Author and blogger Helen McGinn on where it all started
PUBLISHED: 10:29 01 September 2015 | UPDATED: 14:42 01 September 2015
Helen McGinn, author of The Knackered Mother's Wine Club, has helped to inspire a new breed of wine drinkers. We sent Rebecca Fletcher to her New Forest hideaway to where it all started
Settling down in her New Forest garden with a large mug of coffee on a rare morning off is Helen McGinn, author of an award-winning blog and now book, The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club. A Hampshire girl born and bred, Helen is one of those people that you meet and feel like you’ve known for years. She’s down to earth, bubbly like a good glass of fizz and above all, knows her stuff when it comes to wine. Ten minutes in her company and guaranteed you won’t hesitate to reach for a pen to sign on the dotted line when she invites you to join her club with ‘no dress code and no membership policy’. Prerequisites for signing up? An interest in wine is desirable, a love of drinking it is essential! As Helen writes in her book, “Forget the school run - this is the wine run. It’s more fun (and there’s less shouting).”
Following a decade as a supermarket wine buyer, Helen turned her hand to blogging almost completely by accident.
“There was never really a plan. It just sort of happened. I left supermarket buying and was working part time as a wine consultant after my first child, George, was born.”
Having been the go-to person for wine advice, Helen was used to giving her recommendations for wine for a Friday night in front of the telly all the way through to something for special occasions. So it came as no surprise that she often found herself on the receiving end of phone calls from friends and family in a blind panic when scouring the racks in the supermarket wine aisle. Helen began sending out a weekly email giving her pick of a couple of wines and it wasn’t long before friends forwarded on her wine counsel to their friends and then work colleagues and so on.
One night, at 2am while placating a crying baby with one hand and looking for information on mastitis on her laptop with the other, she stumbled across a well-known mummy blog and started reading.
“It must have planted a seed in my head”, Helen tells. “I believed every word I was reading because the woman blogging was a mummy who had been there and done that and I could totally relate to her. I think that reading it I must have thought, maybe wine might work as a blog a bit like that.”
On her own a few nights a week whilst her husband was working up in London and following a move back to Hampshire, Helen started to reinvent her wine emails into a blog all of their own. Inspired by blogs she had read as a first time mother, she thought that sharing her years of wine buying knowledge might encourage others to try something new instead of drinking the same old wines week in, week out.
With Helen’s conversational style and humour, the blog became an instant hit. Who better to give knackered mothers and fathers a bit of a helping hand when choosing from a huge array of bottles on the supermarket run each week than a knackered first time mother herself?
“Because of my wine training, I spent my life trying to find the best value wines I could. Wine for every day, not just the stuff you crack out for special celebrations. When your head is just full of babies, it’s so great to have something else to think about. Putting a blog post together is a real sense of achievement, especially if it makes you laugh!”
As the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club started to grow, Helen found that she was starting to attract followers that weren’t just her friends and family.
“I remember I was away for work and found a moment to catch up on some blog admin. I noticed that I’d received tons of comments from people saying that they were so pleased to have found my blog. It turned out that journalist India Knight had tweeted “You must read this wine blog”. With that one tweet, the whole thing just exploded. People who perhaps hadn’t thought that there might be a wine blog that was trying to be helpful, noticed my blog and started following.”
That year, The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club blog went on to win a string of blogging awards from Fortnum & Mason’s Online Drink Writer of the Year to Red Magazine’s Hot Women Award for Best Blogger. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before Helen received an email from the editor of a publishing house, encouraging her to write a wine book in the same style as The Knackered Mother blog.
“I remember getting that email from Liz at Pan Macmillan. I read it and was screaming and jumping around the kitchen with the kids. Then I thought what if it’s a joke. I think I replied with something like “This is brilliant but are you sure?”
It turns out that Pan Macmillan was entirely sure that they wanted to commission a wine book from Helen and that it was her ability to transcend her wine knowledge with humour and connect with her audience in such a personable way that saw Helen’s blog become a successful book. Sitting down to write every Saturday for six months while her husband Ross took their children (George, 10, Xander, 7 and Alice, 6) out for the morning, Helen created a fantastic crash course in wine. Cutting through the pretentions of professional wine tasting language, The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club book teaches the art of making informed choices based on one’s own tastes because after all, as Helen reiterates, “life’s too short to drink bad wine”.
“I’m a naturally greedy person. I want to love that glass of wine and really enjoy it. I don’t want to sip it and move on. It’s too easy just to pick up the wine on the end of the aisle when you’re in the supermarket with the kids and you’re in a hurry. I think for me, writing the book was all about telling people about wine but hopefully entertaining them along the way.”
Writing the book as well as penning a weekly wine column for the Daily Mail led to a stint on television as a resident wine expert. This time the email that popped into Helen’s inbox was from the producer of ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show. Working alongside celebrity foodie Nadia Sawalha, Helen has shared her wine recommendations and tasted wine with pop bands to footballers. Her highlight on the show being when she made a Bloody Mary for Frank Lampard.
“After that, in my children’s eyes, I could do no wrong!”
What’s next for this knackered mother of three from Hampshire, one might ask? With the continued success of her book and blog, Helen has starting posting wine videos on YouTube, she’s launched a US edition of her book, her session at Camp Bestival sold out in six minutes, she is currently writing a series of features as part of a wine course for Waitrose Kitchen magazine and she has plans for a second book. If that’s not enough, she’s just bought herself a wine kit. Helen laughs “I try not to overthink it. I’m just enjoying it all so much.”
I suspect that rather like laying down a good bottle of wine - with Helen, the best is yet to come.
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