The English wine industry continues to surprise and surpass all expectations as production, quality and respect all around the world increases with every vintage. One of the leading players responsible for those changes is Ridgeview in East Sussex. It therefore feels very timely that a key member of its team, Tom Surgey, who heads up its sales and business development, should be shortlisted for this year’s IWSC Julian Brand Memorial Trophy to recognise one of the rising new talents of the wine industry.
Tom Surgey will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Nik Darlington, Ross Carter, Justin Howard Sneyd MW, Dawn Davies, Xavier Rousset MS and Sam Harrop MW all previous winners of the IWSC’s Julian Brind Memorial Award.
The late Julian Brind MW was an integral part of the Waitrose wine team for over 40 years. He was also a longstanding judging of the International Wine & Spirit Competition. In order to honour his memory and his many contributions to the wine industry he loved, a special memorial award was set up by the IWSC, in partnership with Waitrose, to recognise some of the next new talents in the sector.
Just being shortlisted is an accolade in itself as it is looks to recognise those individuals “who demonstrates they have the courage of their convictions, dedication to the industry and passion for real wine”. “The recipient,” says the IWSC, “will have established an early track record in their field, be seen to be ‘going places’, and will already be taking part in the wider aspects of the wine trade, showing commitment and determination in everything they do.”
This year’s shortlist includes three such talents: Tom Surgey, sales and business development director for English wine producer, Ridgeview Wine Estate; Sula Richardson, consultant at PR agency at Phipps Relations; and Curly Haslam-Coates, a wine and spirit educator in Tasmania. Over the coming weeks we will be profiling all three and asking them about their careers and being shortlisted. First we turn to Ridgeview‘s Tom Surgey.
Julian Brind MW Outstanding Achievement in the Wine Industry shortlist: Tom Surgey
As well as being Ridgeview’s sales and business development director for English, Tom Surgey 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 the wine trade?
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 US to this end. 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.
- The winner of the Julian Brand Memorial Trophy sponsored by Waitrose will be presented at the IWSC Banquet on November 28.