Expertise

Jo Locke MW: 20 Years as a Society Buyer

As we prepare to say farewell to one of our most experienced buyers, we sat down with Jo Locke MW to look back on two decades at The Society, and six wines that go some way to encapsulate the highlights. Plus we hear from some of the growers who contacted us to pay tribute her.

Jo Locke MW: 20 Years as a Society Buyer
In the Douro Valley with José Luis Moreira da Silva, winemaker with Esporão

How do you sum up a 20-year career as a Wine Society buyer in just six bottles of wine? The answer is, of course, a simple one: you can't. ‘I wanted to choose wines that I drink at home, that have a story relevant to my love of wine as well as my career,’ Jo explained. 
 
And what a career. Jo joined The Society in 2004, but her time in the wine trade began much earlier and she earned the notoriously difficult Master of Wine qualification back in 1990. Her time at The Society has seen her buy wines from Bordeaux, Eastern Europe, Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand.  
 
But it is her most recent areas of responsibility – the Loire, South Africa (which she handed over only last year), Portugal and Alsace – that form the lion’s share of her choices.

The Loire 

‘This has been my patch and a great love for ever,’ Jo explains when talking about her first two choices. Indeed, it was her time as a language assistant there as part of her French degree that first ignited her love of wine. ‘There has been so much change during that time. Quality in the Loire is so much more consistent than it used to be, particularly the reds which I’ve always been fond of, but there is now a much more established following for them.  

Jo in the Loire
Jo with Bernard Chéreau and his daughter Louise. We have been buying great Muscadet from Chéreau-Carré for nearly 40 years

‘Part of the reason, of course, is climate change, which is the overarching change I would say. But also, better knowledge, better focus in the vineyards and also sharing knowledge, which France has got so much better at. It used to be such a contrast when you went to the southern hemisphere and saw how open so-called ‘competitor’ winemakers were about sharing information, and sharing problems. They’d get on the phone to each other, saying, ‘oh god I’ve got a stuck fermentation, how are you getting on with yours?’ and so on! I had never heard this happening in France in the same way: it was always much more protective. I think France and many of the classic European regions have opened up in this regard and it’s so good to see a more open attitude now.

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine La Haie Fouassière, Le Clos du Château L'Oiselinière, Chéreau-Carré 2018

I’m proud that we’ve supported Muscadet’s ‘cru’ initiative since the beginning. It’s all about raising the profile and the quality bar, and showing how good Muscadet can be. It isn’t the most celebrated of regions, nor one of the prettiest to go to and it’s had a tough time in recent years, particularly with frosts. But these wines can be a serious drink, and with ageing potential too. We bought the stunning maiden vintage of this wine – the 2002 – and have continued to follow it on its slow path to cru status. Other crus have got there first, but this pioneer of the long yeast-lees-aged style remains one of the best. 

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine La Haie Fouassière, Le Clos du Château L'Oiselinière, Chéreau-Carré 2018

France
Muscadet
0 star rating 0 Reviews
Chéreau-Carré's classy, complex first cru Muscadet is a pioneer of the long y...
Price:£14.50 Bottle
Price:£174.00 Case of 12

Chinon 'Le Temps des Cerises', Domaine de la Noblaie 2023 

Jérôme Billard of Domaine de la Noblaie telling Jo Locke about his initiative to get primary school children to visit and participate in the vintage
Jérôme Billard of Domaine de la Noblaie telling Jo Locke about his initiative to get primary school children to visit and participate in the vintage

‘Cabernet franc has to be my favourite red grape and this is a delightful, lighter expression from an equally delightful young vigneron whose counsel I have come to count on. He is a wonderful example of one of those producers you get to know well, you see every year, and you trust his opinion on what’s going on. I’d always see him at harvest time and always know I’d get an honest appraisal and that’s something I’ve always appreciated over the years, across all regions. I remember going to Bordeaux every year with Sebastian Payne MW and there was always a handful of growers he’d ensure we visited because he knew you’d get a straight story from them, and you’d get to taste from the tanks and taste the berries on the vine. Getting to know the people you can trust who make great wine is a hugely important thing in the job.’ Drink this year and next.

