‘People drink wine with the people they love, to fall in love and to make love.’
Ambitious, Determined and Confident, these are only a few of the many positive words I could use to describe Emily Lambert, also known as the ‘Belle of English Bubbles’. As we continue into English Wine Week, I could not think of a better person to feature on this week’s interview.
What is your background and what do you currently do?
I followed the apprenticeship route rather than academic and joined the Ritz Academy. The first year the Ritz were trialling an academy so you could say I was the guinea pig. I spent six months in different departments of the hotel. I started in the restaurant with the hostess team, however they had a couple of new starters, so I quickly moved to the sommelier team. I was sixteen, obviously too young to drink or serve alcohol but I became a pro at water duty; I was pretty good at it as well.
This is where my interest with wine began. It all seemed so glamourous. People would buy all these expensive wines, and I thought why would you spend thousands or even hundreds of pounds on a bottle of wine?
I completed my level 2 and 3 WSET (Wine Sprit Education Trust) whilst training in the different departments in the hotel; the bar, reservations, front office, housekeeping and finally kitchen… I am not itching to get back there anytime soon. After completing the first level of the academy I decided to join the Sommelier team, as their First Female Sommelier.
It posed a lot of challenges being in an all-male environment. I was 19 when I became a sommelier, while the rest of the team were around 24 years old upwards. It definitely taught me to have a thick skin and stand up for myself. I did really enjoy my time and I learnt from some of the best sommelier’s in the UK and world!
I then went on to film for the BBC Two’s Million Pound Menu; MasterChef meets Dragon’s Den. Myself and a chef from the Ritz, Ruth Hanson, won a million pounds to open up our own restaurant, an unbelievable experience. Unfortunately, this did not come into fruition, which was a decision we decided to make with the investor. It was not the right time in our careers and a blessing in disguise as C–19 Pandemic would have definitely affected us!
Now I run a page called Emily’s English Wines. I started promoting English wines and now I use my platform to help people feel confident and included. The wine industry can be perceived as ‘exclusive’ and I want people to feel included at any level of knowledge. There is a time and place for a five-pound bottle, as there is for more expensive bottles of wine. I just want people to have the knowledge to make better decisions not necessarily more expensive. I currently do wine consultancy in business development and sales.
What do you love about wine and why does it inspire you?
I love how wine makes people feel, it brings everyone together. I always say; ‘people drink wine with the people they love, to fall in love and to make love’. Wine is there for us in our good and bad times… that’s why I love it!
What are the most challenging and most rewarding things about being a wine consultant?
In hospitality we work long hours, it requires a lot of studying and networking. All this means it is hard to find a steady work-life balance. Being self-employed comes with a lot of uncertainty and it is hard to switch off.
The people and experiences are what makes it rewarding. Before being in hospitality I had never travelled to Amsterdam or Paris for work or travelled to France on wine trips. I had not eaten in many expensive restaurants or drunk expensive wine… there is so much food I didn’t know existed.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to pursue a career in wine?
Knowledge is vital combined with the experience. I recommend learning from the established wine professionals but keeping an open mind. I have been around traditional wine professionals from 16 years old and a lot has changed, especially the way we consume wine. Learn all the important bits and then decide how you want to drink, communicate and enjoy wine.
Post isolation do you have any projects that you will be working on?
Post isolation, I am hoping to launch my own wine brand which will be an English Sparkling Wine. I am really excited! I cannot share too many details, as we are not 100 percent there yet and everything has slowed down because of C-19. It is definitely going to challenge wine traditions.
Why do you believe the hospitality industry is a great place to work?
The people you meet and experiences you have are completely unique to this industry. The industry itself can be very unattractive, the long hours, little pay and poor work-life balance. I remember feeling guilty when I wanted a break when doing a 15-hour shift; your colleagues made you feel that way. A new generation of managers are going to change the industry for the better… I hope we can then inspire and support more people to join the hospitality family!
What would you say influences your look and style?
When I started as a sommelier, I worked in a completely male-dominated restaurant… they didn’t even have a uniform for women, I had to wear a bow tie and tails. I have always loved fashion; it makes me feel confident and beautiful. I want the same for everyone, I believe knowledge (of wine) and clothes can give you that confidence to be yourself. If you want to wear a short skirt to a wine tasting, do it. If you want to wear a t-shirt, do it. Do what makes you feel comfortable, confident and beautiful… life is too short!
What are the most interesting things about you that you would like people to know?
I am extremely determined, and I have an ability to make something out of nothing. Another thing would be that I used to compete in county competitions for golf, I don’t think many expect that.
What hospitality outlets are you most looking forward to reopening after the isolation period is over?
There are probably a lot more places that I could mention, but these were the ones that came to mind first:
- Frog by Adam Handling, in Covent Garden. I am dying to go back there; the food is tasty art.
- Robata a Japanese restaurant I went to, the food was so delicious.
- Hide. I had breakfast there before the C-19 Pandemic and it was amazing. I want to go back there and have dinner.
- The Vault, which is a tiny little underground whiskey bar in Soho.
What are your top 3 favourite wines?
It will constantly change as you discover more wines and it will often depend on the occasion; it is hard to round it down to three. For June 2020, English Wine Week and being the ‘Belle of English Bubbles’ it would be wrong to pick anything other than English Sparkling Wine. So, the English Wines which come to mind are:
- Raimes Classic Cuvee
- Wiston Blanc de Noir
- Black Chalk Rose
On my website I do monthly wine recommendations… Swig, Save or Spend. Swig, wines to be enjoyed now; Save for special occasions: or Spend and splash out. Black Chalk you should swig with your friends at the weekend. Save Wiston Blanc de Noir for a special occasion; like the end of quarantine. Spend a little on Raimes for a family picnic.
If you were a food or drink what would you be?
I would be English Sparkling Wine of course! English Sparkling Wines uses traditional winemaking techniques from Champagne but are establishing their own unique brand. I can relate, I had classic training at the Ritz, I’ve learnt the traditional methods and now I want to challenge them.
Complete the sentence. I am happiest when?
I am happiest when I’m chasing my dreams, which sounds really cliché. I know one day I am going to be bored out of my mind in retirement, so I prefer now to have big goals to set my sights on and really work hard to achieve them. So that is what I am happiest doing. Always having a project and constantly chasing determined to achieve it.