Women We Love: Lynne Coyle, Master Of Wine

I’ll start this with a question: Have you read Malcolm Gladwells Outliers? I have read it, listened to it on Audible and read it again. It’s that good. You should too. I’m not the only one who after reading it, has noticed this clearly obvious phenomena, especially when it comes to the impressive woman featured in this weeks #WomenWeLove. 

There is a segment in the book where Gladwell states that to become truly great at something, you need to have practiced, or to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good. This has been diluted, exaggerated and exasperated over and over. But the bottom line is his message — people aren’t born geniuses, they get there through effort.

Over the course of 10 years if one practices 4 hours a day this accumulates to that golden number.

Master Of Wine Lynne Coyle, has 25 years experience within her trade. More than double the timeline Gladwell stipulated in his book. Her entire day is abundantly engrossed in wine, a constant fervour within the discovery of new, old and worldly known wines – to try and test every palate is her job, it is her craft and she is the Master of it. One of 379 Masters of Wine in the world, working in 30 countries and Lynne is one of only 4 within Ireland to be exact. 

An avid love and delicate passion for it, her role as Wine Director for O’Briens, Ireland’s largest family-owned drinks retailer with over 1,000 wines, see’s Lynne at the helm of the wine industry in Ireland.

Born and raised in Scotland, Lynne got a degree in Hotel Management following the footings of the rest of her family who are all hoteliers, but her passion, she discovered was wine. And off she went on her own journey outside the family realm. 

I chatted to Lynne about her journey with wine, becoming a Master of Wine and where she sees the ever growing wine scene in Ireland going. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in wine

My family were hoteliers and restaurateurs so wine was always a backdrop to some extent. I went on to study hotel management and it included a short wine appreciation course. Once I graduated, I worked as a graduate trainee, at The Savoy Hotel Group in London before travelling and living in Italy for a while. It was in Tuscany that I really started to appreciate how interesting wine was within itself and within its place in history, culture, agriculture and of course with food.

In order to be accepted by The Institute of Masters of Wine, applicants need to be experienced in the wine industry. How does one prepare themselves for such a journey?

Time and experience in the industry is very important along with relevant wine qualifications such as a wine making degree, a wine MBA or the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 4. Access to the correct quality of wine to taste and tasting with a good group of colleagues is also vital. The MW journey is often referred to as a marathon rather than a sprint – this is good to remember on the tough days. 

I would strongly urge anyone considering this journey to pack humility & networking into the rucksack too. You will become so dependent on many people to help and support you along the way and we are fortunate because the wine industry is very generous both with its time and with the expertise it is willing to share with students.

Lynne, students need to complete a series of papers on different areas of the wine industry as diverse as viticulture and marketing whilst studying to become a Master of Wine. You chose to write a paper about Ingredient Labelling on Wine. Why did this appeal to you?

I originally considered a couple of more glamorous topics ! but the wine label option was suggested to me by my a long-time friend and colleague John Ratcliffe.

Focus is everything when conducting your research and I discovered there was very little written about this increasingly important area. I was lucky too that the Irish government were also working on legislation about health labelling on alcohol so it made my topic very relevant and practical.

How important is the bottle, artwork and design of wine to you? Or is taste what takes precedence? 

In my job as wine buyer for O’Briens Wines, it’s always about the wine in the bottle, that is the single most important consideration.

Of course everything else has an effect on the over-all impression. From the colour of the glass, bottle weight, bottle shape, cork/screw cap and of course the label design.

What is appropriate is often the most relevant factor to consider. But sometimes the wine is just so good that it overrides everything and this is when our teams in the shops get annoyed with me as I ask them to ignore the label and concentrate on the wine – depending on the label sometimes that’s easier said than done. 

Many people reading this will be familiar with a Sommelier, yet perhaps not as much with an MW, can you tell us the difference between a Master of Wine a Master Sommelier

This is a question I often explore with my Sommelier friends when we compare the study programmes, the wine tasting requirements and the exams – in brief a Sommelier usually works as a wine expert focussed on service in restaurants and a Master of Wine works as a wine expert usually found in education or business. Both follow a rigorous training journey that takes years to complete, both are passionate wine lovers and communicators and both usually have a very healthy respect for the other.

 Lynne, you once said that features like a wine’s quality and its typicity are your priorities as a wine buyer. That wine “should taste like it comes from the region it comes from”. Can you share with us what your top three go to regions and the wines from them regions are and why?

That is a very hard question, it’s like asking about your favourite child – plus it changes all the time. Anyone visiting a wine region as a wine lover, whether on holiday or as professional,  can learn so much from just being there, experiencing the weather, meeting the people, visiting the vineyards, tasting the wines and then getting up the next day and discovering that the neighbouring winery you visit does certain things very differently to their neighbour. That’s why it’s such a fascinating topic and why I consider myself to be an eternal wine student.

