David Morrison: Making Chemistry Connections

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David Morrison: Making Chemistry Connections

Bar None

Thursday, November 05, 2020

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Happy November, Bar None family! How have you been enjoying the series? Well, I am certain you will find this week's edition captivating as we spend some time getting to know the charismatic David Morrison, J Wray & Nephew Limited's quality & compliance director and senior blender.

How it started

It is always quite interesting to understand how individuals begin their journey in the wines and spirits industry. On fielding this question to Morrison, he explained that rum was never at the forefront of his mind when he was thinking of a career. While attending the revered St George's College, Morrison developed a passion for chemistry and, upon leaving the institution, pursued a similar course of study at The University of the West Indies (UWI) to include mathematics and English. However, Morrison explained that the latter two subjects were never interesting to him; in fact, all he wanted to do was chemistry. “I did chemistry because I loved it; I really was not interested in anything else,” Morrison explained.

While attending university, Morrison would attend college parties which gave him an introduction to alcohol, but even then, he did not foresee a career in spirits. Morrison's plan was to engross himself in the knowledge of chemistry then start a career in bauxite. Morrison would later apply to do a course called Chemistry and Management. This course, Morrison explained, was highly sought after; however, not daunted, he and a friend applied, and both were successful. After graduating, Morrison began to seek out job opportunities. While waiting, he opted to find something to do with his free time, and decided to engage in research studies with Professor Tara Dasgupta, then head of the department of Chemistry. Professor Dasgupta would have Morrison undertake research in pesticides, as well as the gas chromatography machine that was instrumental to the study. Morrison described the project as very educational and fun-filled. After completing this project, Morrison decided that he would do some postgrad work in chemistry, as he was up for a departmental award to further his research studies with Professor Dasgupta, most likely in pesticide research. While Morrison waited, he kept himself busy and would often visit The UWI campus. As destiny would have it, he was approached by Dr Paul Maragh, who advised him to get in touch with J Wray & Nephew (JWN) as they needed someone with experience with the gas chromatography machine. Approximately three weeks later, Dr Maragh followed up with Morrison and this conversation led Morrison to follow up with JWN.

'I received a call in January 1999. I remember speaking with Stephen Salmon, who explained that the company would be embarking on refurbishment work and needed someone to work with the gas chromatography machines. Salmon enquired when I could ideally begin and I tried to find every excuse why I was unable to start; for example, lab demos, marking papers and so on,” said Morrison.

A deal was struck between Salmon and Morrison and it was decided that Morrison would continue his work at UWI and on evenings and weekends work part-time at JWN. After Morrison's contract ended in May 1999, he was offered a permanent role with the company. Morrison added that he made his decision quickly as he considered that many of the postgrad chemistry students he saw when he began to pursue his first degree were still attending the institution. A postgrad chemistry degree might not have been the right move at the time. And so, in July 1999 his spirits journey began.

Journey with JWN

Morrison recalls having quite an interesting interview with the then head of human resources Jacqueline Irons, who would impress upon him that in addition to his duties he should take care of Joy, referring to JWN Master Blender Joy Spence. Morrison recounts, “My time at JWN has been fulfilling as I engaged in varied learning activities and received exposure in operations, risk management, and commercial. Today, I am the director of quality & planning, and senior blender. Because of the exposure received, I have seen and understood the business as a whole.”

How it is going

“My growth in the spirits business has been nothing short of amazing. I made my first trip in the capacity of senior blender to Canada in 2006. I was the chemistry nerd; it never crossed my mind that I would be meeting with so many persons,” Morrison shared. “I consider myself as being introverted (many people may be surprised), but I am. I tend to be a lot more open with people I am accustomed to. With the blending aspect of my role, I get to speak with people, to share my passion, and to share why our rums are so amazing. I find it very easy to communicate because I believe in and have a sense of pride about the products of JWN, a culmination of the hard work of many people,” Morrison shared. Further, Morrison added that he enjoys wholeheartedly the day-to-day work on the quality side of his role, as well as the development and blending aspects. “There is a degree of joy and expression that you get to experience when crafting a blend that has lots of chemistry but also art. Your ability to evaluate rums or spirits is critical. The finished blend is a representative of your unique style,” Morrison added.

Regarding his team, Morrison noted that he experiences a sense of fulfilment in engaging and developing the members. Morrison offered his sincerest appreciation to Master Blender Joy Spence as she was instrumental in his development. “Joy was literally a mother to us all. Lots of care was imparted – I will never forget her positive reinforcements and engagement,” Morrison shared.

In the future, Morrison looks forward to continuing his work with his team and ensuring the JWN brands stay top of mind with continued quality products and new expressions. He leads a balanced life and is supported by his wife and six-year-old son. “My family means everything to me. I want to be an example for my son on the importance of obtaining a great education and working hard to achieve your goals. It is also very important to spend quality time with family so that there is balance. My family keeps me very focused and energised so that I am able to engage with others at the highest levels,” Morrison shared.

Certainly, a journey of commitment and discipline. Cheers to you, David!

Readers' Grapevine Club: If you are new to wines and want to join us on our wine discovery, then this is for you. On the third Thursday of each month, I will highlight your feedback on our grape variety/vine of the month. For November, we welcome the chilled atmosphere associated with Eiswein or Icewine. After all, if we were in wine country, we would be looking forward to welcoming winter.

Readers' Feedback:

Extraordinary wonder and joy are interwoven through ordinary life; seek them relentlessly. Please share with me your wine, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at debbiansm@gmail.com, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.

Dr Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited


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