Interview with Winebird Helena Nicklin

While Helena Nicklin was building her acting career, she started a second (paying!) one in wine. Today, the mum of two is Winebird – an up-and-coming star of the wine world. She explains why she wants to be the Jamie Oliver of wine.

What’s your career background?

I studied languages (French and Italian) at university but then did a one year post grad at drama school to train professionally as an actress.

I’d been bitten by the wine bug during my Erasmus year in Rome and knew I’d do something with wine at some point, so I made sure my ‘other job’ while I was acting (basically, the one that actually paid!) was in a fine wine shop. After a few years I had to make a choice between acting and wine. I chose wine, but vowed one day that I would mix the two worlds.

When and why did you develop a love of wine?

Living in Rome with friends, we discovered a couple of Enotecas where they encouraged us to buy wines by the glass to compare and contrast them.

The setting itself with its wood panelling, melty candles and ivy-clad walls added to the romance and I fell in love with the subject of wine right there. A few years later, once I’d decided to go full time in the wine trade, I started to do all the exams.

What qualifications do you have in wine?

I’ve done all the trade exams in wine and spirits up to the highest level: the diploma (WSET). It’s essentially a degree in booze. I hope to begin the Master of Wine program in the next couple of years, but that’s a big step!

What does your career look like now?

I set up Winebird to run wine tastings and events while I taught myself how to write. I then went and had two babies, but wrote my beginner’s wine book VINALOGY when I got too fat to run events.

I still run tastings and write features for consumer titles such as CityAm and Red Online, but I’ve taken things a step further with the performance side of things.

I now appear as the wine expert at fairs such as the Ideal Home Show and Taste of London and have started to do a bit of TV. My agent and I are pitching several ideas to various channels at the moment and I’m working on a script for a TV drama that has wine as a theme.

I also make short films for my YouTube channel which is all about making wine visual and fun. I dress my dog up a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I’m usually as a press tasting.

How did you fit your work around being a mum?

I’m very lucky to have an amazing nanny! When she arrives, I hide in my office or head out with my laptop. It’s not cheap, but it’s a necessary expense while I’m building my brand.

What’s your vision for Winebird?

I want Winebird to do for wine what Jamie Oliver did for food. Everyone drinks it nowadays and many people would like to know more without sitting exams in it, so I see it as my job to get wine on telly in its own right, not just playing second fiddle to food. My approach to teaching about is quite different, so I am hopeful!

What makes you different from other wine experts?

My USP is using imagery and storytelling rather than dry facts. I call these ‘vinalogies’ – wine-based analogies. It’s one way to make wine more visual which is also entertaining and importantly, memorable!

I also think I’m genuinely different because I never lose sight of who I’m talking to: the interested consumer who just wants a few memorable basics to help them pick better wines. My audience doesn’t want or need me to show off my technical knowledge about how wine is made. Lots of wine writers seem to write for other experts and don’t know how to simplify. I translate winespeak, if you will!

What are your three top wine tips?

  1. Don’t think you’re meant to know lots about wine just because you drink a lot of it. Most people aren’t psychic!
  2. If you want to start learning about wine, start by getting to know the personalities of the top ten white and red grape varieties and the regions that are famous for them.
  3. Taste by comparison, because it’s the differences between wines that help you learn the most. Open lots of bottles and call it a party! But please drink responsibly, ahem…

What’s your advice for mums who want to follow their passion but may be scared?

It doesn’t have to be a big jump. You can start slowly, taking time to build a blog or a website, tweaking it along the way until you’re ready to show it to the world. Get online and start making the right contacts behind the scenes and engage with other relevant businesses and media etc.

You can learn more about Helena (and wine!) on the Winebird website.