During tasting for potential wines to bring into the Irish market, is price important? Or is good value the intricate leading factor?

When sourcing and selecting wines for O’Briens the wine quality, value and typicity are key – price is of course important too. However, O’Briens is in a unique position in that we prefer to work directly and exclusively with our wineries, family company to family company as it were. This relationship helps us build long term relationships with our suppliers that benefits our customers as its allows us to offer great value for money – we also work with local Irish suppliers and again offering our customers value and quality is the absolute goal.

How does a Wine seal the deal for you? Is it down to Instinctive experience on your part or is there a check list to tick all the right boxes?

The tick box is in my head ! but the experience and instinct is key to knowing when something is right, and when the teams in the shops and our customers will love it.

O’Briens wine deal with over 90 vineyards in order to offer competitive prices within the market, can you tell us a little more about what your day to day job entails? Some will envision one Rose tinted view (see what I did there), but a lot of hard work goes into it. 

We ship directly from over 150 wineries worldwide and with different time zones the emails & phone calls tend to come in grouped in countries at certain times of the day.

Many of our wineries come to Dublin to show us their wines and visit our shops. We taste thousands of wines every year which means we need to taste wine every day in our tasting room otherwise the samples pile up.

Meeting with the head office team is a daily occurrence as we are usually working flat out to very tight deadlines for shipping wines, creating point of sale copy and promotional planning as well as planning wine events and of course our O’Briens Wines Festivals that typically see 65 wineries visit Dublin.

On the less glamorous side of things there are lots of spreadsheets, standing about in freezing cold cellars tasting barely fermented wines, a few late nights and sometimes too many red eye flights.

Lynne you are constantly encouraging those interested in pursuing a career in the wine world. What in your opinion is the best place to begin that pursuit? 

People come to wine from all directions and at all ages, there is no right or wrong approach – you need a passion and commitment to learn and an obsession with asking Why? when it comes to learning about wine.  

I started studying with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, these course are a great foundation for anyone interested in wine, I also moved from working in restaurants to working in the specialist retail sector and both were a great start. You also need to find someone who is willing to help you get to tastings and explain the tricky bits.

There are currently 132 female Masters of Wine in the world. Sarah Morphew Stephen MW became the first female Master of Wine in 1970. There are currently 379 Masters of Wine today, working in 30 countries. So the balance of both men and women is actually great in comparison to other industries and ratios. Yet there is a huge gap in Ireland for women to get more involved in the wine industry. With this in mind, you have recently ventured into an aspiring initiative ‘Wine Spirit Women’ that will prompt more women to get involved in wine, the business and the trade, can you tell our readers a little bit more about that?

My friend and co-founder of Wine Spirit Women, Justine McGovern and myself have over fifty years wine industry experience and felt we wanted to give something back, we felt there was very limited opportunity for the women in the industry in Ireland to meet and share their experience and ideas together so set up the group.

Wine Spirit Women is a networking group for women in the drinks business, at the core of the ethos is the creation of a positive networking group for women where we can share experiences, mentor and inspire each other.

Why do you think initiatives like this are important?

Women of all ages and industry backgrounds are welcome, whether working full-time or part-time, still studying or just starting out on their drinks industry career. Our aim is to be contemporary, relevant and globally connected for our members with the key purpose of creating networking opportunities so that our members can expand their connections, build new relationships, and share knowledge, learning and expertise in our industry as individuals professionally and personally.

We sponsor student memberships & are shortly due to launch a scholarship scheme where we WSW will support the training of a number of students through key industry exams.

When you work, you are constantly switched on, but what happens after hours when you retire or indeed socialise with friends and family, when the preferential state of mind subsides? What wines do you nestle into at the end of the working day?

It depends ! my mood, the weather, the food, the company – but I am a big Burgundy fan, I love Champagne and I am very interested in indigenous grape varieties from anywhere – I am also always very interested to taste wines grown in marginal or non- classic grape growing climates.

You have been in the Wine business for over 25 years, what is the secret to your longevity?

 I still love it, the people and the product and I make it my business to find out new things about wine every day that I didn’t know before.

What were the biggest challenges you faced?

In the early days the physical challenges of taking in twenty pallets of wine in the pouring Scottish rain and at an intellectual level the Master of Wine.

 At the time when you ventured into a career within wine, was the likelihood of establishing yourself in that business more challenging for women?

At the time I never really thought about it being harder for me as a woman – wine is a physical job whether working in a restaurant, retail, in a winery or in distribution so that is something that is not always understood and it is one of the hurdles that needs to be crossed.

As a shop manager then area manager I was usually the only woman or one of two in meetings and it happened more than once as the only female buyer in our team that I went to collect my wine supplier meetings in reception and they thought I was the secretary and asked me for a coffee (I used to love that).

