Words by Hannah Tapping
Delving deeper into the wonderful world of wine, with an education opportunity for oenophiles that escapes the everyday.
Based in Cornwall, Wild Wine School was set up in 2019 after owner and sommelier Debbie Warner identified a need for both bespoke training for the trade as well as personal courses for the modern drinker with a desire to be more informed when it comes to wine. Her Wild Wine Club, which was started some four years earlier, brought together like-minded individuals for outdoor feasting, with wine of course, and hosted some of Cornwall’s finest guest chefs including Adam Banks, Emily Scott and St Ives-based private chef, Natasha Osborne.
It was while sharing a bottle at these these outdoor adventures that Debbie realised her guests were wine-curious and eager to learn more. Debbie studied marine biology and oceanography at Plymouth University and has always been interested in the environment. Growing up in London, weekends and family holidays were spent at the seaside or camping which generated Debbie’s love of the great outdoors. “I realised after finishing university that I didn’t want to be an academic and had fallen in love with the West Country, so I applied for a job at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay.
They took me on, and when someone dropped out of a WSET level two course at the last minute, I took their place and found that I had a real affinity with wine. “I went on to study my level three and diploma. After leaving Fifteen I went on to be a consultant and am now an educator,” adds Debbie. “I have recently started studying a soil science course, covering regenerative farming and have spent a lot of time travelling predominantly across Europe, visiting the vineyards of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.”
Left- Lewis Harrison-Pinder | Middle- John Hersey | Right- Lewis Harrison-Pinder
With a focus on sustainable and regenerative viniculture, Debbie has developed a unique set of courses designed to delve deeper into the world of wine, introducing people to contemporary topics: “The Wild Wine School provides wine education with a sustainable focus, as well as training for top hospitality businesses such as The Pig Hotels, Ducksoup, and Nancarrow Farm. From in-depth WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) accredited courses, to workshops, and Wild Wine Club banquets served under stars, it brings people away from their desks and out into the great outdoors. The WSET level one accredited course, while a base level, is a real confidence builder giving students the foundation knowledge they need to progress. Level two is where we really start to delve into wine, learning about different regions and grape varieties, while level three is where we start to get very specialist.”
Pre-covid, Debbie’s classroom was at the ancient Nancarrow Farm, and then the course had to be reimagined for pandemic times, with lectures being held over Zoom. Now that restrictions are easing, 2022 courses are now available, hosted by the likes of Trevibban Mill near Padstow and Knightor Winery near St Austell. The Wild Wine School is an accredited program provider for the WSET and their latest offering, A Modern Introduction to Wine is an eight-week online course created by Debbie and her team. Each week explores a new subject, paired with a carefully selected bottle of wine: “This course is for people who are curious to know the stories behind the wines they drink, and are fascinated by the processes involved in how wine is made,” explains Debbie.
“We shine a spotlight on modern themes such as organic and biodynamic viticulture, natural wines, the booming English wine scene, and discover stories about captivating wine regions around the world. We’ll also discuss the basics of winemaking and the main grape varieties, as well as popping some corks on sparkling wine week, and understanding more about food pairings.
Left- Lewis Harrison-Pinder | Right- Lewis Harrison-Pinder
“The course is for mixed abilities, and as a class we’ll work together to ensure everyone gets the most out of the experience. Those joining with prior knowledge will have the opportunity to share, inform and exchange views, and those just starting out will bring fresh energy, ideas, and taste buds.” The course evolves with the seasons to reflect the time of year, connecting students with what they are drinking, how it is grown, created and even how it makes it to our table. Thursday evenings on the course see virtual wine tastings led by Debbie, and students can expect guest appearances from industry experts including winemakers, merchants and sommeliers – these include Ruth Spivey, wine writer and founder of Wine Car Boot, Ben Walgate, co-founder and owner of Tillingham Wines, and Tommy Grimshaw, Head Winemaker at Langham Winery. With all of the Zoom sessions being recorded, participants have the option to join live for a fun, interactive evening, or gain access to the content each week in their own time.
“For those who prefer to dip into a shorter course, 2022 sees the launch of two new ones; An Introduction To Wild Wines, which is a one-day course, and A Knowledge Of Wild Wines, a two-day course. Both are aimed at the trade and bring together all the wider specialist knowledge that is not covered by the WSET courses. Debbie says: “they are perfect for both industry professionals and wine enthusiasts and cover organic and biodynamic wines, natural winemaking (or what makes a natural wine), and sustainability in the wine industry. So, thinking beyond the wineries and the vineyards. We also look at transportation and alternative packaging, both of which have a huge impact in terms of carbon footprint. You’ll learn how to taste and describe wine, how environmental factors, grape-growing, winemaking and maturation options influence the style and quality of wine. And best of all, you’ll get to taste lots of delicious, interesting and thought-provoking wines.”
Left- Ingrid Pop | Middle- Lewis Harrison-Pinder | Right- Lewis Harrison-Pinder
“We set out to inspire and educate through workshops, courses and events that err on the wild side. Calling on nature to add a technicolour edge to your experience we like to share our wine knowledge and passion in surroundings that enliven senses and expand minds,” explains Debbie. “With a focus on sustainable viticulture, we believe exploring what’s in our wine glasses shouldn’t be confined to a desk. It’s why we’re taking it back to where it all started, the great outdoors; the vineyards of Cornwall are our home.”
There is a week-long residential course coming in the autumn which will be a level three course, held at the incredible Knightor’s Seaton vineyard. An intensive and in-depth course will see students stay in the beautiful old manor house with its private pool, and experience a mix of teaching in the day and lectures in the evening, alongside some incredible food and obviously some very fine wine. Workshop topics include organic and biodynamic viticulture, minimal intervention wine making and an introduction to Cornish wines to name but a few. Debbie also collaborates with Find & Foster, a cider maker adopting a similar approach to making cider as a vinter would, who also align with Debbie’s sustainable principles as they foster forgotten orchards in Devon in exchange for apples. Debbie and her team live and breathe hospitality, regularly hosting industry events and masterclasses, while bringing some of their favourite wine makers to Cornwall to share stories, insight and a glass or two of the good stuff!