7 April 2021 Plus Colin Hall.
28 March 2021 And Reva Singh, editor of Sommelier India.
25 March 2021 And now Ben Howkins.
24 March 2021 Peter Dauthieu of Jerez adds his memories below.
18 March 2021 When I wrote about the late Steven Spurrier last week, first here on JancisRobinson.com and then a shorter obituary in the Financial Times, I received so many lovely words about this generous and important man of wine that I thought it would be a good idea to publish a collection of them. Lucy Pope is responsible for the portrait above of Steven at home in Dorset.
Needless to say I have checked that everyone is happy for me to publish what they wrote and I have tried to fillet out their comments on what I wrote. They appear below in no particular order. Should you wish to add to this collection, just write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(We lost two more great men of wine in the last few days: N K Yong, the connoisseur of Singapore, and Don Giorgio, paterfamilias of De Martino in Chile. Very best sympathetic wishes to Melina Yong and to all the De Martino family.)
John Salvi MW, Bordeaux
So much has been written about Steven, his attributes and his astonishing achievements, that there is nothing more to say.
I met Steven in 1967, when he came to lunch in our offices at Sichel and Co from Christopher’s where he worked and who were excellent customers. I had been made a director of the company after Allan Sichel’s death in 1964. As my daughters had just been born, I wanted to celebrate and opened a bottle of 1900 Ch Margaux. He mentions this story in his A Life in Wine.
He has stayed in my house in the Médoc and my house in Navarra. I have stayed at Bride Valley Vineyard and his flat in Playfair Mansions in Barons Court was my home in London. I still have the two keys to the flat and I kept my dinner jacket, tails and morning coat in a cupboard in his bedroom.
We often met, mainly to eat and drink! We ate black truffles together in Florence as recently as 2019, and white truffles in Alba. We ate foie gras all over the place and caviar in Krasnodar in Russia. We also entertained Alain Vautier of Ch Ausone to dinner at Steven’s flat, and gave him smoked salmon, Welsh lamb chops, Montgomery cheddar and Cropwell Bishop stilton. Alain brought plenty of Ausone!
We drank 1961 Ducru Beaucaillou with Bruno Borie at the Château with Jancis and the Decanter team. We drank the 1945 vintage of all five first growths, from Allan Sichel’s cellar, at Davy’s wine bar behind Ludgate Circus, with my father, Edward Bidwell, Julien Bidwell, Bill Warre, John Davy and myself. John offered a 1912 Niepoort. We drank 1961 and 1945 Ch Palmer at the Château with Peter Sichel (my boss). We drank Romanée-Conti at a dinner on the first floor of the Hospices de Beaune. We drank 1961 Barbaresco with Angelo Gaja and we drank 1806 Lafite (recorked in 1953) at Darroze in 1969, with Martin Bamford, David Fromkin, Alex Bespaloff and Bella. The Château had released six bottles to each of four restaurants: Darroze (in Villeneuve de Marsan), Chapon Fin (Bordeaux), Coq Hardi (Bourgival) and Taillevent in Paris. This was made 62 years before Baron James Mayer Rothschild bought it.
Steven was immensely proud of the fact that he arranged and managed a visit to England of the illustrious International Academy of Wine, led at that stage by Jean-Pierre Perrin of Domaine de Beaucastel. Enthusiasm had been lukewarm as these world-famous producers could not see what England had to offer! Steven hosted an evening at Boodle’s, Michael Schuster arranged a visit to Great Dixter Gardens, and I secured a dinner at Vintners’ Hall complete with loving cup. We visited Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Hush Heath Estate. They were blown away, right down to Angelo Gaja who recalls it every time we meet. Steven did it again!
So many memories and so much happiness, but now so much sadness and loss. Steven, in the purest sense of the word I loved you!
Jeremy Watson, ex Wines of Spain
I have just learnt of Steven Spurrier's death and am shocked. I can never claim him to have been a close friend but have known him for over 60 years; indeed the first time we met was in 1960 when I was introduced to him by a customer at a West End wine shop where I worked briefly. From that day until last year we bumped into each other periodically, often at tastings, and you would have thought we were great mates because he was always so enchanting. He was a close friend of John Salvi who will be terribly upset at Steven's passing; Steven and I both stayed with John and Nelly during a Vinexpo in the early 1990s and I so enjoyed our conversations during that week.
