Yesterday evening, Women in Wine LDN hosted ‘A Spotlight on Wine Judging with Sarah Jane Evans MW’ at the brand new Institute of Masters of Wine office in Vauxhall. We were extremely lucky to have Sarah Jane as our speaker. Her list of achievements are notable for being both diverse and fascinating; former IMW Chairman, current Chairman of the 2018 IMW Symposium, member of the Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino, Trustee of the André Simon Book Award, and a Series Editor of the Classic Wine Library. On top of that, she spent a decade as Associate Editor of the BBC's Good Food magazine and has a specialism in chocolate, having written the immensely compelling book “Chocolate Unwrapped”.
Although we could easily imagine monopolising Sarah Jane’s entire day talking about all sorts of topics, we focused on wine judging for the evening. She spoke enthusiastically about the comparative systems and merits of different scoring processes. At the heart of it, she says, ''communication about the wines is just as important as the score'', from judges battling it out to reach a consensus on wines they may have wildly different opinions on, to the importance of being able to argue your case to justify the points. When asked whether women and men have different approaches to judging, Sarah Jane mentioned there is an element of women being attuned to consensus-building: “We find that as we work around the table we may disagree with each other, but we find a solution and work at it.”
We also spoke about the real value that medals may bring to wine styles and producers, and the effect they have in the market, such as when a Jean Stodden’s Spätburgunder, Alte Reben 2010 from the Ahr Valley won best Pinot Noir at the Decanter competition last year, bringing attention to the region here in the UK. Sarah Jane also advised that producers should ensure that they make the most out of marketing a medal win, and that a medal is only as good as what a producer does with it.
She wrapped up the discussion with her thoughts about making your mark professionally. Throughout her talk, there was a lovely parallel in the way she spoke about how a wine achieves success in a competition and how a person achieves recognition both as a judge and in their wider career. As Sarah Jane concluded, “The important thing is to be known for something that makes you different.” Truly inspiring.