The Traveling Wine Specialist
The Traveling Wine Specialist
By: Kim Harris
April Cullom, U.S. Brand Ambassador for D.O. Ribera del Duero and a certified Spanish Wine Specialist, holds WSET Intermediate & Advanced certificates (honorable mention in both) and travels nationally to educate consumer, trade and media groups about Ribera del Duero and its wines. Since 1986, April Cullom has made Spain her primary focus and has dedicated her passion of wine to helping educate others. We sat down with April Cullom after visiting with her at Savor Dallas to ask her a couple questions about her journeys abroad and experiences. We sat down with April Cullom to ask her a couple questions about her journeys abroad and experiences.
At what age did you know you wanted to travel and study abroad?
I caught the travel bug in elementary school while taking French classes (public school believe it or not). In middle school switched to Spanish and continued through High School. One day in 9th grade my Spanish teach Mrs. Coyle showed us some slides (yes, I"m dating myself) of her trip to Spain and decided that's where I wanted to go study abroad in college. Since I wanted to go into international business I figured having a foreign language would be a good idea so I chose Stetson University in DeLand, Florida because of their reputable Business School in the South East (I'm originally from Atlanta) as well as a Liberal Arts program with a junior year abroad at the University of Madrid.
How has Madrid changed since 1986?
The 80's was Spain's big economic boom and Madrid was in the middle of it. I did my Senior Thesis on Spain's Entrance to the E.U. and saw/experienced major changes from 1986 to present. The entrance allowed Spain to improve its infrastructure (metro, highways, airports) and telecommunications (not as much as the rest of Europe but at least broke up the monopoly Telefonica had on its servants). Of course with the opening up of its doors came foreign direct investment and tourism as well as chain stores which have overtaken the "mom & pop" stores, unfortunately. Siestas are no longer the norm so some traditions have changed. Hopefully soon the working hours will be in line with the rest of Europe as opposed to the current schedule of 9 - 7. I think productivity would improve but to do that they'd have to raise salaries to be equivalent to their European neighbors.
What are some of the must see spots a traveler should see in Madrid?
I always head downtown, perhaps starting at the Plaza de Espana and walk towards the Palacio Real, Plaza de Opera, Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel (great for tapas and vino) to the La Latina area for more tapas. If food isn't on my mind, walk towards Puerta del Sol (KM 0 for Spain) to Plaza Santa Ana for at least a "canita" (draft beer) at Viva Madrid or a sip of sherry at "La Venecia" before heading to the Museums at the bottom of the hill on Paseo de Prado, named after the famous museum whose collection of paintings is one of the largest in the world. Thyssen, Prado and Reina Sofia museums are all within a short walk from each other, rivaling Museum Mile in NYC. Of course if museums aren't your thing, walk north on Paseo del Prado to the Cibeles fountain to get a great view of the converging streets of Alcala and the Gran Via as well as the Casa de las Americas and the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) which was until recently the central post office (quite fancy I must say). Continue along Calle de Alcala to the Puerta de Alcala and the Retiro Park (my oasis).That's a good day's work
If you could name your favorite meal from Spain; what would it consist of?
My favorite meal would consist of sharing with a group of friends, some nice wines and an assortment of tapas such as Patatas Bravas, Tortilla Espanola, Pinchos Morunos, Pimientos de Padron, Pulpo a la Gallega, Boquerones en Vinagre, Espeto de Sardinas, Gambas a la Plancha, Jamon Iberico and some Manchego cheese. What inspired you to relocate to Madrid? After spending my junior year abroad at the University of Madrid I knew I had to return. I loved the feeling of living in a big city with a touch of a small town. The neighborhoods I lived in were alive and neighbors actually greeted each other. I made many friends, many of which to this day I consider my extended family. Of course there's the lifestyle, food, wine, culture and history that you soak in on a daily basis. It is quite enriching and addictive. After graduating with a double major in General Business and Spanish, I wanted to gain some real experience in International Business so I decided to try my luck back in Madrid. I promised myself if I hadn't found anything worthwhile in a year I'd return to the States but one thing led to another and I stayed for 5 years free-lancing for small businesses, teaching English (as most ex-pats were doing), importing restaurant equipment from the US and working for EF Educational Tours as a Tour Director.
What kind of groups did you lead on your Educational tours?
