Jancis Robinson has been a Master of Wine since 1984. An honorary doctorate from the Open University added a D Univ after her name in 1997 and in 2003 she was given an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen (Happy 90th birthday, Ma'am). As from yesterday she is also officially an Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole.
At a ceremony in the residence of the French ambassador to the United Kingdom in Kensington Palace Gardens, over 50 mainly grey-haired men, pillars of the British wine trade over the past 30 years or more, plus a few distinguished women, gathered to applaud Mme Sylvie Bermann as she made this award to Jancis and to Allan Cheesman, formerly the wine director for Sainsbury’s, on behalf of the French minister of agriculture. Dee Blackstock MW, Denise Lavaud and Kenneth Wilkins were made Chevaliers de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole.
It was a very French affair. Having been welcomed into the very elegant residence on a beautifully sunny day and served a glass of Perrier Jouët, we were told by the ambassador, pictured here with Jancis, about the origins of the awards and what they continue to mean to France. Because of their green and white colour, they are known as 'leeks' apparently, and are particularly significant because of the importance of food and drink to France.
She then asked Jancis to step forward and pinned the award to her jacket. They kissed twice and Jancis spoke fluently in French of her pride at receiving such an award. Then it was Allan’s turn. There were certainly tears in my eyes as I kissed Jancis afterwards.
A few minutes later a pair of double doors behind us were opened up to reveal a dining room of four round tables, each named for a grape variety – the ambassador's called Trousseau. The room was delightful on such a sunny day with bright light pouring through the tall windows and, at one end, a large portrait of Louis XIV.
Lunch was again very French and pretty good. A dish of langoustines with fresh peas to start; a piece of poulet de Bresse with white asparagus and morels as the main course; two French cheeses, a slice of Pouligny-Saint-Pierre and Comté; followed by an éclair topped with a layer of gariguette strawberries. With this was poured a white Graves, Château Le Sartre 2011, and a 2012 Chambolle-Musigny from Henri de Villamont, in notably small glasses.
The ambassador left just before 3 pm, after which we were ushered back into the reception room for coffee and a photo call of all those present on the steps outside.
I felt extremely proud.