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Wine to 5: Ella Lister, strategic consulting & wine media CEO

Inside a professional’s everyday life, Decanter speaks to Ella Lister, founder and CEO of Wine Lister, a specialist in fine wine business consulting.

As founder and CEO of Wine Lister, Ella Lister is a strategy consultant to the world’s leading wineries, from Château Lafite to Ornellaia, and she also runs the wine division at Le Figaro, tasting and scoring thousands of wines each year for the French newspaper. She is a Commandeur du Bontemps in Bordeaux and a Chevalier du Tastevin in Burgundy.

How did you get here?

Via a rather idiosyncratic path: modern languages at the University of Oxford, then mergers and acquisitions, before seeing the light and realising it was possible to work in wine. I was a wine journalist for 10 years (writing for Decanter, among other titles), during which time I merged my passion for wine with my financial background and created Wine Lister in 2016.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Combining so many of my passions and skills: wine, languages, media, data and business. But most of all, getting to know and earning the trust of many of the world’s most gifted winemakers, and getting to drink their wines.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

That wine tasting is one big jolly. It’s actually hard work tasting 150 en primeur reds or acidic Champagnes in one day. But I still love it (even when my teeth complain).

Your greatest moment, professionally?

I’m amazed and proud in equal measure to have created a company worthy of acquisition by the French media giant Le Figaro, in 2020, and over the moon to bag my dream job running their wine division in Paris, alongside Wine Lister in London.

And your greatest mistake?

Being slow to realise that there was a huge opportunity to expand Wine Lister’s services beyond data analysis and into strategic marketing and communications. I was too hung up on my own negative experiences on the receiving end of PR to realise that we could do it better, more rigorously, in a targeted and intelligent way. But we got there in the end, and have refashioned Wine Lister as a 360° consulting agency – like a McKinsey for wine.

What qualities do you need to be successful in your profession?

My cross-Channel roles cover an unusual amount of ground, so versatility, agility, determination, attention to detail, self-belief, sociability, stamina – and a hyper- sensitive nose.

What are the main concerns of the wine estates that come to you?

The 100 wineries that Wine Lister has advised over the last eight years are among the most sophisticated in the world. They want to understand their competition and stand out. Producers’ enquiries tend to fall within the categories of distribution, pricing, marketing and PR, but each winery’s needs are unique, as is the work we do with each one to inform, support and execute its strategy.

How would you advise someone starting out as a new wine producer?

Be strategic, unique and authentic. Understand the current state of the market and carefully carve out where you should sit within it. Tell your story in a captivating way.

Is the younger generation really turning away from wine?

We believe there’ll always be an appetite for the finest wines, with unique stories behind them. Young people today want rare, authentic, beautiful luxury goods and experiences, and our clients tick both of these boxes.

Do clients tend to listen only to what they want to hear?

A winery that has taken the step to work with us is open-minded, ambitious and forward-thinking. One of the main reasons producers approach us is to uncover and address their weaknesses head-on.

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