Q&A with Brigid O’Hora from Virtual Vineyards

Name: Brigid O’Hora

Occupation & Company: Owner of Virtual Vineyards.

Tell me about your current role?

My current role is varied and busy. I set up Virtual Vineyards in In September 2020. This is an online wine tasting events business that incorporates wine classes, tastings and events. I also operate on an ‘in person’ event basis.

I create and teach these all of these course and events, including a 6-week wine appreciation courses, wine wasting team building events, and restaurant and war Staff Training. With the benefit of my master’s in hospitality management and HDip in WSET Wine and Spirits, I feel I am in a qualified position to also independently upskill hospitality professionals in both wine and service in the wake of the reopening of the industry. This is probably my favorite part of the company operations.

Alongside running the day to day business of Virtual Vineyards I also create content for my Instagram page. I find this is such a brilliant way to express your own thoughts on the industry as you see it.

I also write wine articles for my own blog on my website and for some publications in Ireland.

How did you first get into the drinks industry?

After I left Maynooth University, I began working in La Stampa on Dawson Street. This led me to a waitressing role in a restaurant in Darling Harbour in Sydney, where they had one of Australia’s award-winning sommeliers working there at the time. He trained us every week in wine and spirits. On the very first week we had the brand ambassador in from Cloudy Bay in and we tasted the whole range. Safe to say my intrigue and love for wine was cemented right there and then!

What is your favourite part about working in the industry?

I love that the industry changes so much from day to day. It is wholly diverse and constantly evolving, which means we must keep up. I love the challenge of trying to stay on top of current trends and predicting what might be next. The wine industry is one of the oldest industries in the world, and it never ceases to amaze me what may come next. The outright ingenuity of winemakers in the face of climate change is just stunning to watch.

We’re meeting up for a wee drink after work – what are you having?

I think a decent glass of Crémant Rosé.

You can only have one drink for the rest of your life, what’s in your glass?

Normally I would say Riesling for sure, but I am also exploring the many incredible styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. It is fantastic as a dry white, but I really love an off dry Chenin from Savennieres AC with some spicy prawns. So good.

It’s Saturday night, what restaurant are you going to?

Uno Mas.

Is there a bucket list drink you want to try, or a dream drinks destination you’d love to visit?

I would love to visit Gevrey Chambertin in Burgundy and have a sit down with the iconic Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy. This incredible woman is the winemaker-owner of Domaine Leroy, that make the most astronomical and prized Burgundy red and whites. This lady is in her early 80’s and is still making some of the world’s most incredible wines. She is literally a living legend in the industry. My dream would be a long, lazy lunch sipping on her wines and chatting to her about her immense skills, passion and experiences.

The most memorable experience of your career?

My most memorable experience of my career so far is having the opportunity to open, decant, and share a bottle of 1961 Chateau Lafite Rothschild with one of my customers in Dromoland Castle when I was their Sommelier. He was a very lovely man from New York who so kindly offered me a glass to share with him after I served him his wine. It was a special moment for both of us.

One thing you’d like to see more of in the drinks industry?

I would like to see more learned appreciation for alcohol. It would be great if people appreciated the level of skill and profession that goes into making anything from fine wines to micro brewing of spirits and beers. We as consumers are totally spoiled by the level of selection and quality. I sometimes feel we are too spoiled and therefore just choose those brands that shout the loudest. But actually the quality that is coming from smaller producers is just astonishing.

I would also like to see better training in bars and restaurants. I believe better trained staff actually help to elevate the experience of the diner. Pairing more suitable wines, pouring correctly, and understanding flavours and textures that would ultimately change the experience for the diner also.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in the industry?

Try and get yourself into an establishment who endorse staff training. Yes, your qualifications are important, but in an ever-evolving industry like this it is vital to consistently train. This industry is fast paced and very exiting so continued training is your best asset.

Be prepared to work hard, but also try and love what you do, and it won’t feel like work. Listen and watch the industry experts and most importantly spread the joy of the industry as this is what keeps it all going.