Getting to Know the Judges: A Q&A Session with Wojciech Bońkowski

By | 15 February 2024

Wojciech Bońkowski became the first Master of Wine from Poland in 2023, in addition to having many other titles and credentials like a PhD in musicology.

Bońkowski’s journey as a wine writer started in 1999, and by 2012, he chose to make it his full-time career with the introduction of his online wine magazine, Winicjatywa and a print magazine known as Ferment in 2017.

Running a publishing business whilst maintaining editorial independence is indeed challenging. However, Bońkowski takes pride in being able to turn wine writing into a means of livelihood, despite the difficulty of sustaining a publishing business in the modern world.

Bońkowski is well-known globally as a writer, consultant, and judge. He has been judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards since 2016. Furthermore, he will be joining Dr Caroline Gilby MW and Simon J Woolf as a co-regional chair in the Balkans, Central & Eastern Europe, Croatia and Slovenia.

Ahead of DWWA judging this May – and with entries open now until 15 March – we get to know more about Bońkowski, including his recommendations on regions to explore, inspirations in the wine world and advice for producers.

What’s a typical day like for you?

My typical days are full of either tasting wines or writing articles about the wines I’ve tasted! Of course, there is a lot of wonderful wine country travel and meeting fantastic enthusiastic people involved, too.

How do you feel about becoming Poland’s first Master of Wine?

Undoubtedly, the path has been difficult and filled with moments of self-questioning. Yet, the constant support from my family and mentor, Caro Maurer MW, kept me driven and hopeful.

Moving forward, as a Master of Wine, I am excited to promote the types of wine I stand behind, particularly those from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Are there specific wine-producing regions you’d recommend others to discover?

Regions in Europe located south of Tuscany and east of Berlin have often been overshadowed by the influential industries of France, Italy, and Germany. However, these regions are currently witnessing a revival of their wine producing traditions and offer excellent value for the price.

Greece is arguably at the forefront of this quality revolution, while I believe there is still a great amount of untapped potential in countries like Croatia, Lebanon, Cyprus, and even Albania. The potential present in Hungary is vast as well. The most exciting thing on the horizon? Wines from Poland!

Which aspects of the wine world do you find most inspiring at this time?

In my 25 years of wine tasting, I have observed many exhilarating shifts. One of these changes is the rise of a youthful generation that has broad traveling experiences and an open-minded outlook. Another change is the increasing recognition of the crucial environmental impact that we as a wine industry can provide. This includes pioneering features such as regenerative viticulture and responsible supply chains.

The aspect that resonates with me the most is the revived pride that vintners are expressing in their ageless traditions in many regions that have been previously overlooked.

What do you look forward to most as a new Regional Chair at DWWA?

I’m excited about the opportunity to collaborate with a talented team of tasters in order to highlight the exceptional quality of wines that have been recently produced in these regions, particularly those made from traditional grape types.

Why should individuals explore wines from the Balkans, Central & Eastern Europe, Croatia, and Slovenia?

These areas have deep-rooted winemaking traditions as well as diverse local offerings, ranging from grape varieties to winemaking methods and conventional styles. Choices for consumers are incredibly varied, from cool-climate dry white wines to rich Mediterranean reds, and the quality is at an all-time high.

What do you believe constitutes a successful judging panel?

In my opinion, the success of a judging panel, like the one at Decanter World Wine Awards, lies not only in its stringent and transparent tasting processes but also in its determination to accurately gauge each wine’s unique profile. The panelists need to respect their fellow judges’ feedback, maintain an open mind to reconsider a wine, and stand firm in their quest for excellence.

If entrants for the DWWA don’t win a medal, what guidance can you provide them?

Be proud of your accomplishment of having your wine tasted by the finest connoisseurs against top-tier competitors. Take this as an incentive to keep going. Our panel is always on the look-out for wines which embrace their distinct character and flair.

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