10 of the best jobs in drinks and how to get them

Wine or spirits judge

Name: Tobias Gorn, wine and cigar buyer (Boisdale Group), freelance shooting instructor and referee, director of spirits at Winefraud.com, IWSC panel chair judge.

What route did you take to your current role?

I started my career in an independent wine shop helping to stock the shelves during my studies. I continued with my WSET education up to Diploma level and ended up working in wine retail after university. I had a dual wine and spirit career and tried many Scotch whisky jobs and also worked as a head sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London. I was encouraged by a great friend and colleague to apply to be an associate judge at one if the biggest competitions and started to learn about how competitions work. I am forever grateful to Nicola for the friendly encouragement. After a while others started to invite me as a judge and through my slow but steady progress I’m now privileged to judge with the drinks business on their Masters Series, among many MWs. I’m also very lucky to have been promoted to panel chair judge at the IWSC and am a regular judge at IWC and many others.

What’s an average day look like?

Every day is different. Some days I do a morning of competition judging and still go to Boisdale in the afternoon to lead a whisky and cigar event or a wine dinner. These are long days and they are one of the many reasons I spit all the samples. Leaving the house at 7am and returning home after 11pm. My PB is an 18 day working ‘week’ being absolutely exhausted with my last day ending with returning from Bisley Shooting Ground after a day of teaching novices. I then received a call from a friend (Sergio from BlackBook Winery in Battersea) to swing by and help out. I thought it would be a bit of tank and barrel nosing. Instead, he had a lorry with three tonnes of grapes to move and after that exercise we climbed into the press to assemble it. It was a long evening, very exhausting but great fun after all and worth it. Having different jobs keeps me excited and active.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Learning about the product and fellow judges’ perception of each sample categories. Another great part is seeing fellow judge friends. Catching up is important and the industry gossip can be also very useful. Ultimately we are running these competitions to inform the consumer about great wines and to help the industry to better the products.

And the worst?

Having four jobs makes it hard with the time management. Sometimes I over estimate my stamina and  have slightly over worked myself. Wine and spirit judging is mentally tiring and even if I spit everything as a professional should, it is inevitable to get a bit tired after hours of concentration and focus. All wine and spirit judges have to focus hard and give their best as we only have a limited time to evaluate the year’s of hard work of those that have submitted their products. The worst would be bringing a score down and being absolutely wrong about it. I’d rather make a fool out of myself than damage someone’s hard work. Chairing with a radical personal taster who can’t admit to having a bad day or being unfair on the samples for whatever personal reason is the ultimate nightmare.

What’s your best piece of advice to someone looking to land your job?

It is easy to start, just apply to be a judge on a competition’s website – that’s not the hard thing. Competition judging is harder than it seems though. One has to be humble, willing to learn, a real team player with no big ego. Patience is important too, along with focus. Beginner judges (associates) often want to shine. Nothing wrong with enthusiasm, but it is important to listen to the rest of the panel and not to go to town for something that is unanimously decided to be an X medal by the rest. We are all learning after all. It is also hard to keep personal taste out of the game. You also need to find the balance between ‘sitting on the fence’ scoring and being over exaggerated in scoring. Try to understand the category and judge the samples accordingly. People should not be afraid to score high when the sample is good. Learn from each other. It’s important to admit if one sample or two are not the strongest part of one’s specialist knowledge. It’s better to hold your hands up and admit an error in scoring or lack of understanding than bringing the scores down. Be humble. No judge is there for their personality, we are doing it as we have tried countless examples of the product and we have experience and knowledge in the particular field. Trust yourself with the evaluation of the samples and scores. Consistency will be recognised.

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