I have always tried to do the best job I can as a wine buyer,  I try to make a connection with the people I come into contact with at work and have found that in general everyone is doing the same even if their agenda differs to mine.

 If you can recognise and accept this then valuable working relationships can be built on mutual respect.

I think that this is more important than whether you are a man or a woman.  

Has this changed or are there still barriers to be broken down?

There are certainly more women in the wine trade now at all levels than when I first started and it is a rewarding and fascinating industry so I would encourage both women and men to pursue a career in wine if they feel inclined.

I have always found the wine industry to be remarkably generous and supportive and I always try to be the same for others. I would say to anyone in the industry if you are finding barriers to your career progression you need to find another path as there are numerous industry options and numerous companies.

Madam Albright stated, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women”. Women helping women can be very powerful, can you let us know what women in Ireland, as well as women abroad, you most admire whom you feel inspires you?

With a Mayo connection in the family my first inspiring women is Gráinne ni Mhaille, the 15th Century Pirate Queen, a warrior, a mother, a wife and a fighter for her people & she was proud of who she was.

Mary Robinson for her tireless work on Climate change.

Joan Baez for her music, her work as an activist and her down to earth attitude.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I am a risk taker – if my ghost is seen it will be saying “just do it”.

Work wise I think it would be resigning from a big buying job in London – I had nothing lined up, a massive mortgage and two young children at the time – I phoned my husband Joe on the way into work and told him what I was about to do, he was very supportive. To be honest it was one of the best decisions I made as it freed me to move on and discover new career opportunities.  

What has been your proudest career moment to date?

Passing the Master of Wine tasting exams for me is my career highlight – passing the rest was great too but the tasting is so tough ; it felt like I must have been doing something right all those years of tasting wine for a living! 

Lynne, you are known for your welcoming charm and warmth that touches your co-workers and fellow industry members along with your social media followers. What mantras/mindfulness do you use to cleanse the mind of negative thoughts and keep so positive?

I practise yoga which for me is calming and allows space to reflect, I also drive to work for around an hour every day which is good thinking and planning time – then sometimes I have a rant to get things off my chest ( ask my work colleagues/friends & husband) and then I move on.

If I am having negative thoughts I force myself to find ten positive things and focus on them instead.

Speaking of mindfulness, how do you split your time between working as an MW for Ireland’s largest family-owned drinks retailer and your downtime?

We live in the countryside in Kildare so I walk our dogs, garden and horse ride and I have recently taken up a long held ambition to throw pots which I am doing poorly under the watchful eye of the lovely talented potters at Arran Street East Pottery in Smithfield.

As a family we enjoy eating out, going to plays, films and concerts and head West to Achill to clear the mind whenever we can.

And what are your goals for 2019?

My Granny Rita was 100 in January this year so I want to make sure I get back to Scotland a good few times this year to see the family over there. 

I would love to see Wine Spirit Women growing into a key networking group for the drinks industry in Ireland and we have some very exciting plans for the O’Briens Wine School which should be fun – I would also like to improve my pot making skills.

What is your morning routine to get you through the working day?

I get up at 6.30 am, feed the dogs, shower & leave for work, in the car I plan, listen to music and Audible – when I arrive at work I have a soya latte & oatcakes for breakfast and either go into the tasting room or read emails.

Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in Dublin?

Forest Avenue or L’Ecrivain as a treat and Wuff in Smithfield as a local restaurant we also eat Asian food all over Dublin too many places to mention from the supermarket in Capel Street to Ban Thai.

What are your favourite ways to keep healthy?

Yoga, Walking, Swimming & Horse riding

 What are your top three essentials in life?

Beaches, Salads & a What’s Next plan

Favourite gadget and why?

My Samsung phone – I keep everything on it and the camera is good.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Night owl.

Your greatest food pleasure?

Everything Asian

If you could tell your 16 year-old self anything, what would it be?

Stop eating crisps and take a year out to travel before settling into a career.

Can you share any exciting plans you have in the pipeline?

I have launched my website this month so I will be sharing my wine muses, blogs, images and experiences on there www.lynnecoylemw.com

I have been thinking about launching a wine for some time and I am thrilled because 2019 is the year.

It will be a Rose wine and will arrive in the country towards the end of April – I have been working with my long- time friend and wine maker Alicia Eyaralar in Spain on the project and the wine is almost ready to bottle so watch this space for a wine with a Celtic twist………

You can follow Lynne on Instagram & Twitter 

You can follow Wine Spirit Women on Instagram  & Twitter  

Article by Linda Coogan Byrne, Deputy Editor at IndulgeMe.ie. You can follow Linda on InstagramTwitter and LinkedIn.