Chinon ‘Le Temps des Cerises', Domaine de la Noblaie 2023

France
Cabernet Franc
0 star rating 0 Reviews
Delightful expression of Loire cabernet franc to serve on the cooler side, pu...
Price:£12.95 Bottle
Price:£155.00 Case of 12

Tributes from Loire growers

‘I was introduced to Jo about 20 years ago, beginning to supply the Wine Society with our signature wine  and a couple of years later, when  we got to know each other, was asked by Jo to produce the Society’s ‘Exhibition’ Pouilly Fumé, for which I felt most honoured. Jo, although a very knowledgeable person, has always remained both get-at-able and within the reach of  her partners. She was a most reliable business partner, the kind of person with whom you can truly build a growing trust and respect over the years. and I hope that she will not forget the way to our cellar, which will always remain wide open to her.’

Jo and The Delaille family
Jo and The Delaille family

‘You have done so many things for our winery and family, we don't know where to start. It was a great pleasure and a privilege to work with you for over the past 30 years old. Launching Cheverny in the UK in the 1995s was not an easy task. We are honored of your trust and confidence you gave to our wines. thank you for your professionalism.’

‘Professionalism, charisma and empathy, three words that represent Jo well. After the fire, she was a tremendous help, and it's thanks to people like Jo that Domaine Cady is still here. Thank you’

Jo and Sarah Hwang
Jo and Sarah Hwang

‘Friendship is the word that best encapsulates our decades-long relationship with Jo. Her unwavering support of Domaine Huet has had a profound impact on us that not many could understand.  Jo, thank you. Your grace, humanity, integrity, and unwavering passion are so special, and it has been an absolute honor to have played a small part in your prodigious journey.’

‘Jo is generally regarded as one of the most respected wine buyers in the industry, our growers’ eyes sparkle when they encounter Jo, whether that be in the vineyard, their cellars or at a trade show - they know they are meeting with someone who fully understands their raison d’etre…’

>>Browse all Loire wines 

South Africa 

‘The rise of South African wine has been an absolute joy to see and be a part of. Although I love the wines of old, they have improved dramatically over these past 30 years, to the extent that they hold their head high on an international stage. Seeing the wines coming through during our Wine Champions blind tastings has always given me a thrill, and I remember being over the moon when a pinotage (South Africa’s signature, and sometimes derided, red grape) won for the very first time. Some of my colleagues couldn’t believe they had voted for a pinotage, which was very satisfying at the time! I’m thrilled that members have responded to the wines in the way that they have, particularly in the last few years. 

Jo in South Africa
Jo Locke MW in the Cape with fellow buyer Tim Sykes and Simon Barlow, owner of Rustenberg

The Society's Exhibition Chenin Blanc, Western Cape 2021  

‘The Exhibition chenin comes from the famous cellar of Chris Alheit, whom we’ve supported from the start. Seeing him rise to the renown he now deservedly has is wonderful, and a privilege for us. The wine was one of those ‘right place at the right time’ moments (and there have been plenty of those over the years!): he had made a wine using some offcuts from his Alheit Vineyards range that was too good to sell in bulk, so he’d bottled it and was deciding what to do with it. This came up during a visit. I tasted it and although at that point we weren’t looking for an Exhibition chenin, I knew this was far too good a wine and opportunity to pass up. It has only grown in complexity since we introduced it.’ 

