A bottle of wine is always a welcome guest at parties. And the aptly named Kelvyn and Ruth Guest fulfil the role twice over, as JANE HALL reports.
Everyone hopes their year will shape up to be a memorably good one although none of us knows for certain what the next 12 months will bring.
But should Ruth and Kelvyn Guest by chance be gamblers, it seems a sure bet their 2015 is going to be momentous.
They have a trio of firsts to look forward to, the most significant of which will be the birth of their son in March.
Kelvyn is also set to embark on a two year wine and spirit diploma, and at the age of 48 and with impending parenthood staring him in the face, he’s decided the time has come to learn to drive.
“We’re looking forward to a very exciting 2015,” Kelvyn confirms. “We are obviously extremely thrilled that we are going to be having our first child, and with me starting my diploma and hopefully getting a driving licence as well, it’s going to be all go as we move into the New Year.”
The couple, from North Shields, will be hoping they can channel some of that positive energy into their fledgling business, having turned their hobby into a new career and launched Guest Wines.
The decision to take their marital relationship onto a new footing and also become business partners was a dramatic work shift for both of them.
Kelvyn had spent most of his adult life working with mental health and substance abuse patients.
Meanwhile Ruth, 39, had been employed for eight years by the NHS in cancer screening before moving on to work at Newcastle’s Centre for Life in clinical trial governance.
But when Kelvyn was unexpectedly made redundant in 2012 from the NHS, he and Ruth realised it was a ‘now or never’ moment.
Kelvyn could look to re-join the rat race, trapped in a career that had lost its gloss and living for the weekends, or he and Ruth could act on their dream and start their own enterprise.
They opted for the latter and, having developed a growing interest in and knowledge of the alcoholic qualities of the not so humble grape, decided to pass on their enthusiasm to a new audience by setting up Guest Wines.
If that makes the decision to join the ranks of the self-employed seem simple, it wasn’t. There was much soul searching.
“We have a house and a mortgage and everything that goes with that,” Kelvyn explains. “There’s a lot at stake. But we decided to go travelling and went to the wine regions of South Africa, France, Portugal and here in England where we worked in the vineyards, helped with the harvesting, made lots of new contacts and friends and really immersed ourselves in all things wine.
“We came home and volunteered to help out at the International Wine Challenge (set up 32 years ago and now recognised as the world’s finest and most meticulously judged wine competition), which is where we met Oz Clarke (more on that connection later).
“But after 12 months of travelling we realised we needed to start making some money.”
Fortuitously, Kelvyn and Ruth were asked to help present tastings and education classes for the independent Newcastle Wine School, where they themselves had learnt so much about the finer points of ‘the grapes of the field’.
“It’s not so long since we were sitting there as customers,” Kelvyn says. “We couldn’t quite believe it.”
But it’s a partnership that is enduring. Apart from still holding the tasting classes, the couple recently joined forces with the Newcastle Wine School, run by David Harker, to bring their friend Oz Clarke to the region for three special ‘meet and greet’ events.
Kelvyn and Ruth forged a relationship with the ‘Wizard of Wine’ when they met him at their first International Wine Challenge. They never imagined he would remember them, though.
“The first time we saw him out of that context was in Edinburgh at one of the Three Wine Men events he does with Olly Smith (BBC Saturday Kitchen regular and wine editor of the Mail on Sunday) and Tim Atkin (a UK-based wine journalist and TV presenter),” Ruth recalls.
“Amazingly, it seems we had made such an impact on him that he did genuinely remember us.”
Kelvyn takes up the thread: “We ended up going to a real ale bar in Edinburgh with Oz and while he must meet thousands of people over the course of a year, he really did remember us.
“He was really animated about the North East and about coming to Newcastle, so the first chance we got we invited him.”
While not a mentor to Kelvyn and Ruth, he is certainly enthusiastic about their business and their desire to make learning about wine fun – something close to his own heart.
He was full of praise for the couple he has dubbed the ‘Geordie Duo’ on his visit to Newcastle. “You need young and enthusiastic people like them,” he said. “They were both working in the NHS and they could have played it safe and stuck with what they knew but, no, they decided to challenge themselves and share their passion and knowledge with the world.
“I greatly admire them for getting out there and encouraging people to taste, experience, talk about and discover new wines.”
