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Monday, 16 December 2019 16:02

INTERVIEW: Reto Thörig and Juan Lo Bello from Wein-Werkstatt (Basel, Switzerland)

Meet Reto Thörig and Juan Lo Bello from Wein-Werkstatt in Basel, first wine school to offer the French Wine Scholar™ program in Switzerland!

The first FWS sessions at Wein-Werkstatt are scheduled to begin March and June 2020, more information and registration HERE

You state on your website that you help students to “experience wine – understand wine – promote wine”. Could you please introduce all the activities offered by Wein Werkstatt, your wine school in Basel?

Reto: At Wein-Werkstatt, we look from different angles into the wine glass and into the topic of wine in general. We believe, the history, the culture and the people behind wine are very important ambassadors and offer experiences to the students, to get in touch with these different aspects: Focus tastings, events around a specific topic or trips to our favourite wine destinations. We are convinced, that enjoyment is based to a large extent to understanding. We offer entry-level courses as well as WSET® certificate courses and the more specific French Wine Scholar.

A second pillar is our corporate program: we consult large companies in regard to market analysis, wine selections or training programs. This is our international part and also guarantees that we keep our noses in all these competitive markets. Among our customers are different cruise lines, merchants or restaurant/hotel chains. We also support the University of Strasbourg in lecturing their different wine programs.

Reto, Juan, could you give us a bit of background on your personal history in wine and what made you decide to move into wine education?

Juan: My passion for wine started in Mendoza, Argentina, close to the original “Juan” (my grandfather), who introduced me to the world of wine. However, my professional wine career started in the UK, where I finished my WSET Level 4 Diploma in 2008.

I worked for 15 years in international management roles focusing on sales and marketing, before moving with my family to be closer to a wine region once again. We moved to Alsace in 2016 and founded the Wine Guru on Wheels to provide personalized wine services to private customers using cargo bikes. During the early days of my company I met Reto, and with him, I discovered wine education. Today, I am a Certified WSET Wine Educator and I truly enjoy teaching communicating, and creating experiences for everyone curious about the wonderful world of wine.

Reto: My home town is St. Gallen in the eastern part of Switzerland. I grew up in the restaurant environment and got in touch with hospitality at a very early age. However, seeing my parents working like horses, I thought to be much smarter going to University. I took me 3 years at medical school - commuting to Zurich every day and reading wine books on the train - to make a conscious choice for wine and hospitality. I then embarked in a hotel school and got my first position as Sommelier in a Swiss Alpine Hotel after this educational part. I further had the chance to work for an importer and run our own hotel for a while, before we got kids and moved to Basel, where the position of Director Food and Beverage at the University Hospital was offered to me. It looked like a circle is closing. Well, I also had the chance to pursue an MBA program in the USA, but I lost a bit the focus on wine. Therefore I decided to start my own company Wein-Werkstatt in 2012: we are still a start-up growing our activities. Since then, I also made a certificate in winemaking at UCD and I started my way toward the MW.  

Wein Werkstatt is going to be the first school to offer the French Wine Scholar program in Switzerland. Are French wines popular in Switzerland?

Juan: Yes, French wine is an important category in Switzerland. Swiss consumers have a relatively traditional approach to wine. Swiss wines are the first choice for many, but since production is not big they also show a strong preference for wines from neighbours France and Italy. Among the French wine regions, Bordeaux comes top. Like their French neighbours, the Swiss make wine choices considering food and wine pairing and are inclined to favour traditional cork closures. Actually, the French-speaking part of Switzerland drives the wine market. French-speaking Swiss are generally more involved in the wine category, drink wine more frequently and are more adventurous with their wine choices.

Do you think the FWS program will help wine professionals and enthusiasts to study French wines in a new way?   

Reto: We started off with teaching WSET programs on Level 2 and 3, which I believe are a very comprehensive curriculum and give the students a meaningful base and overview. Once they are through, we can now offer them a more specific and in-depth view on French wines. As we are the only wine school in Switzerland focusing on English classes, this was a logical and reasonable addition to our activities. And as Juan outlined, French wines are important for Switzerland and some of the greatest wines we find just outside Basel. 

Last question, for both of you: if you were a wine, which one would you be or like to be?  

Juan: If I were a wine, I will be a Malbec from Mendoza, but not necessarily because of my origin, but because I relate to the story of a relatively unknown grape variety in its country of origin, that finds a new “home” to express all its power, character and beauty. “Home” is not always the place where you are born but actually where you find the most suitable ground to grow, develop and shine. 

Reto: I am clearly a Vintage port. History and culture are of my personal interest and Ports are perfect time capsules to taste the past. Port also combines fruit, winemaking and ageing in a way, that it becomes a seasoned product, just like I am. Further, it is just freaking delicious.

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