I am fascinated by the way we characterise an occupation. Recently I wrote in this blog about the work of an affineur. This week I have discovered another French role that I thought might help discuss coaching and coach development.

The role is that of an échanson. The French Wikipedia says that an échanson:

était un officier chargé de servir à boire à un roi, un prince ou à tout autre personnage de haut rang. En raison de la crainte permanente d’intrigues et de complots, la charge revenait à une personne en qui le souverain plaçait une confiance totale. L’échanson devait en particulier veiller à écarter tout risque d’empoisonnement et parfois même goûter le vin avant de le servir.

In summary, the échanson was “a high ranking official of the court, totally trusted, because his job included making sure that the King did not get poisoned”.

The Conseil des Echansons de France , owner of the Wine Museum of Paris, was created in 1954 for the advocacy and promotion of the best wines coming from French soil.

Among the founders of the Conseil figured famous art restorers and Parisian wine merchants. According to an ancient tradition, the echanson , or cupbearer, is he who pours the beverage. At the king court, this the position of echanson was deemed one of the highest honours from very early on. This position was reserved only for trustworthy men of the nobility. The Grand Echanson de France , or simply, Echanson de France , served the king personally at four annual celebrations: Spring, Whitsunday, All Saints’ Day, and Christmas. With the help of his assistants, the grand echanson managed the king’s wine cellars in addition to overseeing more ordinary services. Caretakers of the tradition, the members of the Conseil des Echansons embody the knowledge and experience of their illustrious predecessors. Its mission is to maintain a certain savoir-faire and to preserve the quality that accounts for the universal renown of French wines.

In these days of coaching teams it would be fascinating to think of the role of assistant coaches as échansons. Each of them bringing a very special care to the support of the head coach, each with knowledge of particular domains. It interests me too how each generation of coaching teams creates a savoir-faire linked to the history of a club or team.

I am not sure that the coach recruitment process is at the point where adverts are placed for a coach with affineur qualities or an assistant coach with experience as an échanson. But I imagine the job description might allude to the kinds of knowledge and experience these roles (affineur and échanson) imply.

I wonder what might happen if a sommelier applies for an échanson position … would it help me clarify roles?

Photo Credits

The Secret Stash



I am keen to explore diverse contexts to develop my understanding of teaching, learning and coaching. Many of my posts over the last two years have looked at the relationships between performing arts and sport.

In this post I draw upon a different context for my exploration of expertise. I do so from the wonderful world of cheese via the ABC’s Cheese Slices program from the Massive Central And The Auverge. In that program I learned about Herve Mons and the role of the affineur.

Jennifer Meier points out that:

Many French cheesemakers make cheese, then pass it along to Affineurs like Herve Mons who handle the ageing process. Affineurs guide cheese along as it matures in caves or ageing rooms, ripening the cheese to its peak flavor and texture.

Alison Brien worked with Herve Mons for a month. In her post about her experience in France, she notes that:

An affineur is a person who ripens and matures cheese; who has an intimate understanding of the production and life cycle of different cheeses and nurtures each cheese to perfection in carefully controlled environments. It is a specialised field requiring knowledge of cheese-making techniques and AOC regulations, animal health, grazing pastures, the seasons, microbiology, “cave dynamics” such as air flow and humidity, the sensory attributes of cheese and changing consumer trends.

Herve Mons, Alison reports:

has just completed work on a new maturation facility that can accommodate around 90 tonnes of cheese – and yes, it will all be turned by hand! The site is an old railway tunnel which has been transformed into a massive cheese cellar. Because the tunnel passes through a hill, it is a perfectly insulated environment for maturing cheeses. I was lucky enough to work in the tunnel for one day, turning my way through almost one tonne of cheese over 12 hours.

Alison spent a lot of her time in the other Mons facility known as “the caves”:

a series of underground rooms specially designed for maturing different cheeses. Each cave has natural earth and stone floors which are important elements in controlling the temperature and humidity. The affinage team consisted of six people, managed by Eric Meredith – an American with as much energy and passion for cheese as Herve.

She recalls that:

We would spend our days receiving young cheeses and sorting them according to their level of ripeness, then the cheeses would go into different caves depending on their needs. We would also tend to the cheeses already maturing in the caves, turning them, brushing them, patting down the mould or washing them with special solutions to encourage favourable mould growth on the surface. Each cheese receives quite a bit of personalised attention – it’s a bit like a cheese nursery.

What I found fascinating about these descriptions of the science and art of cheese maturation and finishing is how closely the skills of the affineur reflect the characteristics of coaches of young and maturing athletes.

As we move with more confidence to personal training approaches the more likely we are to see the ability to modulate training environments as a companion to affinage. Perhaps the two worlds would collide if any team decided to use the services of Alison Brien’s Cheeseboardroom … or explored the insights Liz Thorpe shares about Herve.

Photo Credits

Persille de Malzieu

The cheesemonger did not say cheese

Getting Coaching