Forty years on

Jancis at Wine and Spirit magazine

Exactly 40 years ago today was my very first day as a wine writer. I had been hired as assistant editor of the venerable wine trade monthly magazine Wine & Spirit, recently revived by editor Colin Parnell who was too busy giving birth to Decanter magazine as its publisher to devote much time to Wine & Spirit. 

He had tried and failed to interest the owners of Wine & Spirit, Michael Heseltine’s Haymarket Publishing, in launching a consumer wine magazine alongside their trade one, so this was him striking out on his own, with backing from Luis Gordon, importer of Domecq sherries (sherry was then the commercially most successful wine in the UK – that’s how long ago it was). Spool forward 40 years and Wine & Spirit is no more, having been folded into a rival UK wine trade publication (I can’t remember which), while Decanter has been celebrating its 40th anniversary. Happy Birthday, Decanter! Long may you thrive.

Incidentally, I was far from being the first female wine writer in the UK. Jane MacQuitty and Jilly Goolden were already established when I joined the Circle of Wine Writers, and the trail had been mightily blazed long since by the likes of Pamela Vandyke Price, Katie Bourke, Joyce Rackham and Peta Fordham. The only 'first' I think I managed was to become, in 1984, the first person outside the wine trade to pass the Master of Wine exams.

If you are remotely interested in the progress of my career since then, you can read the outline in Jancis Robinson – the long version . I recently reflected in What future for expertise? on the changing nature of wine writing and feel extremely lucky to have been in the right place at the right time: trying desperately and concurrently to learn all about wine (thank you, WSET and Masters of Wine) and how to write while my countrymen were being transformed into wine drinkers. But if this sounds valedictory, it shouldn’t. I have no intention whatsoever of winding down. I love my work and the subject on which it is focused.

Arguably I do far too much. I write daily for, weekly for the Financial Times , and bimonthly for more than a dozen publications around the world, quite apart from my output as an author, co-author and editor of all these books. The last three years alone have seen the publication of the fourth Oxford Companion to Wine, seventh World Atlas of Wine and of the mighty Wine Grapes. Of all these activities, it is this website that brings me most pleasure – perhaps because as a control freak I enjoy being able to communicate (both ways) without the intermediary of a third party, whether editor, publisher or director. is also celebrating an important anniversary, having been born almost exactly 15 years ago, as you can read in The story of . I can’t believe it has grown and prospered as it has, with members in almost 150 countries and a team of more than a dozen wonderful people, including four Masters of Wine, on board. Thank you so much for accompanying us this far. I hope you will stay with us for the journey onwards.

We plan to continue to improve what we offer and are looking forward to adding the most up-to-date online version of the brand new 4th edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine (£40 RRP) for members any minute now. You can find out more about our Purple Pages here, but even if you don’t join, you can be sure that we will continue to add hundreds of free articles every year – and do take full advantage of our extensive, free Learn section.

I found this picture of me as chipmunk in my early days as editor of Wine & Spirit at the bottom of a drawer recently.