Spotlight on Helen McGinn Founder of The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club


You’re exhausted, fed up with childcare, cooking and multi-tasking and longing for that much deserved glass of wine. A simple solution for a complicated day, and one that Helen McGinn struck upon with The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club.  From there it snowballed…


How did you get into the world of wine?
I joined the Wine Society at University, primarily because it was the cheapest way to get four half glasses of wine on a Thursday night. But I soon realised I was genuinely interested in the subject, the people, the places and of course what was inside the bottle. So, I thought I’d try and make a living out of it and was lucky enough to get a place on a graduate training scheme at a big supermarket. I then bugged the head of the wine department until they gave me a job.

Who was your inspiration?
I think it was those who came to talk at that Wine Society, all so enthusiastic about the world of wine. Then I started reading more books about it, Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas was – and still is – one of my favourites.

Do you need lots of qualifications as well as a very good nose?
I did years of wine exams but really, the more you taste the more you learn. And I think we’re all given a fairly similar sense of smell and set of taste buds, it’s what you do with them that makes the difference.

Where did the inspiration come from for the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club?
I’d discovered the world of parenting blogs when I had my first baby and loved the idea of getting advice from others I could relate to rather than just a textbook. I used to send emails to friends with news on wine offers when I was a supermarket wine buyer and my lightbulb moment – if you can call it that, I was knackered at the time – was turning it into a blog. I started posting a couple of wines each week and it grew from there.

What’s most surprised you?
I had no idea that a simple blog would create a whole new career for me. It led to books, a newspaper column, a job as a TV wine expert and now a fiction writer. I’m still in shock to be honest.

At heart are you a Red, White or Rosé girl?
All three. It depends on my mood, food and what sort of day I’ve had.

Any wine taboos that you want to smash?
That you should or shouldn’t like certain wines. The only person who can decide if a wine is for you, is you. Ignore anyone who tells you any different.

Advice for going into the wine business?
Do a wine course. The WSET (wsetglobal. com) run a whole raft of them and it’s a great place to start.

Any low alcohol wines that you recommend?
Alcohol is the backbone of wine and without it, they can taste quite hollow. The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc (Waitrose, £8.99) is only 9.5% so make a spritzer with that if you want to cut down on alcohol but still enjoy the taste of wine.

Do you have a favourite glass?
They’re terribly impractical but I do love a Coupe when it comes to drinking anything with bubbles. Mine are from The Vintage List. Wine snobs would be horrified, I’m sure.

Does your love and knowledge of wine extend to food?
Well, I’m naturally greedy so yes. I’m always reading cookbooks. Not that I always successfully recreate the recipes, but I try.

Everything in moderation but do you think ‘clean’ living has been taken too far?
I’m definitely all for everything in moderation – including moderation. I want clean and dirty, thanks.

You regularly appear on This Morning and Saturday Kitchen how did you get into TV?
After my first book, The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, was published, I was approached by a production company to be the wine expert on The Alan Titchmarsh Show. I did that for about three years, a weekly wine tasting with Alan and his guests. It was such fun and a great place to learn the ropes.

Do you enjoy being in front of the camera?
I used to get nervous but now I genuinely forget I’m even on camera. I just try and focus on what I’m doing and enjoy the conversation. It always goes so quickly.

How did your first book, The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, come about?
The blog had been going for two years and had built up quite a following when an editor dropped me an email saying she’d come across it and thought it would make a good book. For six months every Saturday I wrote (I was still working for a wine company at that point) and the book came out the following year. A second updated edition was released last year.

And you are now moving into fiction, tell us about your new book?
I had an idea for a story that just wouldn’t go away so started writing it, without telling anyone, about four years ago. I would write whenever I found a bit of time in between my normal job and eventually I had a first draft of a book in my drawer. I’d written a few more drinks books by then so when my agent asked, ‘what next?’ I told her about the draft. The last meeting I had before the first lockdown was with publisher Boldwood Books – they offered me a two-book deal.

What was the inspiration behind it?
It’s a love story of sorts – first love, lost love, eternal love – set mostly in Rome and Cornwall, two of my favourite places on earth. The story is set around a character called Julia and her two daughters Annie and Jess. When Julia decides to go to Rome with her first love, a man she hasn’t seen for fifty years, her daughters follow her out there (they have their own reasons to skip town for a few days). What they discover in Rome changes all their lives forever.

Have you always wanted to write?
My husband reminded me the other day that I told him I wanted to be a writer when I was about fifteen (we’ve been together for a long time!). I didn’t think I’d write a novel back then obviously, but I’ve always loved writing.
I guess the wine blog was a way of being able to combine two things I love.

Which authors do you most admire?
I grew up on Jilly Cooper, Rosamunde Pilcher, Maeve Binchy, Mary Wesley… all great storytellers. Marian Keyes can make me laugh and cry at the turn of a page and I love getting lost in a Lucinda Riley every now and again for pure escapism.

How do you juggle everything – the TV work, author, journalist, blogger, wine connoisseur and mother?
A brilliant husband and lots of wine.

Any life lessons learnt in lockdown?
I’d make a terrible teacher.

The wine that you’d take to a desert island?
A 1988 Krug for sentimental reasons. It was a wedding present and we opened it soon after our first baby was born. Not straight after, obviously. I waited until I got home.

Who are the five people you would most like to do a wine tasting with?
Oh god, I’m terrible at things like this. I know I should probably list five very clever, inspirational people but the truth is it would be my family or five of my girlfriends. We’re very good at drinking wine together.

What next – any more novels to come?
Yes, I’m just working on my second novel now. I’ve been writing this one in lockdown so there’s more wine involved than the last one!

Your motto for life?
Don’t look down.


 

Helen’s much anticipated debut novel This Changes Everything is available now amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

This article features in the Spring issue of ‘Noticed’ magazine



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