I fell in love with wine and launched my own Auckland wine tour company in September 2000. Since then I have studied wine and achieved a Pass With Merit in the international WSET level 2 Certificate in Wines and Spirits. I have also been a wine writer for 14 years. In 2008, Random House published my wine region guide to New Zealand, and I regularly attend industry tastings as a writer and enthusiast. (Hey, someone has to do it!)
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
I ran my own solo physiotherapy practice for 22 years, but decided to make a lifestyle choice and do something less demanding (and with less paper work). I was looking for a change and wanted to follow my interest in wine work in the wine industry. So I launched my tour business part-time back in 2000 and went full-time in early 2001.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical tour day starts with preparing tasting notes, a cheese board and cleaning my tour coach. Around 9am, I drive off to meet and greet my guests at their hotel. Then it’s off to the wine region for fine wine sampling, beautiful scenery and a great lunch, with a return around 4pm.
With numbers limited to six guests I’m flexible enough to cater to individual needs. But on the other hand, I have a pre-organised itinerary for each tour which I have fine-tuned over the years to ensure a memorable experience.
What is the best part of your job?
For me, it’s meeting different guests on each tour, learning about their country and culture and seeing how they enjoy our fab New Zealand wines. Over the years I have met thousands of interesting wine fans from all over the globe.
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?!
An elderly couple booked a tour, then rang me on the day asking for a later pick-up from a city hospital where the wife had some emergency eye treatment. They kept me waiting two and a half hours, but went ahead with the tour, even though the lady was very frail. Then that night the husband rang me to say his wife had left her sunglasses in the car and could I drop them back to the cruise ship next morning. He tipped me $5 for my trouble.
I once had a guy who spotted a skeet shooting club in the wine region and insisted on stopping to do some clay target shooting. Luckily, I was able to accommodate that. He missed every target.
Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?
I truly love every aspect of running my wine tours. I don’t like the off-season when I’m not busy.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
An experienced guide adds value because they have local insider knowledge and a track record of meeting their guests expectations.
Most NZ winemakers actually hate Sauvignon Blanc!
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
First, you have to be a ‘people person’ and genuinely enjoy interacting with your guests. Plus you have to be experienced, knowledgeable, organised, and sensitive enough to read people and anticipate their needs.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Look for someone with a good online reputation and who is experienced with a good number of years in operation.