My first experience of the French city of Lyon was an intensive two-week French language course. It was 2017 and I was living in San Francisco’s Bay Area…but I was miserable and needed a change. I fell in love with the city almost immediately. It had everything I wanted in a European city. It’s ancient, beautiful, and best of all, right in the middle of several world-class winemaking regions. I realized quickly that this was where I needed to be.
Often called France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon is famed for its food and wine. But while I found plenty of vineyard tours in the regions surrounding Lyon, nobody was hosting English-language wine tastings in the city. To me, it seemed like a clear business opportunity.
I have a strong background in wine, stemming from my time participating in competitive blind tasting events as an undergraduate at Oxford University. Later, I earned a diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London. From Lyon, I had easy access to producers in nearby winemaking regions like Burgundy, Beaujolais, and the Rhône. So last year I launched CaroVin Lyon Wine Tastings, and life has been a delightful adventure ever since.
I host the wine tastings in my apartment, a modern loft in a converted 19th-century silk factory in Croix-Rousse, a beautiful neighborhood perched on top of a hill. It’s off the typical tourist track, and I love that my tastings bring visitors to this wonderful part of town. Doing this from my home not only reduces overheads, but more importantly enables me to offer a unique, authentic experience. It can be challenging because I have to be very tidy all the time, though ultimately it’s gratifying to share my life and home with clients.
The groups I host are small since I can fit a maximum of eight people around my table. When my guests arrive, we share a toast with some local sparkling wine. The tastings comprise three whites and three reds. I teach wine-tasting technique and share information on the different regions around Lyon. I always include wines from Beaujolais, Burgundy, and the Rhône, but often feature offerings from other regions as well, like Jura or Savoie. Every tasting also comes with a cheese and charcuterie board.
All of the wines I showcase are from independent winemakers. I work with a lot of organic producers and I’m committed to supporting businesses that farm sustainably, as well as female winemakers. One of the great joys of having my own company is that I can collaborate with enterprises that share my values
Starting a business in France is surprisingly easy. I registered as a micro-enterprise—a business status that allows solo entrepreneurs to get their new ventures off the ground without having to meet cumbersome accounting or regulatory obligations. You’re taxed on a progressive scale based on your earnings, in the same way as a salaried worker, but you can’t claim expenses. While this is clearly a big downside, the micro-enterprise program has allowed me to start making money and refine my business model.
My business allows me to live the French life I’ve always dreamed of. Most mornings, I wake up without an alarm clock. After coffee, I typically go to Croix-Rousse’s open-air market where I source all of the food I use in my tastings. Not only do I get great produce but I also thoroughly enjoy my daily interactions with the local traders.
In the late morning, I head down to the cellar to choose my wines for that afternoon’s tasting, basing my selections on how I feel that day. Then I prepare for my guests by making sure the apartment is spotless, printing and hand-binding my small tasting booklets, making the cheeseboard, setting the table, and pouring my wines.
The tastings run for between two and three hours…my guests are paying good money, typically between €80 and €120 ($90-$135), so I make sure that they have a memorable, enjoyable experience. Every group is different, which keeps things interesting and it’s fun to watch people make friends around my table. There is definitely an age range, with the majority of my clients either under 35 or over 55. Parents traveling with young children understandably have other priorities.
When I chose to enroll in that language course here in Lyon two years ago, I never imagined that decision would shape my future. Looking back, I am so thankful that I took the leap of faith to move to a city I didn’t know at all. I followed my gut and couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. I enjoy the laidback culture and the gentle pace of life in Lyon and people here appreciate a work-life balance and take leisure time seriously, which suits me just fine.
I’ve made wonderful friends within the expat community here, my business is exciting and thriving, even in its infancy, and I feel more positive about my future than I ever have before.
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