So, my two week stint at the Intenational Wine Challenge (IWC) is almost over. Tomorrow is the last day of judging of the nine, and it has been a great experience.
You’d think that tasting 100 wines/day for nine consecutive working days would be a frightening prospect. And I’ll admit it: when I first signed up for the panel chair job (requiring a commitment to the full two weeks), I was quite worried about how my mouth and teeth would cope. The answer is that they’ve coped well. It takes a few days to get used to standing up for so long, and on day three of this year’s challenge I developed a sharp pain in my right arm (the one that held the glass and poured from the bottles), but otherwise I feel fine.
But now I’ve done it for a few years in a row, it’s something I look forward to. Here’s why:
- You get to hang out with some really great people. I like my colleagues in the wine trade and I wish I could spend more time with them. You feel a bit of a bond with people who you’ve tasted with for a day. And because of the feedback system, nutters, incompetents and bores stand a good chance of being weeded out. Which leaves just nice people to hang out with.
- The organization of the IWC is excellent. It’s a pleasure to judge because you are looked after so well by the hard-working team. The atmosphere at the challenge is one of professionalism and the expectation is of excellent performance on the part of everyone.
- The lunches at Searcys in the Barbican are fabulous. It’s great to be able to look forward to what I reckon is close to a Michelin-star-standard two course lunch, efficiently served every day.
- I enjoy hanging out in the weird and wonderful Barbican. There’s nothing quite like it.
- I actually feel quite nostalgic about commuting into London to do a proper day’s work. It reminds me of the 15 years I spent heading out of the home every day, catching the train to Regents Park or Oxford Circus (I alternated depending on my mood), and walking the short distance to 41 Portland Place, near the BBC. A day job gives structure to your life that you miss when you are a freelancer. However, I’d say that if you can cope without this structure, the benefits of being freelance outweigh the restrictions of being employed full time. It takes some time though, after going freelance, for most people to be able to conquer the fear that being freelance brings (chiefly the uncertainty, but also self-worth issues). However, once you have looked this fear in the eye and overcome it, it is tremendously liberating. I digress…
- Lastly, and most importantly, the IWC has a real integrity to it. I can’t imagine a competition of this scale and remit having more integrity than the IWC. All the checks and balances help to produce robust results. Of course, there will be anomalies. But given that 12 000+ wines are being tasted, it’s a remarkable achievement that all wines are tasted at least twice, and all medal winning wines are usually tasted more than twice. Anyone who has worked with panels will know that some are stricter than others: the IWC safety net means that this inconsistency will be ironed out in a transparent and fair way. I have been round the back, and can reassure readers that no fiddling goes on.