Top tipples but no alcohol
Susy Atkins isn’t just a wine writer, she enjoys creating non-alcoholic drinks too.
Susy Atkins, 48, is married with two sons, aged nine and 12, and lives with her family near Exeter on Dartmoor. She is a wine columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, a BBC1 Saturday Kitchen regular and a contributor to magazines and newspapers. Her book, How to Make Your Own Drinks (Octopus Books, £12.99), has just been published in paperback.
I shouldn't think careers officers have a lot of teenage girls saying they want to become a wine writer when they grow up. How did it happen?
I was an English Literature graduate and I did a post-graduate course in journalism. I was interested in food and I ended up working on a business magazine for Haymarket. This was 25 years ago. I found the business magazine dull, but they also published Wine magazine and I was lucky that a job came up. So I did my trade wine exams at evening classes.
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That would have been an interesting time for the wine industry.
It was. There was a lot of interest in wine and it was enjoying a much broader appeal. Wine tastes very much of where it comes from and I was interested in travel, so I got to go to places which were emerging wine regions like Australia, new Zealand and Chile. I was there at the right time for New World wines. They were still evolving and just getting on the map. Chile was really breaking through.
Wine seems like a complex world.
Every vintage is basically a new wine, every vintage is different. Different regions of Europe are now making wines – there are interesting wines from Romania and new wines from Turkey.
Do you think we're becoming more knowledgeable though?
Well, when I started there were no supermarket wines. They first started about 25 years ago. Then there were very few women writing about wine, or making it... or even buying it. Now wine-buying is equally divided between men and women. Now anyone can enjoy wine. We are definitely becoming more knowledgeable about wine. The main problem, though, is a lack of confidence in some wine consumers. They opt for the same old pinot grigio and they are missing out on an extraordinary range.
And wine has become more affordable.
Yes, the prices are better but I do have my reservations about "cheap" wine. You can buy wine for £3.99 but very little of that money has gone into the making of the wine – a lot goes on taxes. So if you pay £5.99 you can get a better wine... just drink less! It is very competitive. The UK wine trade has brought prices down very hard.
How are Westcountry wines standing up?
There has been a huge improvement in the 12-13 years I've been living in the South West and the region is so good at promoting its own produce. You have Camel Valley wine, which is absolutely pioneering, and Sharpham. And even non-alcoholic drink makers like Luscombe, plus great beers and ciders and wines.
You mention soft drinks; that brings us neatly to your book.
Yes, How To Make Your Own Drinks has just come out in paperback. I spent a year making my own drinks – beers, wine and ciders – but also lots of non-alcoholic drinks, many made from a glut of produce and a lot of forgotten drinks we would all once have made. Things like dandelion wine, or nettle beer, blackberry whisky or quince vodka. It was all stuff I could grow, scrounge or pick and lots of store cupboard things. Nothing too expensive or terrifying. Some of them are very old recipes – the kind of thing that was popular in the 1970s and 80s when we were all watching The Good Life!
You will be matching wine with food at an event next week.
I'll be working with the head chef at the Moorland Garden Hotel, Bruce Cole, who has devised a gourmet autumn menu. It's lovely to work with really good chefs. I already know the menu. We have to make sure the dishes are pretty wine friendly – no chilli pepper and pickles! Hopefully it showcases the food and the wine. I talk about the wines and chat with the chef who talks about the dishes. It's really just a lovely excuse to talk about food and drink. If you tell people about the wine producers, it helps to bring the wine to life.
Any other dates in your diary that you are particularly looking forward to?
The Dartmouth Food Festival (October 25-27). I'm helping in the drink theatre. I love that festival and volunteered to be a part of it.
Tickets for the event at the Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, on Thursday, September 26, are £49.95 per person. A special B&B offers rooms from £40 per person. Call 01822 852245 or visit moorlandgardenhotel.co.uk.