We live less than an hour from Bride Valley and another visit there was high on the list after we are free to do so – hopefully on a day when Steven was going to be there! His Brut and Rosé wines are a regular tipple chez nous.
As you say he will be sorely missed.
Roy Richards (ex Richards Walford), Beaune
Steven wrote to me around the middle of February to say he would be going ‘gentle’ into that good night as it would be less painful, and to say goodbye. Courteous to the end.
We met first in Paris in 1974, and the scintillating range of wines in the Caves de la Madeleine inspired me along what was to be my chosen path. I have a lot to thank him for.
Janet Trefethen, Napa Valley
In your comments you referred to Nick’s being one of the first to see Steven after the bicycle accident. I will never, ever forget that. With Steven’s help (of course) I had made arrangements for him, Michael and Daphne [Broadbent] and John and me to have lunch on that fateful day at Steven’s club, Boodle’s. The four of us were at the table at the club waiting for Steven; and we waited, and waited. Finally, the maître d’ comes over with a landline phone and hands it to me. It was Steven, calling from the hospital apologising for the accident and his tardiness. I could not believe he had the presence of mind, after all he had been through, to think about calling us. Crazy, sweet man!
Neil MacCormick, London
Aleen, my wife, and another friend, Nicole Stolerman, attended one of Steven's classes at Christie's and, after a conversation with Steven at the end of one of the classes where they both professed adoring Burgundy, particularly the biodynamic producers, Steven kindly rang two or three domaines to fix up a visit. The domaines rung were the sort that members of the general public would never have been able to visit or even to buy directly from. Predictably, we bought wine from all of them, and still do occasionally, but our income hasn't kept up with the prodigious inflation rate of well-made wines from that area!
Andrew Caillard MW, Australia
Such a wonderful man. I just loved his eternal optimism.
A really sad day.
Greg Gregory, Napa
So sad to hear of his passing. Such a gentleman and a gentle soul. Never a harsh word did I hear him utter. The wine world loses a legend. Thinking of you and all of his friends.
Sebastian Payne MW, The Wine Society, Stevenage
Your tribute captured the Steven I knew so well. He saw the good side in everybody, and in wines too. It was always a pleasure to see him.
I wrote to Steven 10 days ago to tell him how much he inspired. Hope he saw it.
Jeff Morgan, California and Israel
I woke up with dismay this morning to read your obit on Steven Spurrier. It was a lovely piece describing a lovely man and his extraordinary life. I had the pleasure of interacting with Steven on only a few occasions; but he was so like what you have described.
Our last encounter was a bit of a trade off: he would taste my latest Israeli wines and I would drink a bottle of his excellent Bride Valley bubbly. Indeed, who needs Champagne?
Young Shi, Shanghai
I couldn't believe this piece of news you just published. Terribly sad for such great loss!
The London tastings will be very different without him. He and Oz Clarke are the first two wine experts I knew back in 2007. Steven always spared a few minutes chatting with me patiently whenever I bumped into him at tasting events. He was a very special person.
Very sad… I hope Steven didn't suffer too much pain before he left us.
Peter Clarke, ex Greenalls
I read with sadness about the death of Steven Spurrier. I met him in 1965 at Taylor’s Quinta in the Douro when I was on the Michael Gordon Clark Scholarship and he kindly gave me a lift in his car to Bordeaux which at the time saved me considerable expense! I lost touch with him after he went to Paris but will get a copy of his autobiography Wine – A Way of Life. As I turn to you to keep me in touch with the finer parts of the wine trade, I wonder if you know where l could buy a case of his English Cremant?
David Gleave MW, Liberty Wines
I always attributed his apparent youth to his complete absence of cynicism. I always felt better about the world when I came out of a meeting or lunch with Steven. He saw every problem with great clarity yet saw the opportunities it brought. That is what I mean about his lack of cynicism. This part of his character could have been mistaken as Panglossian, but I think it was just a relentless positivity combined with a refusal to be constrained by what most people would regard as obstacles or limitations.
Charles Blagden, southern Rhône, France
I’ve known Steven since the early 1970s when I worked on a vineyard in Vacqueyras with which he was associated.
Since that time we became good friends and throughout the ups and downs of my wine trade life, he was always offering kind and friendly encouragement and suggesting one or other of his many and widespread contacts who might help things along. Always, as you say, in a very modest fashion.
We met regularly for lunch or dinner whenever I was over in London; we were due to meet this time last year but COVID put paid to that. I, like you I’m sure, will miss him greatly.
