11 Questions With...with Amanda Thomson
by Village England luxury leather hand bags
This week Julia got to interview the lovely Amanda Thomson, CEO and Founder of Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne.
Amanda gave up a career as a BBC reporter to run away to Paris and ultimately launch a portfolio of low and no-sugar sparkling wines, which she branded Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco.
Where did your love for Champagne and sparkling wine come from?
Does anyone NOT love Champagne? I was a reporter for ITN and the BBC and covering arts at the Cannes Film Festival gave me a definite taste of the champagne lifestyle, and also the realisation that not all wines are created equal. The journalist in me was curious and wanted to find out more.
When did you realise that telling stories as a journalist wasn’t enough – you wanted to make your own?
Most people, including me at the start of my wine journey, didn’t even know that sugar is usually added to Champagne and sparkling wine. My light-bulb moment was when I discovered you could have fantastic tasting Champagne without the addition of those deadly white granules. I wondered why people always ask what’s in their food but never what’s in their wine.
Please tell us a little about the Cordon Bleu experience, and what your family made of it all.
In one word: “Crazy.” We were perfectly happy living in Winchester and working in London, but I had this overwhelming desire to immerse myself in the world of wine then build a business So we put our house up for rent and moved to a tiny apartment in Paris. All our friends thought we were mad, after all, we didn’t speak a word of French before then and had no idea how long we might be there. Three years later I had a Diploma in Wine from Le Cordon Bleu and could speak great “wine French” (a glass or two helps!) Our children are now bilingual – a proud investment.
What impact does sugar have in sparkling wine?
The French have a very French way of describing Champagne without sugar (zero dosage) – they say (pardon the reported sexism here) it’s like a perfect woman without make-up – no covering the rough edges. So to make Champagne without sugar takes a masterful winemaker. Sugar masks any sub-quality grapes, bitter flavor or inconsistency in the fermentation process. Luckily, I met an incredible Champagne maker one evening at a tasting in the heart of Paris and we instantly connected. That night, upon tasting his delicious no added sugar Champagne, my idea for Skinny Champagne and the portfolio was born.
Once the first Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne launched, were subsequent editions more or less of a challenge?
Less. The “hero” bottle, Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne Grand Cru, was the tricky one to create and then get out there to market. Now the rest of the portfolio simply follows in its big sister’s glamorous wake! Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco has taken off in a way we could never have imagined – it’s been called “the basic bitch drink of the summer” by The Guardian, which first made me laugh hard and then realise, “Wow, I think we’re now a ‘thing’” The Sunday Times even said we have our own drinks tribe!
Who did you have in mind when you created your product? Now you have real traction is your customer different in reality to the plan?
My ideal customer is, and I guess, has always been someone like me who wants to drink better and cleaner without compromising on taste. What’s been wonderful is watching the positive reaction and helping unsettle the market. Once you realise what’s in your drink, there’s no going back to larger doses of unnecessary sugar. My big mission now is for transparency in wine labeling as in food.
What has surprised you about creating a brand in such a highly competitive market (where most of your competitors are so hugely well funded)?
I think it’s the amount of noise I’m able to make. The big money brands have become faceless, and their stories have been lost. We’re fulfilling a need that most customers are only too happy to find out exists. They know all these decisions about how my brand is growing are mine. Each new product that we are bringing to market is specifically chosen by me for people who think like I do. I know that there are enough consumers out there like me keen to change their lifestyles to a lower sugar one without compromising on taste and quality.
What has been the craziest moment? The most rewarding moment?
When the press started to write, “Who is the genius who has created Skinny Prosecco?” I realised that my tough graft was worthwhile. I cried to myself for a moment. And I never cry!
What is your favourite Champagne / food combination?
Truffle fries with Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne, no question!
Do you think being a female entrepreneur has made your journey easier or harder. Do you have any advice to give someone who wants to create something very new?
The funding bit is statistically tougher for women, but on a positive note, female entrepreneurs are easier to notice because there are fewer of us. I never like to think about my gender as a barrier, and I feel I’d be doing my teenage daughter a disservice in taking that stance. Arguably, the more corporate suits there are somewhere, the more pointed your difference which can be an advantage. If I’m completely honest, I find being underestimated can sometimes be a super useful weapon in business. The more people think you’re no competition, the more space you have to build a business empire without being interrupted.
As for advice for newbies, if you’re 100% sure it’s a brilliant idea, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. All that’s holding you back from success is often your own fear, so tackle that head on. It is crazy hard work, so only do it if you are prepared to live and breathe the business. Being obsessed with what you do is essential.
What do you look for in a handbag (does it need to carry wine? Or the smaller the better!)
I do that classic thing of having one bag that’s too small, then adding a tote for flexibility. Perhaps I need an upgrade to one of your fabulous creations though (hint!!).