Imagine leading food, wine and history tours to some of Europe’s greatest wine regions, a different destination every year. Envision helping wine lovers understand the nuances and complexities of the fruit of the vine, whether they are tasting wine in Portland, OR, or Bordeaux, France. This is how Maxine Borcherding spends her time now that she is “retired” from a 30-year career as a caterer and hospitality/restaurant management instructor.
How She Did It
It all began with a teaching assignment at Oregon Culinary Institute, which required writing curriculum for two classes on wine. Maxine admits that she was a wine novice, but the company supported her education as a sommelier, “and a funny thing happened,” she said. “I fell in love with wine, and with everything about wine. I had to learn more.”
Since then, Chef Borcherding has graduated from the International Sommelier Guild Sommelier Diploma Program, become a French Wine Scholar and a Spanish Wine Educator, and is completing certification as a Master Instructor for the Rhone region.
She confesses that the Sommelier courses and exams were more challenging than earning her Master’s degree. But becoming knowledgeable in this new passion gave Maxine the confidence to retire from full-time teaching in her 60s, and to devote herself to the Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food that she co-founded with her mentor and friend, Hoke Harden, in 2010.
The Business Model
Taste and Compare provides hospitality staff training, consumer classes and consulting for restaurants in Portland, OR. Since 2013, they’ve added once-a-year wine tours with stellar destinations such as Provence and the Rhone; the Loire Valley; Burgundy and Beaujolais; and Bordeaux, Cognac and the Dordogne in France. A Spanish tour included Madrid and the Basque country, Rioja, and Barcelona.
Coming in May 2020: a 10-day Portuguese Food and Wine tour with local experts (2 spots available as of this posting! – https://www.tasteandcompareacademy.com/portugal-2020.html). The tours are intimate, limited to 10-18 people, and range from 7-12 days. The idea is to create an itinerary that allows guests to enjoy the cuisine and the culture, as well as the wine, at a relaxed pace that incorporates unique experiences and free time to explore.
Scott Fisher and his wife Julie Bell traveled to southwest France with Maxine in 2015. He recalls the day they followed Edouard and his truffle hound Farah across a gently sloping hillside punctuated with holm-oak trees. Soon the trusty hound located the intensely fragrant black truffle of Périgord,
one of the most highly prized (and priciest) members of the fungi kingdom.
Later that day, Edouard’s wife Carole created a fabulous lunch featuring a brouillade made with gently cooked eggs, heavy cream, and butter infused with grated black truffles. Scott reflected rapturously about the dish itself, as well as the experience of eating it in a rustic stone farmhouse at the edge of the oak grove where the truffles were unearthed. He added, “The look on Julie’s face when she finally held a freshly dug truffle to her nose and inhaled its fragrance was the height of that trip for me.”
Creating Unique Experiences
For Maxine, the exquisite specialty foods of Europe are highlights of every tour. One memorable meal on the west coast of France featured platters and platters of fresh oysters and whelks, and “the most delicious sole I’ve ever eaten, which they said was caught an hour before,” with the famous rare potatoes of the island of Noirmoutier, which are grown in beds of dried seaweed and “taste like they’re drenched in butter.”
Staying in unusual hotels adds another level of fun to the trips. In the central Loire Valley, people have turned old chalk quarry caverns into charming houses and hotels called troglodytes, where Maxine’s group stayed and enjoyed the local stuffed flatbread called fouees.
In Valladolid, Spain, Maxine and crew stayed in a stunning converted monastery which is also a spa with mineral springs and massage. “Being pampered like that is quite nice if you’ve been traveling for a few days,” Max observes.
What’s Not to Love?
Leading wine tours in Europe may sound like a dream, but it requires a tremendous amount of planning and marketing. Who is your audience, and where in the world might they want to go? What activities would excite them? Are there special sites, festivals or feasts to plan around? Then there are logistics: deciding how long to stay in each destination, arranging transportation and reservations, finding local guides. “It’s a lot of work,” says Max, “like a giant puzzle where you have to make sure each piece fits, and the result will create a memorable experience and raving fans.”
And that’s also the key to success in her business. “If you create a great experience for your customers, they will be the best marketers that you can have. Recommendations from people other people trust have greater credibility than any advertising or promotion,” she said.
Any advice for those who envy her life and would like to do something similar? “Choose something that you are passionate about, and that interests enough people with enough means to make the venture if not wildly profitable, at least able to cover your costs and pay for your time.”
“Truly you never know when your life course will change – when a door opens, and zoomo, presto, you have an entirely new career.”
Want to learn more?