I lead groups of high school students (45 people) and their teachers all over Europe, showing them the cultural side of each city. What is the most important thing you learned abroad in Madrid and Paris? Living overseas is the best education beyond the classroom. It opens your eyes to another world, teaches you patience, understanding and confidence. Not to mention how to work with people from other cultural upbringings so I'd add "people skills" and languages to the list.
Tell us about your time in New York?
After returning to the States, I went to the University of Miami to pursue a dual Masters degree MS International Business/MBA Marketing. Though I wanted to go back to Madrid or Paris I knew the job offer in New York was the best choice. It's here where I developed my career in Brand Strategy and was very excited about the opportunity. However, on that fateful day of 911 I realized I needed to make some changes in my life. Weeks before that day I was trying to find a way to parlay my experience into something more satisfying but my headhunter told me to sit tight at the consulting firm because we were heading for a recession. I recall running late and taking another route as opposed to the line that runs under the Twin Towers. As I was leaving the subway stop at Canal Street I saw all the debris and wondered what in the world had happened. I turned the corner to my office building and saw the flaming, gaping, holes in the Twin Towers, asked what had happened and the rest of the story we all know. A few weeks later, we lost all our clients and I lost my job. I proceeded to volunteer at the Red Cross, witnessed people trying to scam the system and finally decided to move back to Spain. I remember saying to myself "life is too short to be doing whatever" so I took a year off to come up with a plan and combined my marketing expertise, experience of living abroad and knowledge of what Spain has to offer along with my personal favorites food, wine and travel. Now that I had a plan I started to learn as much as possible about wine, cheese and olive oil visiting the producers and taking classes. After landing clients in NYC I knew it was time to move back but this time on to something really exciting.
Name 5 things that a traveler should never leave home without in case of an emergency?
1. Passport 2. Copy of your passport with a saved online version. 3. Copy contents of your wallet in case it gets stolen so you know which cards to call to close. 4. The equivalent of $100 cash in case your debit card doesn't work (don't forget to call your financial institutes to let them know you're leaving the country so they don't block use of the cards). 5. iPhone - my Sprint version allows me to use overseas SIM cards so I can make local calls.
Tell us about Casa Abril?
I launched Casa Abril because I wanted to offer travelers another way to explore Spain and Portugal without having to join a large group. Most of my itineraries do not have specified dates (so you pick when you want to go) and are priced for 2, 4 and 6 people (some are for 10 but only on certain tours because of a specific date such as harvest). The tours are much more personable, kind of like the way I like to introduce friends and family to Spain. We visit local producers, take cooking and wine tasting classes and enjoy the meals with the locals. I added a wine tasting component in New York City so that people can become more knowledgeable of Spanish wines if going to Spain is not an option.
You’ve received several certificates as a wine specialists; how do you look at wine differently now?
The more you know, the more you realize how little you know. I can learn something new each day so I have a deep appreciation for wine and enjoy it more understanding the subtle nuances each wine offers. Given my passion for travel I love wines with a sense of place so I enjoy exploring wines from all countries made with their native varietals. You are a brand Ambassador for Ribero del Duero; what determined you picking this wine company to promote? This was the first wine region I had worked with that really seemed to want to invest in the USA and do things properly, as opposed to simply organizing one large wine tasting event. That's a great start but the best part was that it was Ribera del Duero, a region in Spain known for their quality wines and of course my favorite "terroir-driven" grape Tempranillo. Their wines remind me of Spain as I'd visited the area before while living in Spain, so there's also a personal connection to the region as well.
Are there any countries you still want to visit?
Always.....I think I was born with "wanderlust". Turkey is at the top of my list. I love the Mediterranean countries and this one bridges the East and the West. Perhaps next on the list would be Ireland and Scotland since that's where my heritage lies. The "Black Irish" are descendants of ship-wrecked Spaniards back in the 1600's so perhaps that's where my love of Spain originated. Who knows.
What are the future plans for your company..etc?
Under my marketing and trade services provider Global Bridges, I will continue to promote Spanish wine and food in many ways ranging from representing wineries and regions to sourcing wine and designing packaging for USA clients. And of course, with Casa Abril I'll add more customized itineraries that allow visitors to explore more of Spain.
For more information about Drink Ribera goto: http://www.drinkriberawine.com/
Also, make sure you come to the next Savor Dallas March 2014 for the most delicious wine and festivals of Texas http://www.savordallas.com/