This is the first of our three-part series looking at people who are lucky enough to love their jobs. As the saying goes, “The best feeling in the world is getting paid for what you do’.
Work, for better or for worse, features prominently in our lives. Most of us spend at least 40 hours a week. Th at’s a whopping one-third of our lives during a span of 50 years. As our life expectancy increases, our retirement age gets pushed back too.
Ironically, the benefits of saved time and labour with the advent of industrialization have not helped us spend less time working. On the contrary, perhaps rising living standards and capitalization have raised our expectations and multiplied our needs — and so we work more.
It is no wonder that so many of us wish to find happiness and purpose through work.
So what is it really like to spend your days toiling over a labour of love? Have you always known where your passion lies? Is there a distinction between work and play?
To explore these questions, I spoke to the experts who have chosen to pursue their passion in work.
The first in this series is the Masters of Wines (MW). Obtaining this title is no small feat. The MW qualification is considered one of the highest standards of professional knowledge in wine. To date, there are only 409 MWs in 30 countries.
An advanced wine certification is a prerequisite for entry, as is a requirement for a minimum of three years professional work experience in the industry. The course itself takes at least three years to complete. It is a rigorous journey that consists of theory and practical exams, culminating with a research paper. Those who love wines, like myself and so many others, would find it daunting even to consider such a challenge for the sake of pleasure! But here we meet those who have done it.
A Series of Interviews with Masters of Wines
Julien Boulard MW
A Frenchman who never cared for wine while growing up in France? Quelle horreur! But that is exactly what Julien Boulard was. His passion for Chinese culture, however, started young, when he was just seven years old. Inspired and influenced by his Chinese brother-in-law, he took off for Nanning, China when he was older, to study Mandarin. He remained there to complete a master’s degree in international affairs and settled down in Nanning.
Leveraging on his heritage, he found a job related to French culture. Ironically, it was at a local company importing wine from France. With time, this job blossomed into a love affair.
Boulard prefers to speak in Mandarin, read and watch movies in French, and write in English. His fluency in spoken and written Mandarin, and his passion in communicating his enthusiasm about wine has earned him a strong following in Chinese social media, bagging two industry awards in 2019 including ’Best Wine Educator of the Year’. He shares his expertise through his company ‘Zhulian Wines’, which specialises in wine education. They organize blind tastings, and he travels to give courses in other cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu.
Grape wine, deemed as exotic in China, was first produced and consumed in the Han Dynasty. Even though baijiu, a white spirit made from fermented sorghum, is still more widely consumed in China, grape wine has become much more popular, especially with the younger generation. Consumption has grown exponentially in China. China boasts the world’s second-largest vineyard area, and the quality of its wine production has consistently improved over the years. According to Boulard, the best way to spread knowledge about wine is through social networks, and by word of mouth.
*This interview has been edited for clarity
Whilst doing what you love for work, can you share both the challenges and the joys that you encountered?
It will take 10 lifetimes to master wines! I would say that my principal challenge is to maintain a certain standard expected of a MW. People expect you to know everything — and I certainly do not!
In fact, I knew so little that I was teased by a sommelier colleague while working at the wine import company. This triggered my motivation to study wines. I love studying and I find that when you start to learn about something, you gain confidence in the subject. And with this confidence, your interest grows. You start to put your heart into it, and this brings fulfilment. The strange thing is that as you gather more knowledge, you are also made aware of how much more you do not know. That is why I believe passion can be worked on. It comes with time.
The joy of opening bottles and sharing the experience with friends is a wonderful feeling. I enjoy the intimate conversations which continue late into the night after a few good bottles. In my experience, drinking good wines opens people up and brings them closer. You have fun together, you have meaningful conversations.
I enjoy meeting passionate people who share my interest in discovering good wines. There is such a wide diversity of good wines from all over the world. I feel privileged to work in a field I love. There are many who need to work just to pay the bills, whereas I feel like I am not simply working, I am living life to its fullest. My family is very much part of it — even my two-year-old daughter takes the glass from me, imitating me, smelling the wine, and swirling it around!
Which wine or type of wine has made you happiest? Can you tell us about this experience?
A Cheval Blanc 98. But not quite for the reasons you may be thinking.
When my daughter was born, my father came to visit me in China for the first time. He is a typical Frenchman who drinks a glass of table wine at every meal. When I started working in the industry, to please him, I would always bring home a good bottle I had discovered. He knows I did not enjoy wines when I was younger, so he would tease me, saying that it was not good enough, that he would prefer a Petrus or Cheval Blanc.
During his visit, I decided to celebrate the occasion with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 98. It was the most expensive wine I had ever bought for myself! I served it to him blind. He enjoyed it but was shocked when I showed him the label afterwards. He could not believe his eyes!
I didn’t choose this wine because of its price or the number of points awarded to it; I chose it because I wanted to surprise my father and share this moment with him. If I had ever had the opportunity to drink it in the future when he was no longer around, and I had never shared it with him, I know I would have regretted it. Hence, I chose to create this moment with my father — to remember him by.
That evening, we talked non-stop till the small hours of the morning. The significance of this gesture touched him and opened his heart. We had the most intimate conversation I have ever had with him, and it brought us closer.
If you were to drink this wine again, which 5 people would you share it with and why?
I would share it with my younger brother who had missed the occasion when I drank it with my father. I know he would appreciate it.
Definitely with my daughter — when she is older of course!
Robert Parker, because he is a personage in my industry. He has wielded so much influence in the world of wine.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping. I hope the wine will open his heart too, and we could have the most amazing conversation. I am curious and I have so many questions.
Finally, I think Gérard Depardieu, just to have some fun!