BUSINESS is not always about boardrooms, briefings and black coffee. So, in tribute to the North-East men and women who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Andy Richardson examines the unconventional, alternative or downright difficult careers in the region's economy.

IF you ever find yourself flummoxed when a waiter hands you a wine list then you need the help of someone like Grace Matterson.

The 21-year-old from Billingham , Teesside is one of the UKs youngest trained wine experts, or sommeliers.

She help diners to select the perfect wine to accompany a particular dish and also chooses wines stocked at the five star resort hotel, Rockliffe Hall, Hurworth, Darlington, where she works alongside director of food, Kenny Atkinson, a double Michelin-starred chef.

Q. How did you become a sommelier?

My wine career began when I was just 18 years old. I started working part-time at a small country hotel, The Charles Bathurst Inn (known as the CB inn), in Arkengarthdale, North Yorkshire.

We used to get lots of shooting parties who would often order wines that cost hundreds of pounds a bottle. I didnt have a clue what made it so expensive.

After I went on my first wine tasting course with the Wine Spirit and Education Trust (WSET) I began to learn more and more. I was so interested in what made wines taste so different from one another. It became my passion.

Q. Did you ever consider doing something else?

I had a place at university to study geography. I was all set to go but at the last minute I decided to accept a full-time trainee manager position (at the CB Inn). From working in hospitality part-time it was a big decision to choose it as a career.

But Ive been able to develop my interest in geography because you learn about soils types, climates and cultures across the world.

I have no regrets about the decision I made. I am really happy with the way things turned out.

Q. How did you secure the position at Rockliffe Hall?

As part of my training I did a foundation degree in hospitality management at Darlington College.

I met the head sommelier at Rockliffe Hall - Laura Atkinson - who really encouraged me to pursue my interest in wine and carry on with my WSET qualifications.

She was only 22 at the time, I was 18, and it was inspirational to see someone so young doing such as responsible and skilled job. She persuaded me to apply to Rockliffe. In 2010 I became commis-sommelier.

We worked together for about seven months before Laura moved on to work for a big wine merchant and I was offered her position.

Q. Tell us what do you do?

I work in the Orangery our fine dining restaurant. I decide which wines go on the list.

During service I am managing wines for guests. The restaurant has a tasting menu so I do a wine pairing to select the best one to compliment the food and serve it during the evening. That is really enjoyable, seeing peoples reactions.

Its nice to show people what wine will work a dish. We have some quite quirky wines, from Lebanon and Hungary - things you may not pick off the shelf. Its nice to showcase something different.

Q. Do you drink wine if you go out with friends?

If Im honest I have the normal girly drinks - I hardly ever ask for wine. I like a gin and tonic. But my boyfriend Dan is a chef at Rockliffe. I met him while we working together at the CB Inn. When he makes dinner for us I try to pick a nice wine to go with it.

All sommeliers will tell you that if you are out for dinner with your family of friends you always get people passing you wines to ask - whats this? or getting you to do blind tastings to see if you can tell an expensive bottle from one that cost 4. Im pretty confident that I can.

Q. What will you do next?

I want to do this for at least another 10 years or so. Rockliffe is a

great place to work.

When I am older Id like to become a wine buyer for a big supermarket or wine merchant, that would be fun.

In the meantime Ill carry on with my qualifications.

I have done my level three. Up next is a two year course that I will do on day release in London.

After that you can become a master sommelier or a master of wine. These courses take about seven years to pass and they are really intense. You get letters after your name when you pass them. There are only a handful of people in the country with those qualifications. Hopefully one day I will be one of them.

In July, Grace was named Laurent Perriers sommelier of the month,which recognised her knowledge, skills and her exceptional levels of customer service.

Kenny Atkinson said: "I have worked with many sommeliers at some really outstanding locations over the years and I appreciate what a vast role it is. But Grace really is exceptional and is brilliant at simply explaining to customers why a certain wine works. Wine shouldnt be over-complicated and Grace often advises customers of how to find specific wine to suit their palates to enjoy at home."