Regional Chairs are vital to the rigorous Decanter World Wine Awards judging process. Experts in their field, Regional Chairs oversee their respective panels of judges, help settle any score discrepancies, and re-taste all Silver and Gold wines for consistency; before the Co-Chairs confirm Gold winners for final endorsement.
In our exclusive interview with Simon Field MW, find out how he got into wine, who his biggest inspirations are, his thoughts on wines from the UK, wine regions to discover in 2022 and more…
Tell us a little about yourself – how did you get into wine?
Along with many others I succumbed to the delights of Chartered Accountancy in the City immediately after university. It wasn’t really my thing, but I was determined to pass the exams, which I have to say I found a good deal more challenging than those for the MW; and with no wine to taste every morning either.
Anyway, pass them I did and then spent a few years working mainly in France (my degree was in French) musing over wine lists when I should have been studying balance sheets. Thence to Oddbins for a couple of years and then two decades at Berry Bros, buying wines from all around Europe with a focus once more… you have guessed it… on France.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working in the wine industry?
As a buyer, a sense of humility and the ability to listen. The maths bit was quite easy after my accountancy training; the forging and development of relationships less so, but infinitely rewarding. If you understand the vigneron, then you will understand his wine; hardly the most original of aphorisms, but it’s really as simple as that.
Who has been your biggest inspiration during your wine career?
Writing takes up a lot of my time now and, again, it is a skill which also requires humility and a capacity to listen. The two writers who I have really appreciated over the years have been Hugh Johnson, for his magisterial sweep and luminous wisdom, and Andrew Jefford, for the same reasons really, maybe with a little more poetic spice added to season his fare.
As the new Regional Chair for the UK, what do you find most exciting or interesting about wines from the UK?
It is becoming increasingly clear (this is Chair for the UK and not for England alone) that the domestic vison stretches beyond the chalky furrows of the South of England; Scotland less so maybe, but who knows! Wales certainly and also ‘inland’ sites from beyond the Home Counties. And, if it is axiomatic that UK sparkling wine has ‘arrived’, further excitement can surely be garnered from monitoring, with no lack of pride, the strides being made by the still wines of both colours.
There is great potential all around, but also a good number of producers who have got beyond this stage and who have now achieved international recognition. The juxtaposition of those who have arrived and those who are still en route can not fail to galvanise the broader industry and to accelerate progress even more. This, in turn, cannot fail to be exciting!
What advice do you have for new people just starting out in wine?
Look and listen, taste, then taste again; record, enquire, enjoy and then enjoy again.
Which wine-producing areas do you think should be given more attention in 2022?
Well, needless to say, the UK vineyards, most especially those outside the established homestead of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent; but further afield, the lesser known vineyards of Spain, especially those in Galicia and Catalonia. What about greater Austria in both colours and some of the apparently unfashionable enclaves in the Languedoc, Fitou and Faugères for example?
Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment?
UK wines make more frequent appearances on the rostrum; reds and still whites as well as the magnificent sparklers. Lighter reds too; Spätburgunder from Baden for example, or Cabernet Franc from Bourgeuil. It is always a pleasure to unearth unfamiliar Grower Champagnes, and I am usually delighted to be re-introduced to the seemingly bottomless well of excellent less-well-known Italian whites…
Finally, you’ve been a judge at DWWA since 2005 – what are you looking forward to most about being the Regional Chair for the UK at this year’s competition?
Camaraderie is so much purer when unalloyed by the medium of the Zoom call, especially with the meeting of so many like minds; I love the discussion and the debate, that moment of tension when one presents a potential Gold to one of the Co-Chairs…. they swirl, they taste, their facial expressions run a vastly unpredictable gamut, which could just as easily signal appreciation as rejection…. then they adjudicate. Always a dramatic moment as a wine forges its way towards Platinum or Best in Show!