Dawn Mannis, The Sampler, London
It was sad news this week at the death of Steven Spurrier, one of the wine world's most famous names. I have done a few tastings with him over the years. However it was when we had our South Kensington shop that I met him most. The shop was directly facing his hairdressers and he would pop in after getting his hair done and was always interested in trying new or interesting wines. This hairdressers was quite the place – it looked like it hadn't changed since 1970 – no head massages or Brazilian blow dries there. Margaret Thatcher would go there in her latter days, and everyone would always come out with the same hairstyle, a bit like hers – big and bouffanty. Except Steven – his hair always looked great!
Becky Wasserman, Burgundy
I talked to Steven about three weeks ago … and have been sending Bella emails.
Knew them well during the Paris years, the innocent years, and had such fun together.
Barry Phillips, Four Walls Wines, Chichester
We were at school together and I always laughed with him not at him.
Paul Symington, Oporto and the Douro Valley
What an awful shock to hear that Steven has died. I am really very sorry indeed. I had no idea that he was ill.
He was such a gentle man, perhaps too gentle for the cut and thrust of business. The wine world truly was different (and much, much better) for having him in it. This phrase is horribly over-used but in Steven’s case it is utterly true. His wonderful laid-back approach to wine, although incredibly knowledgeable, was so refreshing when some can be so intense. His was such a healthy approach to wine. I always suspected that when he was tasting he was actually looking for the perfect wine for his bistro lunch in Paris or a summer lunch in the garden with friends at his home, not to compile some technical list.
It took me a long while, perhaps because I am here in the Douro and he was in the UK, to really understand Steven. When I first met him I thought that his super-suave appearance and perfect manners must have another side. I then realised that there was no other side; he was just this wonderful, friendly open and nice man. How stupid of me initially.
This is really awful news. Poor Bella.
Brooks Firestone, California
Kate and I are grateful for his inspiration and friendship.
Julia Harding MW, London
He was one of those people who never seemed to grow old and whose death therefore comes as such a shock. I did stay with them once in Dorset many years ago when he kindly sold me a few bottles that were excess to his cellar – after I had mentioned in passing that I didn’t get to drink old wines very often.
On another occasion he very kindly cooked dinner for me and allowed me to stay at his London flat because we were both getting a horribly early flight to Macedonia via Vienna.
Chris Dearden, Napa
An incredibly modest and kind man. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Spurrier once at the Première Napa Valley Barrel Auction circa 2000 when I was the general manager and winemaker of a small winery called Benessere that was specialising in Italian varietals. I had produced a Sagrantino from our St Helena vineyard and he came to my station and we discussed (in essence) how crazy it was to be growing that variety in Napa Valley. Here was a giant of a man in our industry, spending some of his precious time with me, when there were literally hundreds of Cabernets of note that he needed to taste. Although the meeting was a chance encounter and I never had the opportunity to speak to him again, that brief conversation made an indelible memory for me. I have a feeling that I am not alone with this type of memory. Thank you.
Linda Reiff, Napa Valley Vintners
I am rather weepy today processing the news of Steven’s passing and I wanted to reach out to you and Nick to express my heartfelt condolences. I know what a dear friend he was, professionally and personally, and that this must weigh heavily on you both.
Many of us in Napa have immense admiration and gratitude for Steven’s tireless work over the decades, sprinkled with countless memories of conversations, connections and chuckles throughout. His impact on our wine world and our hearts runs so much deeper than the highly celebrated Paris Tasting!
The professionalism, dedication, intelligence and grace he committed to his work year after year are unmatched. It was a true pleasure and honour to watch him at work, whether in the diligence and care he gave to each of our tastings and seminars in London, or visiting vineyards and wineries here in Napa. As you know, he was frequent visitor and adopted native of Napa. Most recently he served as the keynote speaker at the Wine Writers Symposium and attended Première. And back home in London, he attended our last wine tasting before the shutdown just over a year ago.
Anyway, our hearts are heavy and I just wanted to connect to let you know that we share the loss, and we celebrate the extraordinary man.
PS We are working on ways to honor Steven here and are keenly interested in supporting any endeavours in London. Please let us know as plans develop.
