Judi Veldwijk - Talent of the Year 2024 by HotelloTop

Talking about talent

03/08/2024 - 12:26

I am very curious about Judi Veldwijk. This young wine connoisseur graduated from BUas in 2023, is now an instructor at our hotel management school, writes for wine platforms, has her own wine blog, organises tastings and was named Talent of the Year 2024 by HotelloTop!
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That must be her. Behind her laptop, a stack of books beside her and wearing an almost fluorescent green suit. She offers me coffee straight away (it is usually the other way around), because, after all, we are here at the hotel school. Today is the selection day for new first-year students. Nervously and uneasily, they walk around Horizon South, waiting for what is to come.

For you that’s quite a while ago, the selection day. How did you feel about it yourself? 

‘I found it super exciting. Two people sitting opposite you, giving you these intense looks, like: bring it on, tell us what you have in store for us!?’

And now – five years later – Talent of the Year! You wrote on LinkedIn that you hadn’t seen it coming? 

‘Not at all! Not even the nomination. Suddenly someone came up to me and said, Judi, you have been nominated by several lecturers and students for the Talent of the Year award. Kidding, I said. Why? I just do what I do because I like it and because I learn from it. And I like people to share this learning curve with me. I blog about wine (www.winebyjuud.com) and I’m studying to become a vinologist. That’s about it!’

But you did like that nomination, didn’t you?

‘Do you know what my first reaction was? But will it involve giving a pitch!? I do what I like, but talking about the why of that is something I find hard. You just have to see me doing it, then you’ll get it.’

A struggle like that can be a bit distressing. How did you solve this pitch issue?

‘I brought along a student who was already working as a sommelier. I sat him on a chair on stage and asked him: what will you be doing in an x number of years from now – and then I started my story. The jury was surprised by my approach. A bit awkward for this student – sorry – but for me it was a good way to tell my story. As it turns out, when I have a different perspective to start things off, my pitching skills are just fine.’

As you sit here, you seem to have little trouble with your story? 

‘Funny, huh? I don’t get it either. My mother always says, you are outspoken, but you don’t feel comfortable being in the spotlight too much. She’s right – of course – I don’t necessarily need to shine. I just do what I do, but also how I want to do it.’ 

No need to shine – how does that fit with taking the stage in a bright pink suit and glitter boots? 

‘Well, if you look at it that way… You know, then again, I have absolutely no problem with that. I love colour, it makes me feel comfortable, and above all, it makes me feel like me. And it also radiates positivity.’

Is it a statement?

‘Maybe, at least I want to show a different perspective. During Management Week in year two, I asked if I could wear a colourful suit as manager of the first-year students in our training company Sibelicious. I didn’t really get a clear answer and in the end I just did it. If that’s going to affect my final mark, so be it, I thought, but that never happened. I’m just not myself in a dark outfit.’

Yet that very thing is common in the hotel world.

‘It is! At the Talent of the Year award ceremony, everyone was pretty much in grey and blue, the students included. And then I came walking in, looking like a colourful exotic bird!’

Those are your words.

‘Yep, and you know, they didn’t expect anything else, the judges said afterwards. At my pitch, I wore this bright green suit.’ 

Dare to be different?

‘Not even that, I’m just being myself. But you’re right, you do have to dare. It is a step which is sometimes difficult to take.’ 

Also quite a step: becoming a vinologist! 

‘Yes, I’m taking a course to become a vinologist, which is why I was sitting here with my books. How come? That’s very simple, it’s all because of BUas! Or more precisely because of two lecturers, Jaap Heijmeijer and Eric Andersen. They ‘ruined’ me, as I tend to say, no impertinence intended.’ 

They did? How?

‘In the first year, you have to get your WSET 1, it’s compulsory for all students. In year two you can get a second wine certificate, but this is not compulsory. My ‘wine teachers’ said it was really something for me. I found out that every wine has its own character, just like people actually. After the wine trip, I was completely sold and went on to WSET 3. This third level is tough, I heard, many people don’t make it. That’s precisely why I went for it. That’s me. I passed it in one go!’

Talking about talent! And then you started your vinologist course? 

‘After my studies at BUas. At the same time I’m working here now, on the campus, and additionally, I try to get young people excited about wine with my wine blog.’ 

Why young people? I mean, mixed drinks and cocktails, okay, but wine!? How did you come up with that idea?

‘As a bit of a joke, really. I had applied for a winefluencer competition. I wasn’t into socials at all, but that competition somehow appealed to me. I conceived and created everything in two days. I didn’t win, but it triggered me to start a blog. I now also write about wine for other platforms.’ 

Why do you find it important for young people to get enthusiastic about wine? 

‘You mean I’m encouraging alcoholism? Of course, that’s not what I want. I have found that people my age are often unfamiliar with wine. They don’t mind spending a tenner on just one cocktail, whereas that money also buys you a very decent bottle of wine. That’s what I want to make them aware of most of all. I myself had people who inspired me. How wonderful is it when someone now says to me: hey Judi, I’m going to take a wine course because of you, or: thanks for your advice, that wine was so good!’

Does that motivate you?

‘Definitely! I love helping people. I follow trends in the wine world and try to connect these to the lifeworld of young people. I make reels with students and then I ask: what would you like to know about it!? Sure, there are plenty of wine blogs, but they just show you a picture of a bottle and that’s it. I want to take a different approach, use more videos and reels, as I feel that is more appealing.’

Do you see yourself as an influencer?

‘True, I don’t really fit the typical picture of a ‘wine connoisseur’. I taste, I research, I also taste together with colleagues and students, so that I hear more opinions before giving my final verdict. It’s not so much that I promote a business, but rather, a wine region or a particular type of grape. I am independent and only promote a product if I’d really 100% recommend it myself. So no, I don’t see myself as an influencer but I do hope to make an impact as a person.’ 

For example, by promoting organic wines?

‘Frankly, I am not a fan of natural wines. I haven’t tasted a good natural wine yet. Unfiltered wines and orange wines I have, though. I definitely try to include less-known or novel products and facts in my stories. Biodynamic production places heavy demands on winemakers, it has a huge impact on their operations, they run more risk, so chapeau to wine farmers who venture into this realm!’ 

Being meaningful to the next generation of students, that’s impact too. 

‘Exactly! As it happens, I ended up at Sibelicious by chance, where I now in turn help students in the restaurant and share my wine knowledge. Who would have thought!?’

You are quite young? How do students look at you? Do they see you as an authority? 

‘I understand students, I dare say. They can relate to me, they feel more comfortable with me in front of the group, but also, if they really need to listen, they do. I know from experience that it is important to make time for students. Not like: this is how you should do it! But more like: let’s grab a coffee together and just listen. When students notice that you are really listening, they will absolutely show more of themselves.’ 

Any tips for students aspiring to the Talent of the Year title?

‘The question is: do you really want it? Is that what you’re going to commit yourself to? Or are you going to commit to yourself? You will have to do something different from the rest to become Talent of the Year. Come to think of it, this is actually at odds with how natural the process went in my case. I never really gave it any conscious thought; I do things because I like doing them.’ 

Any plans for the future? Or will you let that too take its natural course? 

‘No, no, plenty of ideas! I now work at Sibelicious, but I definitely want to gain more experience abroad. Helping out somewhere in a vineyard, perhaps working for a wine importer. I want to get really good at my profession and one day realise my ultimate dream: opening my own wine bar!’ 


Interview: Maaike Dukker-’t Hart