Q&A with Neil Phillips aka The Wine Tipster
PUBLISHED: 11:21 07 March 2019
We talk to professional wine, bubbles and horseracing expert, and Gloucestershire boy, Neil Phillips The Wine Tipster
Where did your love of horse-racing start?
I was born in Stroud in Gloucestershire and my love of horses started when I was just five thanks to the horses in the field behind my parents’ house. There was a wonderful racing commentator called Sir Peter O’Sullevan - the “Voice of Racing”. When I heard his voice on the TV I wanted to be the next Peter O’Sullevan. I used to avidly watch racing and try to work out which horse would win. I even used to do my own horse racing commentary - at the age of five. That love of racing continued. Later on I was in a syndicate which owned the talented and quirky Deano’s Beano, who won the Long Walk Hurdle Ascot and ran several times at Cheltenham. He was ridden by 20 times Champion Jockey AP McCoy and he is now retired with the Greatwood Charity, which uses former racehorses to educate disadvantaged children and young adults with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
I’m now a partner in a racing syndicate called ‘My Racing Manager’, which was started by Elli Morgan. My Racing Manager has had winners at the last two Festivals and will have a couple of horses running at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, which is all very exciting.
What about Cheltenham?
The first course I ever visited was Cheltenham. I’ve been to lots of meetings there - not just the Festival. There’s something about the magic of going to Cheltenham that keeps people coming back time and time again and makes it a really special place. I get a tremendous buzz even on non-race days and the view up to Cleeve Hill is a sight to behold.
Where did your love of wine come from?
My parents were always interested in wine. They joined the Stroud Wine Society in 1973 which was very early for a commercial wine society. I went off to University in Sheffield but obviously enjoyed wine while I was there too. A turning point came when my parents invited me to a tasting with master of wine Mark Savage. We blind tasted eight Chardonnays from around the world and I managed to get zero of the eight, but it taught me a lot - including how fantastic Californian Chardonnay. That experience inspired me to do a course at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and that marked the start of my career in the world of drinks.
I took a job at a Spanish wine company Moreno Wines and since then have worked with retailers, restaurants and big-name companies like Ernest & Julio Gallo and Pernod Ricard, where I increasingly did more presentational work at food festivals as well as TV and radio campaigns. I also acted as ambassador for Mumm and Perrier Jouët champagnes, which gave an opportunity to work with numerous chefs like Raymond Blanc, John Williams and Michael Caines. In the same way racing does, wine has given me a great opportunity to travel to some amazing places like South Africa, Australia and Argentina.
How did you come up with The Wine Tipster?
I had started lots of presenting and wine clubs and through my work as an ambassador and realised I loved it. In 2009 my wife Louise had an idea to combine my two passions for racing and for wine and become The Wine Tipster. It seemed like the perfect fit - perhaps I had finally found my dream of becoming some kind of Peter O’Sullevan.
As The Wine Tipster, not only do I get to present on wine and racing, but I get opportunities to enjoy my love of food, as well as visiting courses across the country.
How did you get involved with Cheltenham?
I was presenting at Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival when Joanna Winnel from the Jockey Club Catering team asked me to come and present at the race course. I then started working with Jockey Club Catering and that has expanded to me presenting across all 15 Jockey Club courses. I’m extremely grateful to Joanna Winnel , Phil Roberts, Regional Director and Managing Director Nick Campbell at Jockey Club Catering as I love being involved with the whole team. On the day of a meeting I go to the restaurants and talk to the guests about the food and drink experience as well as giving some horse racing tips. I’m also involved in the training and part of the wine list team.
What are your interests, other than wine and racing?
I love eating out - there are some great restaurants in Cheltenham, like Lumiere with its classy cooking, Prithvi for fans of Indian food and The Ivy is offering great value. In Oxford, Edamame is a fabulous, genuine Japanese restaurant, whilst The Hare at Milton-under-Wychwood has the pub dining experience just right and feature good fish dishes too. I’m a regular at Daylesford Farm Shop which I like for brunch and for when you are having a special treat the taster menu with the Raymond Blanc experience at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is fabulous. For brewery tours check out Hook Norton and the Stroud Brewery, whilst Three Choirs and Woodchester Valley are top winery visits. Afternoon tea is one of my favourite experiences and Tisanes Tea Room in Broadway and The Lavender Bakehouse in Chalford are two of my favourites.
I also enjoy cycling and am an avid follower of the Tour de France and Tour of Britain. I’m a bit of a steam train fan too and we’re lucky having the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway on our doorstep. Look out for The Cheltenham Fryer Fish & Chip Special in April!
Where can we see you next?
I’ll be at Cheltenham, obviously, but I’ll also be presenting at the Oxford Chelt Wine School, Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival as well as at the Foodies Festival in Oxford. You can find all my forthcoming gigs on my website here.
And finally, what might people be surprised to learn about The Wine Tipster...
● In 2013, Neil had a racehorse, ‘Wine Tipster,’ named after him! Wine Tipster won his first race at Gulfstream Park, Florida.
● Neil’s degree is actually in Urban Studies.
● His nickname is Monty.
● He once had a drink with Ewan McGregor without knowing it was him.
● His worst tasting experience of his life was eating a Pollock’s eye at the Dorset Seafood Festival.
● He has two cats called Milo and Scotty.
● His wife Louise runs a wine PR company and they met at a wine tasting!
● Neil caught an autographed tennis ball hit by Roger Federer at the US Open.
● Everything is food heaven except for chocolate blancmange.
● He ran the London Marathon in a time of 3 hours 19 minutes.
● The Wine Tipster has won The Wine Trade Squash Tournament.
● Neil’s biggest winning bet was on Channel 4 racing. He won a free monkey bet and his selection, ‘Vintage Premium,’ won at 20:1, winning him £6,750.
● The Wine Tipster’s favourite punk song has to be ‘You Have the Right to Work’ by Chelsea.
Neil’s day at Cheltenham...
It’s a busy day for Neil Phillips during the Festival!
6am: Early breakfast with the team.
7am-8am: Put the finishing touches on my Unibet Racing blog with daily tips and also send my daily tips to all the team.
8am-9am: Visit all the restaurants I’m presenting at that day, including Chez Roux, The Horse & Groom and Theatre @The Festival.
9am-10am: Take part in key briefing sessions in each of the restaurants, including the key food and wine messages of the day.
10am – 10.30am: Daily filming on Racing TV, covering a different hospitality piece each day. Great fun!
10.30am: Gates open!
10.30am – 2pm: On the day of a meeting, go to the restaurants and meet and greet guests, marking the card on the food and drink experience as well as giving some horse racing tips ahead of the first race. I have tremendous fun with guests and it’s lovely to see familiar faces at Cheltenham, faces from other courses and those new to racing.
2pm – 6.30pm: During racing as well as the restaurants, I cover key boxes, sponsors and other specific requests. Return to restaurants to thank guests and review the day.
6.30pm – 7pm: Return to the office and review the day.
7pm – 9pm: Catch up on social media and review Unibet Racing Blog. Whatever pre-Cheltenham prep you have done, ground conditions, trainer form all come to the fore.
To find out more about Neil Phillips aka The Wine Tipster, and where he’ll be presenting next, visit thewinetipster.co.uk/.