James on James

James Lawther MW

Rather late in the day, we introduce our Bordeaux-based team member (who also covered Rhône 2020 for us recently) now that he has kindly agreed to write exclusively for us.

Whether it was a portent for the future I’m not sure, but I arrived in Paris in April 1981 just as François Mitterrand was being elected President of France. A job as an assistant editor at the International Herald Tribune awaited, one to which I settled with the expectation of returning to the UK in a couple of years, with a little spoken French and memories of Parisian life in my baggage.

Forty years on and still in France, I can truly say things don’t always turn out as you expect. In the interim there was no real Damascus moment but a curiosity about wine that grew and grew, inspired by the people involved, the sense of place or as the French would say ‘terroir’, and the agricultural nature of the product. Entry into this particular world was via Steven Spurrier’s Caves de la Madeleine, where I retailed wine from 1983 until 1989, also teaching at the Académie du Vin. It was a wonderful place to be at the time, with never a dull moment when Steven was around, and it forged my knowledge of the vineyards of France and wine in general. A rain-soaked 1984 harvest in Burgundy offered my first vintage experience.

The early 1990s saw me juggling the debut of a career as a freelance wine writer – with Wine Spectator, Wine International and Slow Food early publishers of my work – and studies for the Master of Wine, which I passed in 1993. Part of the motivation for the MW was to broaden my wine horizon, so travel to Australia, New Zealand and California was part of the agenda. I even picked grapes for Eiswein in the obligatory freezing conditions at Dr Loosen in the Mosel.

The chance of participating in the 1995 vintage at Cape Mentelle in Margaret River as a cellar hand put an end to the Parisian chapter in my life. After three months in this viticultural paradise, I returned to France and, with my wife Marie-José and two children, headed for the south-west settling in Bordeaux, or more precisely the Entre-Deux-Mers, in 1996. I’ve been here ever since.

There was plenty to write about when I arrived. The ‘garage movement’ was in full swing and there was a new, upbeat classification in St-Émilion. Decanter magazine was interested in taking articles and this ultimately led to a 25-year association with the magazine and ensuing website, much of it as a contributing editor covering Bordeaux and other regions (the Rhône and Loire Valleys, the Languedoc and Roussillon). There have been a couple of books along the way, The Heart of Bordeaux and The Finest Wines of Bordeaux, and a long-standing association with Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. The first editorial contact with Jancis was when I was a consultant for the Bordeaux section of The World Atlas of Wine (seventh then eighth editions), although we had both been members of the ‘Groupe Spurrier–Robinson’ on the Bordeaux en primeur tasting merry-go-round. My last participative harvest was the 2006 with Jean-Luc Thunevin at Ch Valandraud.

I now look forward, with a slightly older but wiser(?) head, to the next chapter with JancisRobinson.com. It’s a privilege and honour to join the team.