Wine educator Helena Edgerton traces the twists and turns in her journey from studying French and Spanish at Edinburgh to teaching at Sydney Wine Academy.
MA (Hons) French and Spanish
|Year of graduation||2000|
At the moment
It’s a glorious Sydney winter’s day, sunny and 18°C. Life here is hard to beat but I am lucky enough to have lived in two, equally amazing cities, Barcelona and Edinburgh, before moving to Sydney 16 years ago.
Your time at the University
Edinburgh University wasn’t on my radar when I first applied to universities. When these applications were unsuccessful, I took a gap year in Barcelona to learn Spanish. I fell in love with Barcelona, with Spain and its culture and I realised that Scotland wasn’t so far to travel for university. My subsequent application to Edinburgh University to read French and Spanish was one of the best decisions of my life.
Walking through the wind and rain to George Square, I learnt in my first weeks at Edinburgh University why warm hats were so essential! I don’t miss the cold wind, rattling the windows at the top of David Hume Tower, but I do have fond memories of my time in Edinburgh. I loved living in the vibrant city, with its stunning architecture. I loved the large mix of students. Perhaps the main challenge was to stay focused on study. Living in Pollock Halls in my first year, when the computer lab closed at 10pm, it just became an excuse for a nightcap in the pub with other students from the corridor.
I made lifelong friendships and still reminisce about rowing on the Union Canal, Thursday nights at nightclub Century 2000, university balls and Hogmanay street parties.
Edinburgh University provided endless opportunities outside of the lecture theatre. I volunteered on a HELP project, helping street kids in Mexico City, which was an unforgettable experience. I spent my third year abroad - a year which helped to shape my career. I taught in a French school as an English assistant, as well as teaching English at a Catalonian summer school. The highlight was my internship at Moët et Chandon in Champagne and it seems fitting that I am now a Wine Educator at Sydney Wine Academy.
Your experiences since leaving the University
Upon graduating, I stayed in Edinburgh, working for Tesco on their graduate scheme. I met my husband in Edinburgh, who had completed a masters at Edinburgh University and who was working for the University. He subsequently returned to Australia and I realised that a retail career wasn’t the right path. I still completed the training and it taught me valuable management skills and it taught me more about myself.
I did then find a job I loved, working for a wine tour company. I toured the famous vineyards of France and Spain and I was constantly using my languages. I started studying wine and when I finally moved to Australia, albeit three years later, I knew I wanted to forge my career in the wine trade. I worked for a fine wine distribution company for several years in Sydney. Yet Edinburgh seems to draw me to it like a magnet.
A decade after leaving Edinburgh, I was back there and it was the ideal opportunity to further my wine study. I successfully completed my WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, whilst working at the Bon Vivant's Companion on Thistle Street. It was a great three years living back in Edinburgh; the wind was as relentless as ever, whilst this time pushing a pram to the Meadows playground.
Life really is one learning journey and things do come full circle.
As a graduate, with access to George Square library, I once again found myself studying there on Sunday afternoons. Life really is one learning journey and things do come full circle. As a Hispanophile, I am thrilled that I will be teaching a new Spanish wine course for Sydney Wine Academy this October.
Life during Covid-19
Many students at Sydney Wine Academy, being sommeliers or restaurant managers, are severely impacted by Covid-19. It has been an incredibly stressful time for them. We have continued delivery of classes virtually and we have been bottling wine samples for students. My cancelled 2020 travel plans to the vineyards of Jerez and Alsace will have to wait for international travel to recommence, whenever that may be. Covid-19 reminds me of the importance of family, good health and community. It has taught my children resilience. In this uncertainty, I hope it teaches people understanding towards those with anxiety or mental illness.
If I can offer any wisdom, it is to turn your disappointments into opportunities and realise that life has many exciting paths; there isn’t just one correct path but several. For every door that closes, another opens.
Your first job or first career may not be your ultimate goal but every job is a valuable experience and is a stepping stone towards realising that goal.
School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
Joining the Library - Graduates of the University of Edinburgh
Sydney Wine Academy (external link)