‘The key is to enjoy it!’

Red or white? With which dish? And how is climate change affecting wine growing and trends? Clara Richert (30), Head of Wine Global Sourcing in the Own Brands division at METRO AG, doesn’t just own 500 bottles of wine. She is a certified wine expert – and is willing to share her insights on wine essentials with MPULSE.

About ... Clara Richert

As Head of Wine, Clara follows the latest trends, analyses performance and sales figures, and communicates with her team on a daily basis. She holds meetings with Country Category Managers and producers and organises internal wine tastings of the latest METRO wines. Clara manages several projects and participates in all major wine fairs with her team, such as ‘ProWein’ in Düsseldorf, the largest annual wine trade fair in the world.

Clara, first things first: red or white?

Both! It depends entirely on what is on the menu. 😀

Okay then, which wines go with which foods?

Not to make it a generality, but red wine goes perfectly with meaty dishes as it has more flavour and structure, but again, it also depends on the profile. On the other hand, I prefer white wine for sipping, as it is lighter and often fruitier, which is why it is better in summer than red wine. And sparkling wine is a good start or finish before and after a sumptuous meal.

Is it true that you have your own wine cellar? How many bottles do you own?

Truth be told, I actually have three: one at my home, one at my parents’ house and the third is at my parents-in-law’s house. I have a total of around 500 bottles. During the coronavirus pandemic, I actually had around 600, as I had more time to expand my collection. I even had an Excel list to keep track of all the bottles. 😀

A real passion for collecting... how and when did you discover your passion for wine?

Hmm, I was 16 – and had no idea about wine. A friend gifted me a wine tasting introduction at a wine bar in Strasbourg. The sommelier was super talented and enthusiastic, and the ambience was relaxed and positive. I felt like I was in exactly the right place at that moment. After that evening, I was convinced that a career involving wine was the right thing for me.

So how did you make wine your profession?

At first, I had reservations about specialising completely in wine. That’s why I first completed a Master’s degree in International Trade and Business Engineering. Later, however, I changed my mind and decided to get certified as a wine expert and learn all the ins and outs. Therefore, I pursued a WSET certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Now, I have completed all four levels. Earlier this year I also started the ‘Master of Wine’ programme, which is based in London. This programme takes at least 5 years to complete and includes courses, seminars and academic work on the subject of wine. The title ‘Master of Wine’ is the holy grail for wine connoisseurs. It is the most prestigious wine diploma in the world. Since the programme began 70 years ago, only 413 people have been awarded the title.

Hats off to you! Sounds like a huge step in your career. How did you end up at METRO?

I started my professional career at the age of 20 in a student job at a wine supplier. I was responsible for sales in export markets, including the UK and the USA. Then I worked as export director for a wine company. I was there for two and a half years before starting my adventure at METRO AG as Head of Wine in procurement for French, Italian and German wine. After my stint on the producer side, I wanted to transition into the role as a buyer. METRO’s customers were one of the reasons why I really wanted to work here. Collaborating with restaurateurs and wine connoisseurs has proven to be remarkably stimulating. At METRO, we also put together our own cuvées with our suppliers. Many of our wines in the store have been produced exclusively by us for our customers.

Have you ever worked on a harvest or in the wine cellar?

Yes, of course! In my ten years on the producer side, I was able to gain a lot of experience in that regard by being on the field. In my job as export director, I was responsible for ensuring that we delivered a consistently high level of quality and that the taste of the wine matched the individual market. Therefore, I was always involved in the technical process of production. For me, it has always been a matter of respect for the grapegrowers and winemakers to be involved in the cultivation, production and harvesting of grapes. And here at METRO, we also maintain close relationships with our partners. We regularly visit our suppliers’ vineyards and taste new wines together. This is crucial in helping us understand the processes involved in wine production and gaining insight into the producers’ point of view.

Do you think that women have a harder time in the wine industry than men? Do you struggle a lot with stereotypes?

I think it depends on the country and culture. Women certainly have a harder time than men in some places. However, I personally have never experienced discrimination in my job because of my gender. In my case, it’s more my age that catches people by surprise. I’m 30 years old, but apparently I look 20. 😀 I often feel that I have to prove myself before suppliers will take me seriously. At METRO, however, I’ve never had the feeling that I’m treated differently because of my age.

At 30, you’re probably the youngest wine expert at METRO, aren’t you?

The youngest person to ever receive the ‘Master of Wine’ title I mentioned earlier was 30 years old – I hope to get it by the time I turn 35! But yes, among my METRO colleagues, I’m probably one of the youngest.

What’s the hottest wine trend right now?

Generally speaking, wine should be affordable and easy to drink. So rather refreshing and light, not heavy, but complex. Sparkling wines are currently being sold more than ever before. That includes classics such as champagne and prosecco, but also French crémant. Non-alcoholic wine is also a trend to watch in the future. And climate change has a strong impact on wine trends.

In what way?

A great deal has changed in the past ten years – not a year has passed without natural hazards. The forest fires in the West of the USA recently caused 20 percent of vineyards to burn down. In Italy, droughts, storms and flooding led to the smallest wine harvest in 50 years in 2023. In Provence, oversized hailstones destroyed large parts of the vines; and in Burgundy, prolonged frost led to the loss of large parts of the harvest in 2021. The lifecycle of vines is very sensitive, and the weather is unpredictable. We will face many more difficulties and problems in the future. In France, it will probably be too hot to grow certain types of grapevines in 20 years from now.

And then what? How is the industry prepared to tackle these challenges? And which countries will benefit?

The wine industry in colder countries will definitely benefit from climate change. On the east coast of the USA, for example, it was impossible to grow really good grapevines for a long time due to the temperatures; and the same goes for the UK. But in the meantime, both regions produce wine and sparkling wine. This has only become possible due to the higher temperatures and advanced technologies in recent years. Winemakers in southern countries will have to cultivate more heat-resistant grapevine varieties in the future. Many winegrowers in the North have already started to cultivate Syrah, a red wine variety that originally came from the South of France. Heat resistance differs from variety to variety. Grapegrowers are definitely adapting to climate change.

And which clichés about wine would you like to quash once and for all?

Everyone’s taste is different, which makes wine a very personal choice. The key is to enjoy it! You also never stop learning. Wine is constantly evolving and there is always something new to discover. And a fancy name on the bottle should never be seen as a quality guarantee. 😉

Before we part ways, I have a couple more questions: What exactly do you love about wine?

The idea of sharing! I think drinking wine and sharing food together is the most beautiful thing there is.

And, apart from wine, what else do you like?

I like to exercise and stay fit. After all, wine is unfortunately high in calories. 😀 I think it’s all about finding the perfect balance. In my job and for my personal studies, I have to attend wine tastings every week, but I also have my own personal wine ritual on the weekend: I choose two or three bottles of wine from my wine cellar every Friday evening for the weekend. I either share them with some friends or I enjoy a good bottle of wine with my husband.

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