, Laura saw hospitality and the wine industry as a passport to work her way around the world. “My first job was at a wonderful fine-dining hotel and restaurant between Florence and Pisa – a very special place.”
Then, back in the UK, came an opportunity that would change everything. It was late 2004 and a certain boutique hotel group with serious wine credentials was looking for a commis sommelier. Laura got the job at Winchester Hotel du Vin, where she spent three happy years honing her skills and learning alongside inspirational sommeliers Claire Thevenot MS and Yohann Jousselin MS.
“I got really excited about English sparkling wine”
During that time, Claire Thevenot was preparing for the UK Sommelier of the Year competition [which she won in 2006], and the whole team helped her to train. “It was eye-opening to see what someone could achieve, studying while still putting in full shifts on their day job,” Laura recalls. “Hotel du Vin was an amazing training ground, and it’s where I first encountered English sparkling wine – I got really excited about it.”
Reaping her rewards
Then, when the late, great Gerard Basset OBE, MS MW – co-founder of Hotel du Vin – started his next venture, Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest, Laura joined him as head sommelier. Two prestigious awards followed: the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Sommelier of the Year in 2008 and UK Sommelier of the Year in 2009.
In between shifts, she started preparing for her MS exams. “Lots of late nights and early mornings, but we were in the middle of the New Forest, so there was nothing to tempt me out after service. I was lucky to have Gerard to talk things through with. He was an amazing mentor, pushing people in the most supportive way.” Laura passed the notoriously difficult exam, becoming a Master Sommelier in 2010.
It was at her next job as head sommelier at La Trompette, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Chiswick, West London, that Laura first discovered Gusbourne’s sparkling wines.
“I loved the wines and thought it would be a good idea to list the Gusbourne Brut Reserve by the glass, side by side with our house champagne. Give people the opportunity to taste one or both… it was a great success! It’s remained there by the glass for years.”
Champion of English sparkling
On a visit to Gusbourne, Laura was “totally blown away” by what Head Winemaker Charlie Holland, Chief Vineyard Manager Jon Pollard and founder Andrew Weeber were doing. “They were so driven by this ethos of quality and style. And just so down-to-earth.” It wasn’t long before conversations evolved and Laura said yes to an offer to join the team.
Laura’s multi-faceted role at Gusbourne has changed and expanded over the years. In the winery, she works alongside the winemaking team at two critical stages: blind tasting and blending. She diplomatically refuses to single out a favourite Gusbourne wine (“It changes from vintage to vintage”) but confesses a current affection for the Rosé 2016. And the Blanc de Noirs 2016. “Ask me in six months and my favourite will be the Blanc de Blancs 2016.”
“I love wines from all over the world. What unites them is elegance and finesse. That could be a Cabernet Franc from California, a Syrah from the Northern Rhône, or a really old-school Australian aged Cabernet Sauvignon. Elegance doesn’t always mean lightness. It’s about the balance.”
As Global Brand Ambassador, Laura hosts wine dinners and tastings, working closely with Gusbourne’s sales and marketing teams. And in “normal times” she criss-crosses the country and the globe, championing English sparkling wine wherever she goes.
Laura Rhys MS is one of just 267 Master Sommeliers in the world. Of those, 34 are women and six are based in the UK and Europe. Laura has been Gusbourne’s Global Ambassador since 2015.
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