What attracted you to the wine business?
I spent some time in France as part of my French degree, and worked as a language assistant in a school in the Loire - I had thought about becoming a teacher. I met a lovely family who were very kind to me, and I used to visit them regularly for Sunday lunch and other family occasions. I was really struck and charmed that wine was so much a part of life for a simple country family. There was a ceremony about it; it was always madame's job to get the wine from the cellar on a Sunday morning and prepare it. And in this cellar was a small area set aside for bottles for both daughters, ready for when they would leave home. I thought that was enchanting, and it sowed the seed of an idea.
What was your first wine-related job?
I got a part-time job at Harrods in the wine department, because they were looking for extra staff for Christmas, but I ended up staying permanently. There were an awful lot of 'money-no-object' customers, so I got the chance to taste a lot of expensive wines. Then I was offered a sales/admin role at Michael Morgan, who ran a large London wholesaler. I was there for four years then I went to Grant's of St James's, working with Angela Muir MW as assistant buyer. She left to set up her own company, Cellarworld and The Fulham Road Wine Centre, and I joined her shortly afterwards, and after that, I went to work for the Thresher group as a buyer, then retail brand manager, and then a stint as PR manager. I left Thresher in 2000, and took a job at John E Fells, the wholesale agency, before joining The Society in 2004.
Becoming a Master of Wine (MW) is notoriously difficult. How did you find it?
You have to make time to do the study. I was working with Angela, so I got lots of tasting experience. I used to get up early and do a couple of hours' study in the morning, which worked for me. It's a huge commitment, but I absolutely loved it. I passed it in 1990.
Presumably, the Loire is your favourite wine region?
Yes. The valley is so long, there's tremendous diversity, so there's always a wine for every occasion. And they are such great food wines, too. All of the grape varieties from the Loire tend to have good acidity. The reds are often rather undervalued, and historically unloved, because they were perceived as lean and acidic, but the progress in Loire winemaking has been phenomenal in recent years. Even in poorer vintages, they have freshness and balance, so you can get to the end of a bottle without feeling like you've been hit on the head. I love good cabernet franc.
One of your other areas, South Africa, is attracting more interest, too…
It's still relatively early days for South Africa, but it's great to see that it's being recognised for sheer value for money and, increasingly, for quality. I find it exciting because it's a re-emerging wine industry. There are a lot of bright young people working there, and it's a stunning place to visit - one of the most beautiful and, certainly currently the most dynamic of the regions I am lucky enough to visit.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
I love the outdoors, and I have a teenage daughter, so my work life and home life are very different! We have an apartment in the French Alps, so that now tends to be the focus in the winter and summer holidays.
Finally, what is your desert-island wine?
Huet Vouvray, dry or sweet, because of the combination of finesse and complexity, and the fact that it will almost certainly outlive me on my island and offer intellectual stimulation and pleasure along the way.
You can follow Joanna on Instagram @jothewinebuyer
Jo’s Pick of the Range
Jo has selected the bottles from her buying regions that best show what The Wine Society is all about.