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News > Bradfieldian Stories > A Journey Through Wine and Writing

A Journey Through Wine and Writing

Will Lyons (H 89-94), on his wine journey from Bradfield to becoming an award-winning podcaster.

“There is something uniquely appealing about the sound of a bottle of wine being opened, the popping of the cork, the splash of wine as it is poured into the glass and the gentle clink of stemware. It’s so evocative that it brings listeners into the moment with you.”

Vice-President of The Sunday Times Wine Club, Old Bradfieldian and now award-winning podcaster Will Lyons is discussing the auditory experience of his recent foray into on demand broadcasting. Wine Times was named Podcast of the Year at the British Media Awards earlier this year and, praised for engaging a younger audience, Will believes it’s the perfect medium as the act of wine tasting better lends itself to audio descriptions than visual ones.

“If you watch someone drink a glass of wine it is not particularly engaging, however, removing the visual dimension forces the imagination to take over, making it a more sensory experience. Wine can be a hugely complicated subject, but it doesn’t have to be. I try to be like the brilliant teachers I had at Bradfield who could simplify anything whilst also retaining enthusiasm for their subject. It really resonates with the listener and makes them want to join in with a glass.”


“It can stimulate the intellect, like admiring a beautiful piece of art.”


In each episode The Sunday Times wine guru guides household-name guests such as former England cricketer turned commentator Isa Guha, musician Gregory Porter and comedian Ed Gamble on a half-hour tasting experience. So, what is it about wine that makes it appealing in the media? Wine, says Will, can be anything to anyone, whether one is a wine connoisseur or a first-time taster.

“On one level it can be a gustatory pleasure, stimulating the senses with complex layers of flavour, each changing within the glass. On another it can represent knowledge and stimulate the intellect. Like admiring a beautiful piece of art or tackling a well-written piece of literature.”

With wine now made all over the world, Will posits it can be language and culture, or it can be chemistry, biology and even economics as you enter the world of fine wine. Wine makers, sellers and buyers all love this product and are part of a convivial global community eager to share knowledge and stories, many of which are shared on the podcast.

There’s another aspect which happens to be our OB wine critic’s favourite; it’s agricultural, a product of mud, tractors and farmers. This love is borne of his upbringing on a farm and his education amidst beautiful Berkshire countryside, here at Bradfield. It was in this very school that Will received an introduction to the story behind wine.


“I gained a rounded education which helped me to navigate the world.”


In the early 1990s the College SCR contained a serious wine tasting crowd, one of whom brought along a bottle to a post-GCSE exam class and, without opening it, led an erudite discussion about French wine. As a self-professed curious teenager, Will’s interest in beyond the curriculum education was piqued and he signed up for no less than eight societies. His many passions outside the classroom included: philosophy, jazz, fives and religion, all of which he states gave him a good foundation in life and earned him the moniker ‘The Society Baron.’ But it was Bradfield’s sophisticated wine society La Confrérie which set him on his future career path.

“It was a surprisingly serious and intellectual approach to wine. We had to pass an exam to attend; name the grape varieties of Bordeaux or know where Chardonnay is produced. It sounds a bit pretentious but it was thought provoking and engaging. When I was there you could never describe Bradfield as pretentious - quite the opposite. It was a real privilege to attend and I gained a rounded education which helped me navigate the world outside. The American author John Irving says you have to learn how to be happy. At Bradfield I learned that and for me it was a very happy time.”

Discovering a genuine love of learning through his History and Religious Studies A Levels, the former pupil of the Close combined the subjects at the University of Edinburgh. Continuing his new-found passion for wine he signed up for the university’s Wine Society in his first year, becoming President by his third.


“There's nothing basic about the basics of wine.”


It was then Justerini & Brooks, the Queen’s wine merchant, called. They were looking for students to work in their Wine Cellar. “But it soon became obvious I would be better suited to working in the shop,” he says.

“It really set me up for my future with live audiences where I talk to a whole range of individuals, from those who know a lot about wine, to those, like most of us, who know absolutely nothing. I am used to explaining the basics. But there's nothing basic about the basics of wine.”

He had harboured a dream of becoming a journalist at Bradfield and that remained the goal but, unsure of giving up the working world, it was Kate, Will’s then girlfriend, now wife, who sent off his application for a place on the prestigious journalism programme at Cardiff.

“I wanted to learn the art of communicating, to bring a subject to life in an accessible way. I thought wine would just be a hobby, but it was a unique specialism and my Tutor urged me to see where it could take me.”

It led him to The Scotsman where he began as a diarist, business correspondent and consumer affairs reporter. Naturally he began to gravitate towards his passion and, utilising his contacts in the trade, started writing wine stories.

“It was the moment the two paths really crossed for me. I would write under headlines such as ‘Beaujolais harvest in crisis’ and it worked. When I started writing a weekly wine column I wanted it to be accessible but also have depth to it, appealing to serious collectors but also to people who know nothing about wine. They were great days.”


“You're only as good as your last column.”


The momentum took hold and after moving to Scotland on Sunday he was named Regional Wine Writer of the Year in 2008 at the Louis Roederer Writers Awards (LRWA). A year later he was approached to become a business writer and wine columnist for the internationally-acclaimed The Wall Street Journal.

His time at WSJ was “fantastic, a steep learning curve and a privilege”, he says; rather like writing for an encyclopaedia.“You had to know your onions because the readers were often leaders of their field. I love journalism but it’s unrelenting as you’re only as good as your last column.” There is no doubt that his columns were good as he was soon shortlisted for International Columnist of the Year.

By this point Will was looking to go freelance but was approached by The Sunday Times to write for their new magazine. However, working for them has meant enjoying many of the creative freedoms that come with branching out on one’s own, continuing to host weekly tastings and recently joining forces with Cunard and Michel Roux Jr.'s La Gavroche to offer Trans-Atlantic food and wine voyages.

Where might Bradfieldians see Will Lyons next? This autumn he will partner with Michelin-starred chef and fellow OB Phil Howard (H 80-84) for the not-to-be-missed An Evening at Elystan Street, a food and wine matching event at Phil’s restaurant.

He continues to make the pilgrimage back to his alma mater to host a now annual La Confrérie seminar, which retains its seriousness as an introduction to wine for Sixth Formers. Passing on knowledge to the next generation is something he feels compelled to do.

“When I was starting out I was extremely fortunate to meet some exceptionally generous individuals who gave me their time and shared their expertise with me. That’s why I love coming back to Bradfield and La Confrérie.”


Join us for a fun evening of fine food, fine wine and lively conversation.

Book your ticket for An Evening at Elystan Street here

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