The Society's Exhibition Chenin Blanc, Western Cape 2021

South Africa
Chenin Blanc
0 star rating 0 Reviews
This reigning Champ from chenin wizard Chris Alheit couldn’t fail with anothe...
Price:£14.50 Bottle
Price:£87.00 Case of 6

Tributes from South Africa growers

‘I’ve never been so nervous in my life about someone tasting my wines! I mean 2 MW’s! what can go wrong. I clearly remember your humbleness and the gracious way you spoke about the wines and how you described everything you tasted and smelled will stay with me forever. Thank you not only on behalf of me and my family but also on behalf of the SA wine industry’

‘What struck me at our first meeting was how incredibly professional and gracious she was which was quick to put me at ease. Jo has always always remained the same person and has done immense things in championing South African wine as not only great value but also as a place for incredible quality and innovation, long before this became a trend. I salute you Jo and thank you for your friendship and for having the confidence in your conviction of what South Africa’s potential could be’

‘Jo’s support, as South Africa buyer for The Wine Society, has been so important to our business over the years. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with her and meeting our customers at the wonderful tastings in the UK which have made our journey so far so rewarding.’ 

‘Jo Locke and the Villiera team go way back to before The Wine Society days.  What a pleasure it has been to work with her. Truly professional, polite, dignified and always graceful. The outings after the TWS consumer shows will always be remembered - the special venues, dinners and bottles shared.’  

>>Browse all South Africa wines 

Portugal 

On the river with Quinta do Crasto’s Tomàs Roquette and Jo Locke MW
On the river with Quinta do Crasto’s Tomàs Roquette and Jo Locke MW

‘It’s fantastic to see how far Portugal has come since the start of my time working with the wines. They struggled to find a way into a crowded UK market, and a lot of the things that make their wines so exciting also held them back in some respects: the uniqueness of the (sometimes unpronounceable) grapes and the flavours they can offer, but they’ve finally got their message across in the last few years.  

David Baverstock shows Jo Locke MW the day's harvest at Esporão in the Alentejo
David Baverstock shows Jo Locke MW the day's harvest at Esporão in the Alentejo

‘I feel they’ve finally now got a confidence in their own wines, and they’re getting such a positive reaction from the press and from consumers. To be handing Portugal over as a buyer, I think the timing is perfect because it’s poised to move on to the next stage, and I think so are we here at The Society. 

‘It’s always been a pleasure working with you, both rewarding and insightful in equal measure. From our perspective there is no one in the trade who has done so much for Portugal’s wines in the UK in the last 15 years. The Wine Society’s Portuguese range is rich in diversity through the tiers. It encompasses the traditions, the innovations, varied styles and is a pretty complete contemporary picture of where Portugal is on it’s wine-journey. A legacy we’ll all appreciate for a long time to come. This is all down to your professional honesty, curiosity, impartiality and enthusiasm for exploring Portugal vinous landscape. I’ve also learned so much from our discussions/tastings which helped us as a company shape our approach to what we do. You certainly put in some serious miles on Portugal’s sometimes tortuous roads, so hopefully now when you visit you’ll have time to take in the views!’ Raymond Reynolds on behalf of our Portuguese producers 

Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejano 2023  

‘Esporão and its former chief winemaker David Baverstock were a part of my formative wine trade years, and this excellent producer has continued to supply the Locke household with their super-reliable blends of indigenous grapes ever since. It’s a great example of how even an established company can continue to go from strength to strength. The quality has always been high, but they are constantly pushing the boundaries. It’s a massive property, but run in a way that is so responsible in adapting to climate change. They’re looking after their vineyards but also supporting those around them because they buy a lot of fruit in, so they’re sharing information locally. It’s an old affection but I also have such huge respect for how they have developed over the years.’ 

