Ratblogger: Hi Gemma! Thanks for taking time out to talk with me about Cellar Rats. Could you start by telling us about your role as presenter on the show?
Gemma: Yes, I certainly can. When I came on board the show already had two other presenters, Josh and David. Both are very experienced wine growers. It was felt that another presenter, who (isn’t an expert) and loves (drinking) wine, was needed to help soften the presenting style. I am definitely not a wine connoisseur, so my role is to steer away from interviews which use the usual wine jargon and make sure that the people I talk with explain things in layman’s terms.
Ratblogger: That’s obviously an important role and makes Cellar Rats attractive to an audience outside just wine enthusiasts. Perhaps you can elaborate a bit about how a typical day looks for you on set and how you work together with the rest of the team?
Gemma: Well, I am the person who sort of knits everything together. It’s my job to do links and intros for each scene, where I talk about the history, landscape and beauty of each place we visit, and of course about the vineyards and the families who run them. It’s very important for a presenter to be relaxed (I smile a lot!) and make the people around them feel at ease. Being on camera, often blinded by bright lights, can be quite nerve wrecking even for the most bubbly and talkative among us. Many people freeze as soon as the camera is rolling – some of the people I interview might freeze or get very shy and awkward when filming begins so I spend a lot of time trying to make people feel at ease to help encourage them to speak freely. Building a rapport with everyone I come across is the most important part of my job and the best way to do this is to just to be myself! I always spend some time with our hosts before an interview so that they know what to expect. I tell them about myself and about what I do and generally ask a few questions to loosen them up. But the most interesting questions I leave for when the cameras are rolling. I try to ask open questions which solicit spontaneous answers, and include things that you might not have even thought of before. Often, if I’ve already asked a question and repeat them under the lights of the camera, the interviewee forgets to mention some of the more interesting things he said off camera. When that happens, I have to probe a little deeper and ask other questions to gently get him back on track. I use these little tricks, as it were, to help make interviews flow naturally. I also do my research beforehand and have to memorise my lines on intros so that we can keep the number of takes to a minimum. I am the bridge between the vineyard owner/worker and our audience and I am aware that what the expert is saying is vastly more important than anything I have to say.
The crew are really dynamic and each of us has our own distinct personality. I’m usually the only woman on set, and I often use my feminine charm to help build rapport with our hosts, who welcome us into their homes, provide full access to their vineyards, and look after us during the filming. We are very lucky and extremely thankful to be allowed to take a peek into their world, even just for a day or two.
Ratblogger: Many of the wine dynasties seem to be very much family businesses, so are the women also getting involved?
Gemma: Absolutely!! There have been a lot of amazing people we’ve crossed paths with and whilst many of my interviewees have been men, the women who I have spoken with have been very influential in the industry. For instance I interviewed Carla Terry Osborne, who is the managing director of the Osborne Group, one of Spain’s biggest companies dedicated to the production of wine and spirits. The wine industry has always been very male dominated, with fathers traditionally passing their vineyards on to their sons. That is changing now though, and many more women are also holding the reins. Whilst we were in Portugal every person I interviewed was a woman! Sara, the mayor of a town where the wine battles are held, introduced me to her family, who regarded her as the head of the household. As attitudes continue to change, I’m sure we’ll be seeing many more women making their name within the industry!
Ratblogger: What are some of your favourite moments of filming Cellar Rats?
Gemma: There are so many – a difficult one to answer! It sounds cheesy, but I really love every second of it! I have had the chance to meet so many great people and taste so many delicious wines as well as learn about the different processes involved. When we went to Portugal I learned that 70% of the world’s wine corks are manufactured there. Then we visited the factory which make the oak wine barrels and I learned about how different woods can impact both the taste and colour of the wines we drink, for example French oak barrels will give a different flavour than American oak. I used to watch wine shows on British TV when I was younger and smirked when the presenters began talking about wine having a “hint of chocolate” taste, but when I poked my head inside the empty barrels I realised they were right! A Citrus smell here, a cigar smell there, and others smelled of vanilla, chocolate or coffee. Suddenly, what the wine boffins had said now made perfect sense.
Besides learning about wine production, I’ve also really enjoyed meeting the people and families who make the wine. There’s something about this lifestyle that seems to attract really happy, relaxed and healthy people - maybe it’s the farming and the connection to the land that makes them that way, or maybe it’s just that happy people gravitate towards wine. Everyone I’ve met has been so generous and warm hearted. I’ve made some amazing connections with people who I now call my friends, with whom I still stay in touch. There is a particularly lovely woman in Portugal and I loved being with them and at their vineyard so much that I’m going to get married there next year! And then of course there is the team! I love our long drives together, all the silly banter in the car, the fun and the jokes. I’ve grown especially close with Malcolm, whom I’ve known for five years now. He feels like a father figure to me and is the driving force behind the show.
Ratblogger: Could you tell us more about yourself? What kind of other projects have you worked on?
Gemma: I’ve been a presenter on and off for about 15 years, and this job has taken me all around the world. I’ve presented in Ireland, Hungary, Ibiza, America and Japan. One of my favourite early jobs was as a weather girl for o2, where each day we would have to make a little skit to go with the daily weather. It was such a funny time, improvising to find props and trying to create something original and funny. I also hosted a music show on Ibiza for MTV, where I would get to interview world class DJs and visit some amazing clubs. It’s the sort of thing I loved to do anyway, but I was getting paid to do it, which was great. I’ve also done some TV commercials and acting roles where I’m playing a TV reporter or a journalist. I don’t really feel comfortable in many of the roles my agent puts me forward for, but as a reporter I am in my element.
On a personal level I am very creative. I realised that most of my passions begin with a “P”. I’m a photographer and that has been a passion of mine since I was young. I like to photograph architecture and I’m also very good at taking reportage photos. I’ve even been hired to do weddings, parties and christenings! I’m also a qualified personal trainer and have been kickboxing for 15 years. I am also very passionate about Poetry and Painting. I’ve been doing both since I was a child and they allow me express myself.
Ratblogger: What does the future hold for you?
Gemma: I’m really looking forward to completing Cellar Rats. I know how much it means to Malcolm, Suzie and the rest of our crew. It’s our baby. Of course I’m looking forward to my wedding next summer in Portugal, and am so thankful to have found that beautiful vineyard through working on the show. It’s going to be the dreamiest holiday wedding I could hope for!
We have a busy schedule next year and are hoping to fly out to Lebanon with the crew, which is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. We’re also going to visit South America and return to South Arica, where they’re apparently going to throw me out of a plane! With a parachute of course! I try not to think too much about what the future may bring – I’m more of a “here and now” type of person. This interview has left me feeling all warm and fuzzy, remembering so many beautiful things. Here’s to many more great memories! – Cheers!