Buyer profile - Joanna Locke MW

Joanna Locke MW, Wine Society Buyer

Joanna Locke MW joined The Society in 2004. Her buying responsibilities include Alsace, Loire, South Africa and Portugal, including Port and Madeira.

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.

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Members' Comments (10)

"Good afternoon Joanna -I hope this arrives with you eventually! Just a quick comment on the December South Africa wines -I have just got back from my first visit to the Cape area and had a good wander around the Paarl area tasting the wines, so was quite simply amazed that no Francschhoek wines featured at all in your article! I tried a really very good Chardonnay from the Chamonix vineyard there at the north-west end of the town, which at R300... Read more > was the most expensive wine we tried, but it knocked every other wine out of the contest! As Brits, we are being spoilt by the exchange rate at R21 to £1, but there were many cheaper and really excellent reds and whites, and the odd rose everywhere. Under Oaks vineyard, just to the north of Paarl, has a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc too...Maybe you have tried these? if not, ensure you do on your next visit! Kind regards."

Mr Ian P Leckenby (05-Dec-2015)

"Dear Mr Leckenby, many thanks for your comments and I am pleased you had such a fruitful first visit to the Cape. We do list many more producers than I am able to highlight at any one time and indeed have been following Chamonix consistently for some time now. Unfortunately there is just not enough available to allow us to continuously list them and overall there is far more good wine being produced in South Africa these days than we have room... Read more > for. I am not familiar with Under Oaks but will keep an eye out for them. Regards,"

Joanna Locke (07-Dec-2015)

"Hi Joanna. Recently returned from Constantia; visit truncated by family illness. Did manage, however, to get some tasting in & was particularly impressed by Pinot Noir Block 8 from Buitenverwachting; most unusual to see Pinot in that area. Also Husseys Vlei S.B. in an otherwise mediocre collection of Sauvignon Blanc. I know you have a hard job ahead of you going through what is on offer but I guess someone has to do it.
Best wishes.
Neil... Read more > Roberts."

Dr Neil J Roberts (11-Feb-2016)

"Thank you very much for your comment - I am looking forward to tasting their range at their London tasting soon. Regards"

Joanna Locke (12-Feb-2016)

"My local wine circle has been blown away by the value of the Adega de Pegoes white Colheita Seleccionada, which has become one of our value house whites. I am currently in Lisbon and have tried the same wineries combination of touriga national, tricandera, cab.sav and syrah which is absolutely delicious for the money. Locally, it is a rediculously low price. Is this very attractive red something you would think of adding to the Societies great... Read more > value Portuguese selection? Kind regards. Steve Payne"

Mr Stephen R Payne (24-Mar-2016)

"Just returned from a few days in the Loire. We had a tasting at Dom de la Noblaie with Jérôme Billard, during which I discovered that The Society stock 2 of his wines! He is very welcoming and we spent a very plesant and informative hour in his tasting room. He sells some older vintages including the excellent 2005 and 2009. Visit highly recommended."

Dr Ross Worthington (01-Apr-2016)

Hi Joanna
I've just received a mailshot about the Franschhoek Vineyards Semillon 2014 that was awarded a Gold medal and a Trophy at this year's International Wine Challenge,and I wondered can you please tell me if this wine was shipped from SA in bottle or bulk (research for wine study purposes)?
Many thanks"

Mrs Angela Alexander (21-Sep-2016)

"You have a decent selection of Loire reds now, much better than a few years back when I complained about lack of choice. Its all I drink these days and sourcing them has been an increasing problem. Congratulations on this, I greatly appreciate your efforts in providing these delightful reasonably light and mostly unoaked wines.



Mr Jeremy Snell (06-Oct-2016)

"Dear Joanna Locke,
I'm sure you must get many enthusiastic reports from members who have tasted something sublime whilst on holiday.....however do consider checking out Manuel Villas-Boas at Morgadio da Calcada in Provesende, above the Douro ( His reserve white wine in particular was really special when tasted last week. He makes a range of wines and is an interesting guy. Was struck on this recent visit by the... Read more > improving quality of Douro white wines - in some ways more interesting than the reds...."

Mr Timothy Appelbee (12-Jun-2017)

"Hello Joanna, I hope you are enjoying the addition of Alsace to your portfolio. For me these wines are the greatest, indeed I'm going there in a few days. I've bought quite a range from the Wine Society over the years but have noticed a recent reduction in your range, particularly at the higher end. Only one from Zind-Humbrecht, for example, and two from Weinbach. Any comments? Future plans? I do hope the range will be restored as I would hate to... Read more > have to buy elsewhere. Thanks Robert Asher (share 173867)"

Dr Robert Asher (20-Jun-2017)

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