Leadership in Wine #9 - Dion Wai

  • Alexis Robin

Dion is a young talented New Zealand Sommelier who works at The Huka Lodge, one of the best luxury lodges in New Zealand. In 2018, he competed in Chateaux & Domaines Castel Under 30 Asia-Pacific Sommelier Cup in Hong Kong and was placed 2nd by the thinnest of margins - one quarter of a mark – ¼ mark.


How do you define leadership?

An individual who leads by example. Selflessness in the pursuit of best practice and guest experience. Constructive and critical.


What are the main challenges of being a leader in the wine industry today?

To be honest the thought of considering myself a wine industry leader makes me feel uncomfortable. First and foremost I work in the hospitality industry.  I consider it a bonus that my responsibilities allow me to represent and advocate the growers and producers of New Zealand wine.


What are your major breakthroughs in your career to become the leader you are now?

Winning the New Zealand Sommelier of the Year in 2016, 4th place in the 2017 La Revue du vin de France blind tasting competition and most recently 2nd place in the 2018 Chateaux & Domaines Castel Under 30 Asia-Pacific Sommelier Cup are my highest achievements and professional breakthroughs. However I think being invited to spectate the 2017 Best Sommelier of Europe competition in Vienna has perhaps been the most influential and inspiring.

The platforms that competition, events and community’s provide are just so healthy and influential for growth.

Every time you expose and surround yourself with like-minded people and professionals there’s a plethora of information and insight to be learned and gained from those experiences and interactions.


If you were starting your career in 2019 in the wine industry, what advice would you give to yourself to become successful and content?

Find a job that is going to provide the right type of experience with the right type of people and work your way up.

Immerse yourself within the industry, put in the hours and push yourself every day. Hard work will get your everywhere.

There are no secrets or shortcuts, I’d been working in bars and restaurants for half my career before I ever started recommending and talking about wine at the table and I’m so much better for it. Of the three disciplines: service, theory and tasting; service is my forte and the one I never really worry about.

Commit yourself to the WSET and CMS qualifications. Certain materials aren’t going to be relevant to you in your role straight away so it can be challenging but the foundations they provide are fundamental and steer you in the right direction.

Picking up another language is definitely something I wish that I had done… because it’s not like there isn’t enough to learn already right?

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