This year, the IWSC has shortlisted three people for The Julian Brind Memorial Trophy for Outstanding Achievement in the Wine Industry, sponsored by Waitrose. The award is designed to find the next big star in the wine industry - find out more here.
Tom Surgey is the Sales & Business Development Director for English winery Ridgeview, where he is responsible for all areas of sales. He is also a wine presenter, hosting private tastings and dinners, and works with Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin and Olly Smith as a presenter on Three Wine Men.
How long have you been involved in wine?
I grew up working in country pubs where wine wasn’t a huge thing – it was all beer. It was in my late teens and early twenties when I was at The Ivy in London when I started being properly involved with wine on a daily basis, and I got the bug. When I left London in 2014 and moved back to Sussex to join Ridgeview, it was to allow wine to be my sole focus.
The English wine industry is so exciting at the moment. How do you see it developing in the coming years?
I think it’s the most exciting wine region on the planet at the moment, and I feel so lucky to be bang in the middle of it.
The next stage for the industry is to establish the category of English wine in key markets around the world. I am heavily involved in setting up a group of key English producers working collaboratively in the USA to this end, as we speak. There is a real commitment to collaboration and supporting one another with most of the key producers, and this will be what carries the category further.
As a salesman, building relationships is a huge part of your job, and you work regularly as a presenter alongside your role at Ridgeview. How important is communication in the wine industry?
Assuming the wine is good, communication is everything. It allows the complexities of wine to become accessible. Wine’s complexity is both its greatest strength and its biggest challenge – great communication makes it penetrable for new wine fans, and keeps the spark alive for more the experienced.
In the wine sales capacity of my work, communicating about a wine effectively to a restaurant team makes the difference between a high volume of sales and a brilliant mutual relationship, and a stagnant place on the same wine list. An engaged, confident restaurant team is all a good wine needs to be successful at any price point.
What’s the best part of your job?
Hosting dinners, presenting, wine tastings, and staff training – the times where I am able to communicate my passion for wine to a group. The real joy comes if I can see the audience feel more relaxed about wine, gaining a deeper understanding, or engaging more with the wine than before.
What is your career highlight so far?
I am hugely proud of my work with Ridgeview and seeing how far we have brought the business itself and English wine category as a team. That’s my biggest achievement to date.
That said, the immediate pride and pure excitement of being invited to be one of the Three Wine Men was unbeatable. I feel hugely humbled to be able to work with Oz, Tim and Olly.
Who is your wine inspiration?
Oz Clarke is my spirit animal. Olly Smith is utterly inspiring and I am so grateful of his support. Tim I adore and is an utter wine genius, but my brain simply couldn’t do what he does.
My original wine inspiration though is my uncle-in-law Matthew, who owned a little restaurant. On our first meeting when I was 17, he asked whether I liked wine and (trying to impress) I said “oh yes, white is my favourite. A Cabernet Sauvignon particularly”. He graciously didn’t mention my slip-up at the time, but from then on subtly guided me with nice bottles here and there. I even went to live with him for a few years and ran his restaurant before I went to The Ivy. His generosity and humble approach to guiding me into wine influenced my own approach now more than he knows.
Follow Tom on Twitter and Facebook @tomsurgey
The winner of the Julian Brind Memorial Trophy for Outstanding Achievement in the Wine Industry will be announced at the IWSC Banquet on 28 November.