After a career that included heading up the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists and the Saïd Foundation, a charity helping to educate students from Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan Julian Gore-Booth has (re-)entered the wine world. His first task at the IMW is to oversee its 10th International Symposium in Wiesbaden.
Meininger’s: What are the things you've most been struck by over the eight months or so since you took on this role?
Gore-Booth: I'm very much somebody who enjoys developing international membership organisations. So, I think that's the context for coming into the IMW. I am no wine expert, but I am a wine lover. Many moons ago I worked for [iconic UK retail chain] Oddbins, and I contrived to write an extended essay on the wines of Alsace as part of my Master's degree in geography. I’ve always had that interest but not by any means the expertise.
Coming into the organisation has been super exciting for me. I think what has really struck me is the amount of work that goes into a meeting like the Symposium. I had organised huge meetings before with other professions, but organising a meeting that has fine wines involves an immense level of logistical complication.
From a wider point of view, what has struck me is that the Institute is really well placed. Coming out of Covid, we have more applicants for the program than ever before. I'm reassured by the health of the programme and that people are attracted to doing it.
"We have a duty and a responsibility to also be demonstrating and leading around diversity and inclusion."
But I'm also struck by the fact that we definitely need to do more around diversity and inclusion. And I don't see the IMW as being distinct from the whole wine sector in this regard. We're a reflection, but we've put ourselves in a position of leadership, saying this is the pinnacle qualification in the world of wine. I think we have a duty and a responsibility to also be demonstrating and leading around diversity and inclusion.
And that's a big challenge because we need a pipeline of people coming into the wine world who are at a level where they are going to be interested in and qualified to be MW candidates. That's already a pretty high level, so that's a tough one — a multi-year commitment and a big financial commitment, and something not everybody can do. We have to see where we can start breaking down some of those barriers, to make it easier for people who've got the knowhow to come into the program.
With regard to sustainability, the Institute has a leadership role, but also an example to set.
Meininger’s: What other areas are you focusing on?
Gore-Booth: The other thing which chimes with my international development background is sustainability. The Institute has a leadership role, but also an example to set. We do a lot of travel now that we're out of Covid, and we send wines around the world. We’re conscious of our carbon footprint, and I'm interested to see what we can do about that; what's innovative, what's going on around packaging, viticulture, transport, the weight of bottles. These things really fascinate me. And there's a place there for the Institute, both in what we do and how we demonstrate by example, and by learning and sharing that knowledge with others.
Meininger’s: In your previous job, you were in charge of an international organisation of anaesthesiologists, where professionals in one country may have had limited understanding of how health systems operate elsewhere. Professionals stuck in their own silos. Do you see similar silos existing in wine?
Gore-Booth: Yes, I do. It's different to the medical world, where there a constant striving for international standards and guidelines; ways of operating that are extremely important. With the corollary that I'm no expert and am just beginning to learn about this, I think it's extremely important in the world of wine too. An Institute that draws its membership from across the wine world and seeks to do that more, needs to move on from our founding in the UK to really being representative of the geography and diversity of wine. It's our responsibility to take that on. I'm not sure yet exactly how, but we have the people who who can do it. If any organisation can, the Institute should definitely be be one of them.
Meininger’s: Does the Institute have a much of a role in improving knowledge of the business of wine, as in understanding the liquid in a bottle?
Gore-Booth: The future of wine is part of the challenge that we have because the syllabus keeps growing and that's very difficult to manage: new wine producing regions, new concepts in wine, like sustainability and regenerative viticulture and so on. All of these get added into the syllabus. And the challenge for the Institute is to have a study programme and examinations that are still manageable, whilst making sure that we represent the the totality of what wine is.
We need to have a study programme and examinations that are still manageable, whilst making sure that we represent the totality of what wine is.
Our examiners and education committee and exam committee do a really good job of making sure that we do bring all of that into the programme and we're doing the best we can not to drop the ball on hot topics like the business of wine.
As I said, we've got challenges in diversity. There's still no black MW, but there are students. So, I'm hoping that the first one is not far away, but we do have a very diverse group of in terms of what they are doing. They are involved in all areas of the wine world, and I think that helps us to make sure that what we're covering it pretty complete.
Meininger’s: The IMW has never really been a vocal organisation. Wine and alcohol in general are increasingly under threat from legislation, health lobbies and so on, but wine also faces its own competition from other beverages. Might it be time for the Institute to consider having a voice?