For their part, Kelvyn and Ruth say they feel “very privileged” to have become friends with “somebody like Oz. It is a great feeling. He is so down to earth and very approachable.
“It is wonderful for us that he is encouraging us and wants to be involved.”
Not that the friendship has just happened. “We have made the effort to keep the relationship going,” Kelvyn says. “Like anything in life, you have to work at it.”
They have the same approach to Guest Wines. What makes the venture different is that they not only run tastings but an express pop-up wine bar.
And in their bid to inject some humour into the often poker-faced business of learning about wine, they also run VinArchy events every month at McKenna’s Bistro at Northern Stage in Newcastle.
Having no premises of their own, the idea behind VinArchy is that Kelvyn and Ruth take over those belonging to others. On another occasion they transformed a day-time financial advisor’s premises into a night-time punk-themed wine bar.
Just as punk rock strove to be anti-establishment, the Guests want to brush aside the wine barriers. “People can get stuck in a rut buying the same wines because it’s familiar and they know what to expect,” Kelvyn says. “But we want to show people what else is out there.
“Wine tasting can have a bit of a stuffy image that puts people off, and there’s also some mystique about fine wines. We want to shrug off that image and offer people a night out which will encourage them to become more adventurous in their wine choices.”
Ruth adds: “It’s a journey of discovery and that’s what we are hoping to inspire and share through our events and tastings.”
The couple know all about journeys of discovery. They met on holiday in Peru 11 years ago and bonded over their shared passion for wine.
They set out to learn as much as they could about their favourite alcoholic beverage, which is what first brought them into contact with the Newcastle Wine School.
One of the first events they organised was a pop-up wine bar for an art gallery’s monthly exhibition launch in the Ouseburn. It was then the pair realised they could possibly make a career from their mutual love of wine tasting.
At the same time they decided to learn more about the subject and studied to earn internationally recognised Wine and Spirit Education Trust qualifications.
Like a good vintage, Guest Wines is maturing and evolving as each month passes. The imminent arrival of their first child has brought an interesting new perspective to the business.
Alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix and it was an unexplained metallic taste in her mouth when drinking wine that first gave Ruth an inkling she might be expecting.
“My tastes have definitely changed,” Ruth admits. “I am finding with being pregnant that I am picking up the acidity in wine more. We found out I was pregnant when we were on holiday in Rioja in Spain, which is amusing.”
The impending arrival is just another step on their journey of discovery and their combined desire to share their thirst for wine knowledge from grape to glass.
The final word goes to Kelvyn, who describes himself as a ‘wine punkster’ (Ruth being a ‘wine hipster’). “Different wines are like music. You can have music for different moods and situations. Sometimes you want a symphony and other times you want it brash, loud and in your face.
“That’s exactly how we look at wine. It’s like going into a record shop and thumbing through thousands of LPs. Eventually you will get the bottle that fits your mood and expectations for that day.”
It’s a nicely philosophical view on life that is worth chinking your wine glasses to as we all head further into 2015.
Guest Wines has a host of events planned for this year, including VinArchy! I Can See the Light on January 30 (from 8pm at McKenna’s Bistro) focusing on lower alcohol and lighter bodied wines, and the Guest Wines/Newcastle Wine School Wine Fair 2015 – part of Eat! NewcastleGateshead – on March 1 at the Assembly Rooms in Fenkle Street.
For more information on Guest Wines and their events go to www.guestwines.com
If they were a wine Ruth and Kelvyn would be…
Kelvyn: “Ruth reminds me of a fine English fizz. She is something a little different, striving to be independent, lively and vibrant. She pops my cork!”
Ruth: “Kelvyn is deep and complex, full of Mediterranean spice like a good Syrah; he is strong willed and comes with a hint of chaos.”
Ruth and Kelvyn’s favourite wines…
Ruth: “I probably err more towards the whites. You can never really go wrong with a nice Chardonnay.”
Kelvyn: “I tend to go through phases. Over the last few years we have done English wines and we have enjoyed what we have seen.
“I also like Loire Valley Cabernets from France – they have a lovely red fruitiness to them.
“And at the minute I’m liking Hunter Valley Semillons from Australia. They take on a different character as they age. They are robust, fantastic wines.
“If I was going to go to the Old World in France it would be the Rhône and places like Languedoc. They make fantastic wines at often great prices. They are very approachable to drink. You can just sit back and enjoy them.”