Wine: the great communicator

Jean Smullen is an irrepressible force in the wine trade, known for organising many wine-related events and for her ability to make wine accessible

Jean Smullen has been organiser-in-chief of the Irish wine trade for several decades. Many readers will know Smullen by her voice rather than her picture, as she is a contributor to the "Movies and Booze" slot on Newstalk's Moncrieff show on Friday afternoons. She also writes about wine for Prudence magazine and the Sunday World .

Within the wine trade Smullen is known as the irrepressible force who arranges many of the tastings and other events in the wine calendar. She has worked for just about every wine-producing country, including New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and many of the wine regions of France, Spain and Italy.

More recently, she was named runner-up wine communicator of the year in the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition. Past winners include such luminaries as Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin.

“I am an actress,” Smullen says. “I am good at standing up and telling the story behind the bottle – that is what people want to know about.”


As anyone who has heard her speak can attest, Smullen has the priceless ability to simplify wine and make it accessible to beginners. “I believe you have to make wine simple and you have to make it understandable to everyone – otherwise you won’t be able to sell it. The average wine drinker is made to feel apologetic by the wine snobs and anoraks. I hate that. I don’t sit around talking about wine all night; there are too many of those types about. I communicate it and help sell it.”

Smullen started off her working life in various semi-State agencies, including IDA Ireland and the Irish Dairy Board, but always wanted to work in broadcasting. At night she moonlighted as a DJ on several pirate radio stations, operating under the name Jean Howard. “Everything I did was about communication,” she says, “giving information and explaining.”

She applied unsuccessfully to RTÉ several times (and was pleased when asked to present wine on RTÉ's Four Live last year). After various jobs in the film industry, she was offered a temporary assignment with the Wine Development Board, and ended up working there for nine years. She helped run courses and organise wine fairs.

“When I started, I knew nothing about wine, but was very keen to learn. Being an outsider I knew how terrifying wine could be for somebody new to the subject. It was great experience for what I do now.”

Smullen left the wine board to found her own PR and marketing company. Current projects include the Dublin Bay Wine Experience, a wine festival to be held on May 18th and 19th at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dún Laoghaire.

The wine fair is part of the Gathering, an initiative by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Chamber to bring people back into the town. “It was hard to put it together at the start, with a lot of it being done on a voluntary basis, but it has all come together very well.”

There will be 30 wine companies showing their wares, as well as various masterclasses. See for further details.

As for her own preferences, Smullen admits a love for Spanish wine, “ever since my first trip to Jerez, and then to other regions of Spain too”.

“ Following a recent visit there, I also love New Zealand – the country, the people and the amazing aromatic wines,” she adds. “I always liked the wines but a visit there makes selling their wines so easy.”

Smullen’s website,, has a wine diary for trade and the public, with information on all forthcoming events in Ireland.

Another woman making waves these days is sommelier Julie Dupouy-Young, who represented Ireland at the Best Sommelier of the World competition in Tokyo recently. Dupouy-Young came 15th out of 54. This is the highest position achieved by an Irish entrant for many years. Swiss sommelier Paolo Basso won the crown on this occasion.

Dupouy-Young will represent Ireland once more in the Best Sommelier of Europe competition later this year.