Named A.S.I. Best Sommelier of the World in 2023, Raimond Tomson wine director of Barents Wine Collectors, is a force to be reckoned with in the wine world. In this exclusive interview, he reveals what it takes to be the best in the game and his upcoming plans.
You have received many accolades over the years. How do you continue to develop your skills and keep up with the latest trends?
Winning these titles does not stop me from learning every day. The beauty of the wine world is its dynamic and perpetual evolution. Winning these competitions gives you plenty of options to travel and visit wine regions and wineries all around the world, and I must admit that this is the best and most enjoyable way to learn and stay up to date with the latest news. I also do quite a significant number of tastings, so the preparation process demands that I refresh my knowledge, conduct research and explore new topics.
How does your ability to remain calm under pressure help you excel while competing in a series of tasks designed to test your knowledge, tasting skills and service acumen?
The ability to remain calm under pressure is without a doubt one of the key elements for winning these competitions. If you are stressed and nervous while competing or unable to manage the pressure, your knowledge, skills and personality won’t be able to shine. There are several ways to overcome and manage stress, but in my case, my therapist helped me overcome and manage it.
You attribute your openness to wine to having grown up in a country without a wine-producing heritage. How has this provided you with a competitive advantage?
I think that growing up in a country that doesn’t have a renowned wine culture or wine traditions is an advantage. We are not linked to wine traditions, regions or wine culture; therefore, we are open to the global world of wines. It might be easier for us to get any wine from any country in Latvia as it would be in a more traditional and historic wine-making country. Due to the small size of the country, we have a friendly and supportive sommelier community, which is very important while preparing for sommelier competitions.
What projects are you currently working on?
We have plenty of new challenging goals and projects. We are planning to open a shop here in Riga with our Barents Wine Collectors team; this constitutes a totally new experience for me. I am involved in several exciting international projects, and I hope to set a great example for the global sommelier community and help motivate and inspire new sommeliers as well. I also hope to contribute to the ASI family in the future. We are also expecting another baby in July 2023, so I have a busy schedule for the next few months at least.
What defines a great sommelier?
Besides theoretical knowledge, practical skills and refined tasting abilities, a great sommelier must love working and taking care of guests. Remaining humble and respecting the guest’s every need are also important characteristics. A great sommelier should be a leader and set a great example for the service team, sharing their knowledge and motivating and inspiring young members. After all, a sommelier is an ambassador and the link between winemakers and end consumers.
What are some of the biggest wine trends this year?
Aside from wine, plenty of other beverages are gaining popularity. These include beer, sake and cocktails — especially gin- and rum-based ones — are sought-after, not only among sommeliers but also guests. The low- intervention wine category is becoming more important globally, especially in younger markets, for example Latvia and the Baltics. Low-alcohol and non-alcoholic wines, cocktails and beverages are in demand, as restaurant guests are looking for a great non-alcoholic experience while dining out and visiting wine bars.
Furthermore, emerging wine-making countries, such as Greece, Portugal and the Balkans, are becoming more interesting to wine professionals and wine lovers.