On belonging


On belonging


For two weeks each year, around April, I’m reminded what it is like to go to work. Like normal people do. As in have a job. It’s the International Wine Challenge (IWC), and as a panel chair I’m there every day. I commute by train to Vauxhall station, and then wander down to the Oval cricket ground, where we are based. Each day, that pattern is repeated. The same journey: leaving, going to work, coming home. I commuted for 15 years into town, and although most bits about having a regular job I can live without (I just love the flexibility of being a freelancer), there are a few I still miss.

The main one – and this is part of the reason I enjoy the IWC so much – is the sense of belonging. There is something rich and satisfying about being in a joint venture with colleagues. I love the sense of belonging to something bigger than myself.


The IWC is tough work: we have to taste a lot of wines, and we have to be disciplined to taste thoroughly and give every wine a fair chance. But it is so great to work as a team: each day I will be with four different people. Some I will know; some will be strangers. As a panel chair, my job is to help this team work well together to provide the right results (which isn’t the same as convincing them I am right). Panels are a great way to assess wines in a competition setting, when the team works well and there’s some discussion of the results.

The wine challenge is also great because each day there are 80-100 judges participating, and it’s an opportunity to catch up with peers and old friends. For a few weeks a year I feel I belong, and reminded that I’m part of something bigger than me.


As a freelancer, this is valuable. It’s not just the wine challenge that provides me with a sense of belonging though. It happens with press tastings, where you bump into lots of your peers. We’re competitors, yes, but we all get on pretty well, like a sports team where there’s healthy competition for places. I also get a sense of belonging with collaborative ventures. For example, I’m now working with WineAlign, a superb Canadian outfit. For the last two years I have been a guest overseas judge at their National Wine Awards of Canada, and this year I’ll be doing it again, but now as a regular part of the team, contributing articles to their website. The NWACs are great fun, and WineAlign brings together most if not all of the leading communicators and writers from the Canadian wine scene in a way that I’ve not seen anywhere else. They are a lovely group, like a big and sometimes slightly crazy family, and it’s so great to be involved with them.

Belonging is human. I know and celebrate the fact that everyone is different. But I thing there’s a deep human need to belong. We’re wired to desire it, and much sadness results when people don’t feel they belong.

We want to belong with a significant other. [Although some people, by choice or circumstance seem to do singleness well, it is not an easy path for many.] The feeling of belonging to another in a special way, that neither of you share with anyone else, is a beautiful, deeply satisfying thing. It can also be incredibly painful when it goes wrong. This belonging is the source of inspiration for many songs, poems and novels.


We also belong to a family. This is important, because it is our link with the past. This is where we came from, and it’s an important source of identity. Good families can provide a wonderful sense of belonging, but when things aren’t good, this can also be the cause of emotional and psychological devastation. Sometimes it’s hard to repair the damage done by loveless families.

Then there’s belonging to a network of good friends; belonging to a wider social circle; and belonging in tribes (for example, people drawn together with a common interest, such as support of a sports team or shared admiration for a band).

Then there is the more fundamental issue of belonging to the universe. We look into the night sky, consider the enormity and ever changing, expanding, evolving nature of the universe and think: I belong here. I am part of this.

I think art is one of the ways that we celebrate, explore and share our belonging together. That is why it is so important. To a degree, a culture of wine is also one of celebrating belonging. Wine is shared, with meals. Sitting down with someone and sharing a meal is a very intimate thing, and it is at the core of most families and societies. And wine is frequently part of this experience.

Although I love being a freelancer, I recognize the importance of being part of something bigger. I cherish the independence that being a freelancer brings, but acknowledge the loss that comes with it. For the next two weeks I’m going to be taking part in the IWC, and I’m looking forward to it a great deal.

1 Comment on On belonging
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

One thought on “On belonging

  1. Beautiful article Jamie about something a lot of us working freelance indeed miss – this sense of belonging. I am one of these people who does singleness well and really cherish my time alone, yet it is exchanges with like minded people and friends that have really allowed me to evolve, on a personal and professional level! Thank you for reminding me!!

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