‘We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for your friendship and support over the years. We will always remember the invaluable support you and The Wines Society provided during the pandemic. Shortly after the birth of our eldest son, we reached out to you about the possibility of a special promotion. Your response went above and beyond our expectations, crafting a fantastic marketing program for small producers that made a significant impact.’ 
Eduarda and Luís, Vadio 

Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejano 2023

Portugal
0 star rating 0 Reviews
Super-reliable blend of indigenous grapes typical of the warm Alentejo region...
Price:£9.25 Bottle
Price:£55.50 Case of 6

>>Browse all Portugal wines 

Alsace 

Team Alsace in Brighton 2019
Team Alsace in Brighton 2019 after a members’ tasting

‘One of the stand-out moments from my career in wine was getting to go for a walk on the Schoenenberg vineyard and look down on Riquewihr and the vineyards. It gives you such an extraordinary perspective and contributes to your understanding of the region. Buying Alsace at The Society has been a privilege, but it was also so daunting taking over from Marcel Orford-Williams. Even though I had worked with Alsace before, I had such big boots to fill and the producers had become such great friends to Marcel, particularly the likes of the Hugel family. To be able to work on the Generation Series wine with a family I still very much feel is Marce’s territory was an honour, and they’re such a joy to work with having known several generations of the family and seeing them going forward to the future. 

Trying to keep up with Marc Hugel and Jo Locke as they carry samples back to the car
Marc Hugel helps Jo back to the hire car with samples for tasting back in Stevenage

The Wine Society’s Generation Series Gentil, Alsace 2021 

‘As a fan of our Society’s Vin d’Alsace, I was delighted when the Hugel family embraced the idea of blending a special edition for our 150th anniversary. It’s a lovely example of us having worked with such a top producer for such a long time that they were absolutely open to doing something special for us; they leapt at the challenge and put together the most wonderful blend and I was so, so pleased when I tasted it. This is a more grown-up version of the gentil style, with a high proportion of grand cru fruit. It has extra layers of complexity and is more aromatic in the sense that the riesling and the muscat come through more strongly. It will also develop greater complexity in bottle – if you can resist it now!’  

The Wine Society’s Generation Series Gentil, Alsace 2021

France
0 star rating 0 Reviews
The Wine Society has worked with several generations of the Hugel family and ...
Price:£14.95 Bottle
Price:£179.00 Case of 12

Tributes from Alsace growers

Jo had big shoes to fill taking Alsace over from Marcel. He was practically part of the family…

I must say she did great on that part, and it was with the same pleasure we hosted her at every occasion.

Our relationship was quite short, but Joanna has been a great ambassador for Alsace in general and has trusted us at many occasions to do the same for the Wine Society, strengthening this long standing relationship, one of the longest Hugel still maintains today.

We wish her a happy and active retirement.

A Great Woman,  a Professional Woman – Very human with a great sense of honor.

>>Browse all Alsace wines 

To finish… 

I asked Jo how she had found choosing these wines, and she admitted it had not been easy. ‘There have been so many standout wines, and even more standout moments where you have to pinch yourself and reflect on how lucky you are that you have got to experience them. Getting to taste wine in Austria at the top of the Heiligenstein vineyard and really understanding where the wine comes from; visiting somewhere like Tierhoek in South Africa, a magical, remote, rugged and special place; and all those wonderful years of going to Bordeaux with Sebastian. To name but a few. 

As a buyer, most of what you drink at home tends to be your patch, but I wanted to choose something outside that to complete my selection.
Jo Locke MW

Barbera del Piemonte, Amonte 2022  

‘I chose this benchmark barbera from Italy’s north-west as it's the perfect Italian standby, as good with its soulmates antipasti, pasta and pizza as it is with home grown fare like pork pie, scotch egg or a mixed summer barbecue. Simple, refreshing and great value.’ 

Barbera del Piemonte, Amonte 2022

Italy
Barbera
0 star rating 0 Reviews
We all need a fuss-free red – cue this juicy barbera from north-west Italy. T...
Price:£7.95 Bottle
Price:£95.00 Case of 12

>>Read more about our buyers 

Martin Brown

The Society's Managing Editor

Martin Brown

Martin joined our team in 2011 having worked as a professional scribe in various capacities. He is responsible for much of our online and printed communications and is a regular contributor to our Discovery pages.

Back to top