Tag Archives: HeadStart

HeadStart in Bordeaux

The Hallgarten HeadStart apprenticeship sees one individual experience all parts of the Hallgarten business within an 18 month programme. From the accounts team, to marketing, to spending time with one of our producer partners – it is truly a 360 degree experience! HeadStart apprentice, Alex Parsons, has just returned from Bordeaux where he spent a month with Estelle Roumage, at Château Lestrille. In his own words, here’s what he got up to:

“Hard graft! Long Hours! You’re going to be exhausted…!” Swiftly following by a smirk was what I greeted with for most of the time before I went away. A harvest – a vintage, however you wish to call it – has been a dream of mine to be a part of since I started getting into wine, and now was my opportunity.

Château Lestrille in the criminally underappreciated Entre-deux-Mers within the Bordeaux appellation, was the destination. Family run since 1901, Estelle Roumage heads up a small but truly extraordinary team that just don’t stop. Sylvia (Oenologist), Valerie and Donny (Winery) are patient and incredibly determined to get things perfect when they know they can. Patrick is part of the vineyard team and was very welcoming. Valerie and Patrick were especially tough to communicate with as my French is abysmal and they don’t speak English, though we did enjoy the occasional fist-bump and shouting the odd French term to our own amusement.

The very first day set the tone, really. Estelle greeted me at the airport, regaling me with tales of the harvest so far (I arrived towards the end of the white grapes being harvested). Early mornings – she had been up since 4am (local time) – and long days. In short, this month I was out there was not going to be a cakewalk.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone from an office job to a job where every day is a workout, but this was it. No one can prep you for the sudden change or for the realisations along the way, so let’s go through the realisations that I had while experiencing winemaking first hand in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever been.

1)            Grape skins are heavy.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been surrounded by the pulped skins of about a million grapes sitting idly in the bottom of a tank. Moving them is one the toughest things I’ve ever had to do, other than trying to open my one-year-old niece’s hand when she’s holding something she shouldn’t. Not to mention the tank I was in was rendered frictionless by the time the juice has its way with it. Shovelling heavy grapes, trying to keep one’s balance, becomes a little bit of a circus act of which you are hot and sticky throughout.

2)            There are a lot of grape skins.

Once all of them are out of the tank and filtered into the press to extract that last bit of juice from them, there must be someone on the press pushing or pulling them to equal the distribution, otherwise they won’t go in. Using a shovel and my will to live, I moved those skins, but they would not stop coming. It felt like years before the stream ended, not to mention the occasional moment where my stability was tested, and I almost fell in headfirst.

3)            Le graisse c’est la vie.

To those of you who do not speak French – what I’ve recently discovered to be wonderful to listen to – this means “fat is life”. Butter, lard, any combination or derivations of them are essentially the way they live in this part of France. It’s a culture, a way of life, traditions and heritage depend on it, and it’s delicious, truly. The food that I was able to enjoy at the incredibly deft hands of Estelle was inspirational.

No matter how demanding things were physically or mentally, it was an experience of a lifetime and I do consider myself lucky for having been able to do it (I thanked Estelle and her family every day for the opportunity, and I will continue to do so until the day I die). I’ve been home for three weeks and my feet still despise me. It took me about a week to get used to it, and another two weeks for my body to realise it was used to it, and by the fourth week it wanted to shut down. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was unique, exciting, different and I cannot be more appreciative to Hallgarten or Chateau Lestrille for giving me the chance.

HeadStart: In Marketing

It’s been a minute and a couple of months since my last update regarding my little journey and should you be sticking with it, I thank you! This time we shall be looking at my time in the company’s marketing department. My job has the benefit of seeing plenty all of the company’s big and small moments and how it all melds together into one big ball of wibbly-wobbly, drinky-winey stuff (if you get the reference, you’re better than most), and the marketing department is most definitely the communal “hub” of the company.

It was a dark winter’s day as I started with the department – I remember it vividly and unknowing what my first job would be just made the morning feel that little bit more ominous. I’d finished up the previous week with Customer Services’ Christmas rush and having a few – maybe slightly messy – days to reset over New Year’s. It was in this moment of questioning, when all hope seemed lost, that Mr Ben Jackson, a beacon of light, appeared to me like hope in a snowstorm. He was my point of contact for the next three months and what a point of contact he was.

He was like that fairy-tale hero, presenting himself only in times of great need and turmoil to save the lowly apprentice from the darkness that envelops them. His name is whispered in hushed tones across the new office – unsure as to whether it’s out of respect or dislike – and his poise over his work is second to none.

