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Q&A with Pierpaolo Petrassi MW, DipWSET

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Having followed his father into wine, Pierpaolo Petrassi DipWSET went on to become the first Italian Master of Wine in 2007 and has been Head of Buying for Beers, Wines, Spirits, Soft Drinks & Tobacco at Waitrose since 2010. As a nominee for the WSET Outstanding Alumni Award 2018, he shares how his formal studies aided his career and instilled in him the importance of receiving and offering support through his alumni networks.

What inspired you to follow your father’s footsteps into the world of wine?

I was lucky enough to visit my first wine region with him during a summer holiday. It was a Barolo producer and even though I was just 14 the unique combination of the Langhe Hills, a working winery, and the "cult" of great Barolo had a profound effect on me.

How has your education through the WSET Diploma and later Master of Wine helped you develop your career?

Whilst I had picked up some empirical knowledge about wine early in my career, I realised how little I really knew once I started on my WSET journey and this was a "road to Damascus" moment for me and my career. The infectious enthusiasm of the WSET educators and the amazing opportunities to network with fellow students were the catalysts for any success I have since achieved.

You’ve been involved in WSET alumni actives as a speaker and attendee, how important is continuing development and alumni networks in the industry today?

The one thing you realise as you progress within our industry is that you never stop learning. Meeting new producers and industry professionals opens new horizons on a daily basis. Technical developments, product innovation and the opening of potential new markets are also all happening at an unprecedented rate and my alumni network, whether WSET or Institute of Masters of Wine, is vital to keeping me in touch with this. All of us also benefit hugely from the support and encouragement of senior members of our industry as we progress, and we should also seek to repay this by mentoring and nurturing new talent when we are in a position to do so. I’m a big fan of this master and apprentice continuum.

Nothing worthwhile ever simply lands in your lap...Always remember that our industry is a business, not a vocation.


What value do you think there is in wine professionals learning about other drinks categories?

Most consumers now have a wide repertoire of drinks which they regularly consume - this is certainly more prevalent now than it’s ever been. All of these drinks have a similar richness of tradition, history and authenticity and we all have a responsibility to expand our knowledge accordingly if we are to remain credible to the consumers who look to us for guidance and knowledge.

Coming from a strong Italian background, what has kept you working in the UK wine industry rather than heading for your heritage homeland?

I feel very fortunate to have a real passion for many aspects of our amazing industry and my responsibilities also see me overseeing all forms of liquid refreshment. The UK is a unique market in its diversity and one where wines and spirits from every corner of the globe are consumed. For now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

As a consistent leader in Drinks Retailing News’ Top 100 Most Influential People in Wine, what advice would you give to someone hoping to take their wine career to similar heights?

  • Hard work – nothing worthwhile ever simply lands in your lap – have realistic ambitions and work hard to achieve these. Always remember that our industry is a business, not a vocation.
  • Passion – don’t be afraid to pin your colours to the mast.
  • Integrity – as Thomas Jefferson said: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
  • Humility – don’t mistake this for low self-regard, but if you remain humble but confident, you will always be respected and appreciated. Having a sense of entitlement is one of the most unbecoming of human flaws.

Learn more about the Outstanding Alumni Award 2018 nominees here.

Image from Drinks Retailing News