Gore-Booth: Yes, I think so. When I think about a membership organization, I think about nurturing that membership and deploying its knowledge as a significant raison d’etre. So, I am asking: “Do we want to be more. Do we want to have a voice? Do we want to become more involved in advocacy? Do we actually have a duty to be involved in advocacy?” I am in discussions with with a partner organisation about how to present an alternative view, for example, to the World Health Organization's agenda.
"It's really important that wine presents itself as being distinct and unique and is not just thrown into a basket of all alcohol."
I've worked very closely with the World Health Organization in the past, and it's really important that wine presents itself as being distinct and unique and is not just thrown into a basket of all alcohol.
We need to make sure that we're presenting the voice of the wine world and [act as] influencers as well, because that's part of the duty expertise brings.
Meininger’s: Apart from the symposia that happen every four years, could you imagine some more regular, smaller-scale events? Possibly including online.
Gore-Booth: Covid moved all organizations in that direction. In my previous organization, we did an 8,000-person meeting online which replaced our World Congress. There is obviously huge additional complexity with wine — sending samples around the world — but we are enabling a hybrid environment to allow us to get the right wines and the right condition to the right people at the right time.
It is really important for an international organisation to use online. This is how you get inclusion and participation. The accessibility that online brings us is a game changer. And I think for the wine world and for the Institute, it’s up to us to explore how we can do that. Covid gave us a massive kick in the right direction and we’re now kind of on that journey of hybridisation. So definitely that's part of the future.
"IMW has a logo: scientia atque integritas: knowledge and integrity."
Meininger’s: In your background in the medical world, you had big pharmaceutical companies with very deep pockets and often very high marketing skills queuing up to give you money. The wine industry has much lower budgets and marketing skills. Are there regions and companies who are obvious partners that might do more with the Institute. Do you see that being an area of development?
Gore-Booth: Yes, like any membership organization the IMW has a logo: scientia atque integritas: knowledge and integrity. And the integrity side of it is is hugely important. So being able to continue to lead by example and making sure that you do that with integrity is key. Only some wines are lucky enough to sell themselves. There are so many amazing wines out there that need marketing and to be brought to the attention of wine lovers. I think the institute does have a big role – but not in overt marketing. We're very careful about the way we describe our partnerships, but wherever we can have partnerships that contribute in a meaningful way to the education of students and wine appreciators around the world, I think that that is hugely important.
Meininger’s: People spend a lot of money trying to get their MW qualification. Is the institute doing enough to communicate why that’s worthwhile?
Gore-Booth: Part of the sustainability of the Institute itself and of the qualification must be to demonstrate the commercial value of the qualification. Not everybody does it for its commercial value, but we need to do more work as an Institute on measuring what’s happened in people’s careers. It’s too subjective at the moment. We believe that it does bring significant advances in people’s careers in wine. But we need to be much more objective and scientific about how we actually measure that in the future.
"There must be a role and also actually a duty to deliver lifelong learning and offering and perhaps even ensuring that that there is a continuous guarantee of quality."
Meininger’s: Let's say you have a five-year tenure. At the end of it, what would you like to be able to say that you’re really proud of having achieved?
Gore-Booth: A growth in membership, particularly in geographies that are less well served. And a growth in connection with those students who have been part of the journey but who have never become MWs, because there's a massive resource there that we're currently not using enough. I would like to see a strengthening of the relevance of the qualification, including around the commercial value and potentially also around developing the voice of the organisation and its membership as leaders and experts in the field.
I’m also keen to ensure that the organisation has a very strong financial footing, and to see if we can develop a more diverse income stream. I’d like to see us becoming a little less reliant on income from the students and the student programme. When it came to being time to write my valedictory, I would be able to say that the organisation was not only in a in a healthier place financially, but in a much more sustainable place financially so that it could not just survive but thrive through the next black swan event like like another Covid.
I’m also very interested in our role in lifelong learning. There must be a role and also actually a duty to deliver lifelong learning and offering and perhaps even ensuring that there is a continuous guarantee of quality. [But] you've got to engage with the existing membership because otherwise you're not going to get there.
The 10th IMW Symposium will be held in Wiesbaden, Germany from June 29 to July 3, 2023.
Meininger's International is media partner of the International Symposium of the Institute of Masters of Wine in Wiesbaden.