“Present a wine show” they said. “You’ll try lots of great wine. You’ll meet interesting people in beautiful places.”
All true. But they didn’t say I’d have to write and perform a stand-up comedy routine in Hollywood. Or run a marathon in fancy dress and end up on a drip. Or canoe across a lake before doing a blind tasting at the top of a mountain.
The reception for series one of The Wine Show was astonishing. We’d made it without a channel to broadcast it and risked a lot of other peoples’ money. But the show went out in the UK and people seemed to love it. And then a few other countries. And then a few more. It’s broadcast in around 110 countries now. While we were making series two, viewers stopped us in Canada, Croatia, Argentina, France, Germany. Even Bahrain. People told us they loved watching two friends – Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys – lark about finding wines. So we knew we’d found a great formula. But in series two the producers had a few ideas up their sleeves to make it even better.
It’s important that you don’t need to be a wine nut to enjoy the show. We travel to beautiful places and uncover fascinating stories. And they’re beautiful and fascinating whether you drink or not. Georgia was one of the highlights of series two. “Georgians are much the hardest drinking nation on earth” said Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who travelled there in the 70’s and 80’s. They are. But once we arrived we discovered their traditions of feasting and polyphonic singing. These are the things that bring Georgians together. And have done for over 8000 years, ever since the birth of wine, which almost certainly happened in modern-day Georgia. Then we travelled to Argentina. I suppose it’s one of the world’s newer wine producing countries by comparison. Just a matter of a few hundred years. And we found how Malbec is an allegory for the Argentine approach to immigration.
One of our directors said this time “The Wine Show has to go hard or go home”. I suppose it’s no surprise he was the one who had me run a marathon in fancy dress. And do a blind tasting on a snow-covered mountain. Or perform stand-up. But at least he never made me do it alone. I ran the Medoc Marathon with Jamie Ramsay. He’s an adventurer and ultra-runner who’d run from Vancouver to Buenos Aires. Pushing all his belongings in a pram. The mountain-top wine tasting was with my co-presenter Amelia Singer. We’re HUGELY competitive. So the tension was high. Amelia beat me the last time we did a blind tasting, also on a mountain top. It was a proper grudge match. And I didn’t have to prepare my stand-up alone. I was touring the California vineyards with comedian Gina Yashere. She was wonderful. And I even managed to find a wine for her, in spite of telling me she didn’t really like wine at all, just asking if there was “anything like Sprite”.
For me, the most exciting changes in series two are having Jancis Robinson MW James Purefoy with us. Matthew Rhys and I stayed at home for our gadgets section, playing with old and new wine toys at Berry Bros & Rudd in London. But we sent Matthew Goode and James Purefoy off on a grand tour around France collecting wine. Only this time I wasn’t judging the wines. James and Goodey had to match their wines to a menu by French super-chef Stephane Reynaud. And their choices were judged by Jancis. I was as terrified as they were. I’d be trying to coach them and Jancis has been the most authoritative judge through my career in the wine trade. I was hoping Goodey had remembered some of the things we talked about in series one. Turned out he had. He kept firing things back at me that I’d told him a year ago.
It’s not all fun and games. We covered some moving stories in Bosnia and California. But like series one, it’s the people you meet who make the stories special. And not only the people you interview either. In Croatia, a couple from South Korea stopped us as we were rushing to meet a deadline. They were desperate to say hello, and tell us how they were missing this week’s episode while they were on their European holiday. The same thing happened in Provence when some Norwegians stopped us. It’s incredible to know people have enjoyed the show in such different places.
It’s special being part of a show where people are keen to get involved. We’ll be asking people to #showusyourbottles again on Twitter and Instagram. We had thousands last series. People showed us their slippers, dogs, cats, sofas, dinners and gadgets too. We love all that. In Georgia we discovered how wine has been bringing people together for 8000 years. In our own little way we hope we’re doing the same thing today.