(Yes, to those who are wondering, he does check these before they’re released).

Without any sarcasm, he was incredibly helpful. He assigned a couple of press releases to write, which was a fair step away from my usual writing style. I’m quite flowery in the way I write and I digress often – you might have noticed. Writing a press release is different; you’ve got to be to the point and focused, without straying too far from the established formula of “main point, quote, fact, outro”. I make it sound so restrictive, but in a way it needs to be. The point of the piece needs to be clearly presented to the reader as soon as possible, with the bulk filled out with an understanding of why it’s happened without too much fuss or mucking around. I found them quite challenging, yet also quite therapeutic in a lot of ways because it took me away from my usual and I could just put things plainly, which is impossible to me in any other circumstance apparently.

2022 also marked the return of the Hallgarten Annual Tasting. It is naturally our biggest event of the year with so many moving pieces but after a year out and so long not being able to organise events of this scale, it was so good to finally get stuck in. More than 700 wines on show in the heart of London including plenty newbies we’d never seen before, over 100 suppliers crossing countries to join in, and with 1,000+ signed up to come and taste, it was a memorable moment when everything came together. Sarah Charlwood, our new Events Manager, did an incredible job organising everything to a tee even after only 8 weeks of being with Hallgarten and it was good fun to work with her with it, even in my limited capacity. She’s on holiday at the moment, a well-deserved one! The take-home for it all was more than just a roaring success, but that we have established that after a tumultuous couple of years, we are on the road to recovery.

My HeadStart into Customer Services

It’s safe to say that these past couple of years have been the strangest the world has seen for a long while – if you’ll pardon the understatement. I can remember how my family responded when I said I got the job at Hallgarten and Novum Wines. After a series of remote interviews and emails regarding the position, I finally got a call and – amazingly – they chose me! It was exciting, so I rushed over to tell them. My mum and dad gave me a hug, as did my sister, while my cousin said: “Wow, really? You?”

Yes, me. How supportive, eh? He’s a sweetie.

My excitement was so well balanced by a large yet healthy amount of nervousness; I was starting in a new town, new area, with new people, in an industry that I’d never been in before! But – another understatement incoming – it is an incredible opportunity. I get to experience the industry and company from all angles, from Marketing to Regional Sales; from National Accounts to Shipping, and all starting in Customer Services. This was to ensure that I gleaned as much information about our customers, and learned our portfolio as best I could both from customer, and the Account Managers that I’d need to interact with.

The 18 month HeadStart programme was launched late in 2019 to develop the future talent of the wine industry, providing a 360-degree perspective of the wine sector from vineyard to table. The programme encompasses placements across the Hallgarten business, ending with a month working the 2022 harvest with one of the company’s key European partners. It is designed to give the apprentice total visibility of the Hallgarten & Novum business, allowing them to generate a deep understanding of the financial, strategic and commercial aspects of the company.

My first week was mainly meeting the senior team and various departmental managers that I will be coming into contact with. Then, it was time to get stuck in the nitty-gritty of Customer Services (hereby referred to as CS) – very much the engine room of the company.

Contrary to what I first thought, it’s not just inputting email and phone orders from our customers. The team also organise deliveries, returns, credits, process orders from different ordering systems used by different customers, keeps an eye on stock, liaises with different departments – they expertly manage close to ten things, all at once. They also harmonise the relationships between account managers, couriers and customers.

I am nine months into the apprenticeship and I have worked a total of four months with the CS team, and I’ve decided that it’s not an understatement to say they are all Magicians. How they’re able keep up with everything is unbelievable and I almost felt bad getting in their way whenever I ask a question – however they were always happy to help. In some ways, I felt quite lucky as two other people started at the same time as me meaning we could bounce off each other. If one of us had an issue, the other two may have encountered it before and could sort it out. When we did need to ask a question to the others – which I have no shame in saying was often – they were so kind and patient with us. They sat down and explained the simplest way of sorting it or they’d just coax us in the right direction.

I think the hardest part for me was learning the sheer number of customers and the volume of codes for each and every wine. One of the quickest things I found out was that some customer descriptions don’t fully match up with the wine they are trying to order, so that was a lot of fun. But, in all of this, I am immensely appreciative of how generous and compassionate the team were with me. Even when it was so busy coming back out of lockdowns and Christmas, they still upheld their generosity like nothing I could ever praise or thank them enough for.

My time with the CS was unforgettable and an incredible grounding for the challenges that lay ahead for me at Hallgarten. Onto the next team – National and Regional Accounts!