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Alumna Amanda Thomson - Success Story

Alumna Ailsa Hayward - Le Cordon Bleu London

After a successful career as an Arts Broadcaster at the BBC, Amanda decided to make a dramatic career change and pursue her passion for wine. Deciding to move to Paris and study for a Wine Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu, Amanda equipped herself with all of the knowledge that she needed to be successful in the industry. Now the CEO and Founder of Thomson & Scott, who created Skinny Champagne and Prosecco, Amanda has taken the wine world by storm, with her organic, vegan, no-added-sugar portfolio of products.

Le Cordon Bleu London caught up with Amanda to discuss her career change, her time at the school and how her diploma played a big part in her new found success.

A career change

My decision to enrol at Le Cordon Bleu was genuinely the culmination of a dream as I had been a fan of wine for many years. Whilst working as a BBC arts journalist, presenting stories at film festivals and interviewing significant figures such as George Clooney and Salman Rushdie, I imagined studying wine – having stomached some pretty awful offerings at arts and entertainment events.

The media was a world that I loved, but a niggle to learn about the wine world in real depth wouldn’t go away. I discovered the Wine Diploma course at Le Cordon Bleu, and moved with my husband and two young children from the UK to Paris. It was a drastic move and I initially questioned my sanity daily, but never wavered from wanting to qualify. My decision was definitely worth it in the end, as I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the world of wine! And in Paris especially, this was a very romantic experience. I also loved having the opportunity to meet so many fantastic wine makers, and spend time in the vineyards. It really was heaven.

Success after Le Cordon Bleu

It is no exaggeration to say that the course was life-changing. Whilst living in Paris, I met a champagne producer at a wine tasting one evening, who made me question all of my previous assumptions about sparkling wine. He was passionate about crafting complex, delicious wines that didn’t need the extra dosage of processed sugar that so many champagne and sparkling wine makers rely on. Until then, I hadn’t even thought about what went into a bottle of wine – except grapes, of course – despite being brought up on a sugar-free and vegetarian diet. It was a ‘eureka’ moment that directly lead me to set up Thomson & Scott and develop my portfolio of Skinny Champagne and Prosecco.

My Wine Diploma has given me the confidence in my brand, Thomson & Scott. We make top quality, no-added-sugar Grand Cru Champagne and Rosé, and an organic, vegan Prosecco that is made with half the usual amount of sugar. The course was definitely hard work but I believe that everything I learned has made me better in this business. This is useful when I’m asked what is used instead of sugar in my sparkling wines (answer: nothing except the best grapes picked at the optimum time!) or whether chemical sweeteners are the secret (answer: no need when you craft with care!).

Overcoming challenges

The biggest challenge with Thomson & Scott at the beginning was to get it going. Nowadays everyone is talking about sugar and clean eating but when I launched Thomson & Scott six years ago I was considered to be faddish, as my darling mother was in the 70s, bringing up a vegetarian family. I overcame resistance by sticking to my guns and, most importantly, creating delicious sparkling wine. It’s not rocket science, but it does mean being serious about what’s in the bottle. If sommeliers won’t serve it, wine merchants won’t sell it, and customers won’t drink it, which means that you won’t have a viable company.

This year has definitely been a series of highs. From selling out three times in Selfridges in a week, to getting Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco from the vineyard to customers across the UK, and being told that we had our own tribe of drinkers by The Times! There have been a couple of features in the press where the journalist has used Skinny Prosecco as shorthand to describe a demographic. Once you step over into the consciousness of the public, you know your brand has really connected.

A word of wisdom

The advice that I would give to someone wanting to follow in my footsteps, is, be passionate, and always focus on the end goal. You will encounter setbacks, and somehow need to find the energy to get past them, so surround yourself with positive people and allow yourself a moment to enjoy the highs. If there’s something you can’t do, find someone smart who can help you. My mentors have been wonderful, helping me with everything from forecasting, spreadsheets, to finding the right distribution.

If you would like to find out more information about Thomson & Scott, please visit their website.

Photo © Moritz Steiger 2016

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