Miriam Van Damme (left) and Marie Nuytemans (right) are the owners of the trendy and cozy wine and tapas bar Unwined in Mechelen, Belgium.
They both had a flourishing career in the media world but decided to to turn their world upside down and chose for a new profession. Not for a moment, they regret their choice.
They both have their Level 3 certificate.
Can you give a snapshot of your current professional life?
Marie: I worked for 11 years in the media, but along the way I realized that I wanted to do something completely different. Now I am co-owner of Unwined and shortly we will open Barzé. A bar where you can have all kind of fish platters served of course with our wines.
Miriam: just like Marie I worked in the media. However, my passion is wine. So, when I was offered a job in a small wine bar in Mechelen I didn’t hesitate. Soon I became co-owner. But I realized that I wanted to grow in this wine story and I started looking for a new location with more potential and opportunities. Shortly after, I was looking for a sommelier and Marie joined me.
How did you become interested in wine?
Marie: I was raised in a family were food and wine were important. When I was like fourteen my dad encouraged me to take a sip of the wines he served. Those wines were the typical classical Bordeaux wines. I was triggered and when I was twenty-five I started following all kinds of evening classes.
Shortly after I did my level 3 at WineWise and became sommelier at Unwined.
Miriam: Unlike Marie I don’t come from a family were wine was part of our daily live. I just knew I wanted to do something with wine.
How did your education (at WineWise or true distance learning) helped you with your career?
Marie: I became much more self-confident. When clients ask me questions about the wines we serve, I feel it’s easy to answer. Above all, we want to be a wine bar were people feel they are being helped by professionals, who know what they are talking about.
Miriam: I completely agree. Even if clients ask for a wine we don’t serve it, is now easy to help them. We can refer to other wines and illustrate them without hesitation.
What challenges did you face during your studies (at WineWise or true distance learning)?
Marie: I was still working full-time in the media, so in the run-up to the exam, I certainly needed to take some days of to study.
Miriam: You have to study! It was quite challenging to combine this with work. I often studied at the wine bar, encouraged by Marie and the staff.
Do you intend to study any further or participate in keep up sessions?
Miriam: We both are interested in level 4 but at this moment we don’t have the time.
Marie: Keep up session on the other hand are certainly an option.
Which wine book(s) would you recommend?
Miriam: Cork Dork by Bianca Boster, although this is not a book you use during your studies. It is just fun reading.
Towards our clients it is fine to work with the material of Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette.
Marie: I used The Oxford Companian to wine while studying.
What was the last wine you drank?
Miriam: A champagne from Ruinart, together with Marie during lunch.
Marie: Last night I had a natural wine, a very fruity grenache. It was a present and since we don’t serve natural wines I was quite curious.
What makes a wine great?
Miriam: Of course, a wine needs to be good but even more important for me is the social aspect of drinking wine. One of the most beautiful things about wine, is that it brings people together. How you feel, who you drink it with and where.
Marie: I can truly enjoy a wine that is perfectly balanced. For me this means refreshing acidity, fresh fruit flavors and a long finish.
What was your most impressive wine trip and why?
Miriam: We once went to Tuscany together visiting Antinori which was quite impressive.
But I think one of the most beautiful wine landscapes is to be found at Lanzarote. I already went there several times. Enjoying the landscape while sipping a wine, is instant happiness to me.
Marie: I visited Attila Gere in Hungary and it was fantastic to see this old producer pouring wine for me straight from the barrel. He didn’t speak English, but it was great to feel and share his passion for wine.
One of my first wine trips was to Champagne with friends and we just rang the door of Mathieu Gosztyla. A Polish lady who barely spoke English or French was so kind to let us in. It was the first time I saw how champagne was made. I still buy this champagne.
Which wine region to visit is on top of your bucket list?
Miriam: Where to start, we want to see everything! Next year we will go to Chile and Argentina.
Which graduate do you think we should interview and why?
Marie: I don’t have a specific name in mind. It would be great to see what others do in their daily life with the certificate or diploma.
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