“One of the most important things to me is to be able to offer more educational opportunities, because if the trade is able to learn more, they can better share their knowledge with consumers,” says wine consultant, Margaux Burgess.
Originally from Nova Scotia, Burgess moved to Edmonton in 1997 to study economics at university, while working in hotels and restaurants to support herself. It was an extended program split by a year in Australia, another in the U.K., and three years at Banff Springs hotel.
After graduating, Burgess continued with Fairmont; she achieved her International Sommelier Guild diploma and wanted to start the WSET program, but it wasn’t available in Edmonton.
“So I moved to Vancouver to do the WSET diploma, and Fairmont was kind enough to transfer me to the Pacific Rim,” she says. She also worked in a coffee shop/winebar: “it wasn’t the best fit, but that worked out well as it inspired me to start my own business.”
With contacts made through years of working in hotels, Burgess started wine marketing, PR, and education: “Whatever you can do when you’re cobbling together a new business, and trying to get a consulting agency off the ground,” she laughs.
But she always planned to come back to Edmonton, so when she finished her diploma she started working on restaurant wine programs and with the Alberta Liquor Store Association to develop educational programs.
“I do some writing, and some judging at the Alberta Beverage Awards. I did the mead judging certification, I have the WSET Level I in sake, and I’m a certified sherry educator,” she says. “We also work with Alberta producers quite a bit to educate stores on breweries, distilleries, fruit wineries and meaderies. I’ve been really lucky; it’s lots of hard work but I’ve been able to build my business where I’ve seen holes in the market and filling them in.”
So what bottle does Burgess have tucked away?
“When I was doing my diploma, I didn’t really know what sherry was. Gonzalez Byass had a trip to Spain for diploma students, and I spent three days in the region,” she says. “Sherry is hard to understand, people think it’s a sweet dessert drink but only a tiny percentage is sweet. As soon as you get there, you realise that there’s this magical, unique drink that is one of the best values in the entire wine world, that nobody drinks!”
Byass produces Tio Pepe, one of the most well known fino sherries. The solera has 22,000 casks filled with wine, and as they age they move to an amontillado solera, which has thousands more casks. From these around 10 barrels are chosen, and from there they bottle four – a four-year old, six-year old, eight-year old, and a 47-year old amontillado.
“The Tres Palmas is the oldest fino sherry, and I think it represents the region better than any other wine,” Burgess adds. “I went back the next year, and the next year, and then I did the sherry educator in 2015. Last year I did the sherry master program, so we learned a lot more about the selection of the Palmas.”
And when might she open the bottle?
“I don’t think it will be a special occasion, I think it will just sit on the shelf and taunt me until I give in and open it,” laughs Burgess. “I’ll probably open it before I prepare for my next trip to Spain, just to get me in the mood. I’ll be going to Spain in November to do the Rioja educator program, and I’m going to spend a couple of days in Jerez, so I think I’ll get some Iberico and some Manchego from the Italian Centre, and have some Tres Palmas fino!”