Spurrier, who has died just shy of his 80th birthday, was one of the wine world’s most famous, liked and respected figures, and led a remarkable career in the trade as a merchant, educator, writer, taster and most recently, winemaker, having planted a vineyard at his wife’s farm in Dorset’s Bride Valley in 2009 for making English sparkling – a project he described as “the last throw of the Spurrier wine dice.”
Spurrier’s achievements are well known among those in the trade, although he is best known for his role in bringing Californian wine to the wider world after staging ‘The Judgement of Paris’ in 1976, the blind tasting which pitted Bordeaux and Napa wines – and later became the basis of a film called Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman (which Spurrier said contained hardly a true word).
His impressive career in drinks began when he joined London’s oldest wine merchant Christopher and Co in 1964 as a trainee, which led him to open his own wine shop in Paris in 1971 – Les Caves de la Madeleine – and then establish France’s first private wine school, L’Academie du Vin.
At a lunch almost four year’s ago, where I was present, Spurrier was rightly declared “the great man of wine” by former Decanter magazine publisher Sarah Kemp, who also named him 2017’s Decanter Man of the Year – an honour she would have bestowed on him “over 20 years ago” had he not worked so closely with the title.
Also paying tribute to Spurrier’s achievements was wine writer Hugh Johnson, who called Spurrier “a pillar of opinion who everyone respects”.
At that event, which was held at Le Gavroche at his request, Spurrier said that his great “love” concerned “communicating” about wine, and, looking back over his life, he said, “Wine has brought me more than I could have imagined.”
Along with Spurrier’s unmatched sartorial elegance, I will remember him for his energy, charm, warmth and enthusiasm.
Always generous in his comments, Spurrier was happy to speak up at events to pay homage to a wine or winemaker when others remained quiet.
He was also kind to fellow members of the trade, whatever their age and position, and encouraging in his approach to other wine writers, whoever they worked for, and however basic their level of drinks knowledge.
And he was outspoken, fearlessly and clearly expressing his well-informed views on a range of subjects.
Having once briefly toured the Bride Valley vineyard with Spurrier, it was clear that this English sparkling project was giving him immense pride and pleasure – despite the financial challenges about which he was disarmingly honest – and so it is of some comfort to me at least to hear that he died surrounded not only by his precious family but his beloved vines in this beautiful part of Britain’s West Country.
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