19 May 2019 Derek's memorial service will be held at 5pm on Monday 1 July at Lincoln's Inn Chapel in London (Treasury Office, London WC2A 3TL).
16 April 2019 We have lost yet another particularly popular Master of Wine...
Cellars in the City of London will never be the same again, with the decease of Master of Wine Derek Smedley. He was responsible for wine selection for no fewer than four livery companies, the Mansion House, the Guildhall and Lincoln’s Inn, as well as for the Carlton Club and the Royal College of Physicians. As my father would have said, Derek was ‘worth knowing’, but he was the very opposite of arrogant. Affability was his middle name.
But he was so much more than a tactful, efficient advisor for wine-loving (mainly) gents. Almost right to the end he was a tireless, acute and exceptionally experienced taster, especially of bordeaux. I frequently tasted with him until last year when he told me with no hint of self-pity or mawkishness, and his usual twinkle of the eye, that cancer had got him in its grip. He put in an admirable appearance at last November’s Master of Wine awards ceremony where his fiftieth – yes, fiftieth – anniversary as an MW was celebrated.
His two years in the navy were reputed to have included some rather dashing role. He was certainly a lot shorter than one imagines the stereotypical naval officer… but his personality was anything but diminutive. His start in the wine trade came after reading law at Queen’s College, Cambridge, when he joined Harveys of Bristol in its heyday in 1961. His 1966 move to the wine division of Watney Mann (the brewers were big in wine then) was swiftly followed by the division’s acquisition by IDV, where he spent much time at Gilbey's outpost Ch Loudenne, thereby fostering his love of Bordeaux. Four years after qualifying as an MW, in 1972, he moved to Whitbread (long before their Costa coffee era) with a brief to beef up their wine side which involved considerable travel. By 1977 he was chairman of the Masters of Wine, such was his obvious competence.
But by 1985 Whitbread had fallen out of love with wine and he started up on his own, and sold Smedley Vintners in 1999 to develop the consultancies at which he excelled. He had been advising the Royal College of Physicians since the late 1970s. David London, representing the College's wine committee, writes, 'We respected and admired him enormously. He guided us, a bunch of opinionated doctors, gently but firmly, to choose at all levels the right wines for the College’s cellar for whatever occasion we needed them.'
When Robert Joseph and Charles Metcalfe started up the International Wine Challenge they sought someone with obvious gravitas. Derek was their man and was co-chairman of the IWC for a time. The trio would frequently travel to Bordeaux together, Derek mucking in wherever they might stay. As Charles observes about Derek, ‘he was known and respected by all'. Owner of Farr Vintners Stephen Browett said of him yesterday, 'He was a lovely man and quite a mentor to Tom Parker MW, Tom Hudson, me and the rest of the FV team – especially on our en primeur trips.' Derek was also a particularly popular guide on Arblaster & Clark’s wine tours.
It was typical of Derek that he moved with the times and in recent years he was active on Twitter as well as administering his own website (from which these charming portraits are taken) with aplomb.
He was such good company. Like hundreds of others, I will miss him.