Mick O’Connell MW joined the wine trade in 2001 working for McHughs in his hometown of Dublin, where he recently returned to work as a portfolio developer at Findlater & Co.
Also a musician, O’Connell relocated to London in 2005 with his band Pilotlight and juggled managing various Oddbins branches with touring the UK. He then went on to join fine wine merchant Handford Wines in 2011, where he worked alongside fellow MWs James Handford & Greg Sherwood importing and selling some of the world's most exciting wines.
O’Connell’s Master of Wine research paper dealt with the wines of Sardinia, where he makes a garage wine with his wife. When not sourcing, selling, making, studying and judging wine, he likes to do all of the above with music.
How many references have you got in your portfolio? Are there any countries or regions that you're looking to expand on?
The company that I work for, Findlater & Co, has over 1,100 different wines from 130 different producers. With that number of wines we are very well covered in most places, but we are always looking for the right fit from new interesting places – last year, for example, we added our first wines from Moravia in the Czech Republic. I was not looking for something to fill a Czech slot in the range, but the wines of Krasna Hora were truly exciting and warranted inclusion in our portfolio.
What are you looking for when judging wines? What makes a Gold medal-winning wine?
When judging, there are many very small decisions that you make with each sip. The real key in judging is looking for balance, concentration, complexity, depth - if a wine has all these things then you question whether the wine is exciting enough to warrant a gold medal. Gold wines are few and far between and must have gone past good into great.
What’s your most memorable experience in the wine industry (so far)?
This is a very tough question – I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life in wine. I’ve travelled to all corners of the world and tasted some of the most iconic wines made in their home environment – it’s tough to beat tasting Grand Cru Burgundy in the vineyard.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience producing my own wine, and guiding grapes from must to wine and seeing that transformation up close is incredible. I’ve tasted wines that were as much pieces of history as they were delicious drinks.
But overall the most memorable experience of my time in the wine industry has been the day that I got the phone call to let me know that I had passed the MW exams. I think if you ask most Masters of Wine or Master Sommeliers they’ll give you a similar reaction – it’s very difficult to explain the feeling of relief mixed with delight after working so hard for several years.
What are you most excited about judging at the IWSC?
I’m very excited to taste the wines of Italy as always, and I think there are incredibly exciting things happening in Spain at the moment so I’m very much looking forward to that too.
Overall, the most exciting tasting is picking out the cream of the crop and tasting the Golds to pick trophy winners. It’s such a privilege to taste benchmark wines and producers at the top of their trade.