Joel Butler MW, Washington state
I am so sorry and saddened to hear of Steven’s (sudden?) passing. I can remember (vaguely through brain-fog) meeting Steven the first time probably around 1980, and immediately enjoying his wry wit, his enthusiasm and knowledge, especially important to my then-young (seven years in the wine biz) self, and appreciating his somewhat fatalistic sense of success or failure in pursuit of the goal desired; spreading the gospel of wine. Later, while judging for Decanter, I always found his 'diplomatic' counsel to a panel when called over to arbitrate, amusing, sometimes self-deprecating and usually sage! He will be sorely missed.
Ray Bruno, East Devon
I was, however, very sad yesterday following the sudden death of Steven Spurrier. Although I can’t claim that he was a friend as I’m sure you can, I thought of him as a friend and his face was so familiar at tastings. He was so charming but courageous too. He was almost a neighbour too as I live in East Devon near the border with Dorset. Just reading through all the things he achieved is breath-taking. It’s easily said but he really will be missed.
I had the idea that I would open my last bottle of 1941 tawny port for his 80th birthday this year after lockdown was over but sadly this won’t come to pass.
Beth Milliken, Spottswoode, Napa Valley
You wrote with striking warmth and honesty about a somewhat accidental icon in the world of wine. I very much enjoyed reading it, and I thank you for capturing in relatively few words his life, his sense of always looking forward, to his enthusiasm for whatever might be next – his daughter’s quote was perfect – to his willingness to take risks and to carry forward when his ambitions sometimes did not pan out as hoped.
Henry Jeffreys, British drinks writer
A couple of years ago, he released his long-awaited autobiography, A Life in Wine. His publisher sent me a copy. It was an interesting book marred by atrocious editing and I was a bit cheeky when I reviewed it for The Spectator, pointing out all the mistakes. A few days later I had an email from Spurrier pointing out all the mistakes in my review. I felt very small and ashamed, especially as he had always been so kind to me. We exchanged a few emails and he suggested we have lunch together to show there was no hard feeling. As I say, total class.
Chris Parker, Virginia
It was always such a pleasure to spend time with Steven in London and Virginia. He was so generous, encouraging and supportive. My last conversation with him was six months ago when I told Steven that I had sold my share of the Virginia Wine & Spirits Academy and was taking a leap to combine my love of wine, art and travel into a new adventure. Needless to say he was nothing less than inspiring.
Tim Johnston, Juveniles, Paris
Just a brief word to say thank you for putting into words what we are all feeling in our hearts. The world is a much poorer place without him, and we were so lucky to be able to have him as a friend. I am sure the memorial, when it is allowed, will be over-subscribed.
Stephen Skelton MW, London
I first met Steven when I joined the Circle of Wine Writers in 1986 and got to know him better when I was Secretary of the Circle for six years. One day he asked me to meet him at a tasting being held at Searcys (when they were just off Sloane Square) as he wanted to talk vineyards with me. We met and he told me about his wife’s farm in Dorset and how the land had the perfect soil for making sparkling wine. I did point out the dangers of exposed West Country sites and their generally low yield levels, but he said that he had the sales side all sewn up and every bottle was pretty well already sold. He said that he had already spoken to a well-known champagne house who were keen to partner with him. I was able to tell him that I had already been involved with that company on a previous English vineyard project when their notion of a ‘joint venture’ turned out, when the agreement was eventually produced, to be 51:49 (in favour of the champagne house, of course) and the project foundered.
After a few months, visiting the site a couple of times, I recall meeting Steven at the London Wine Trade Fair hoping to hear that the deal with [the champagne house] had been signed, when he told me in no uncertain terms that he had been led up the garden path, and they wanted control which he couldn’t give them.
This setback didn’t deter Steven and within a few months a meeting was arranged in London with some people from Boisset, the Burgundy producers. After a weekend in Dorset which of course included a dinner or two, some great wines and discussions about where to plant and what to plant, Boisset then went into detail with me over costings, yields, sugar levels, acid levels and returns and decided that they would never make money at this because yields were too low, costs too high and who would pay more than £15 for a bottle of English Sparkling?
Not deterred by these two setbacks, Steven said he was going to go ahead without a partner and fund it all himself. It was at this stage that I said that if I was to be involved any further it would have to be on a professional basis, and Steven and I parted company on the project. Over the years since he planted, he and I compared notes from time to time and he was always asking me for data on the UK vineyard scene as he had been asked to do a talk on his wines and wanted some background information. I am sure his vineyard will survive and thrive as a lasting reminder of Steven and his legendary enthusiasm for all things vinous.
Bartholomew Broadbent, Virginia
Your mail means everything to me and I mean ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. Michael, Daphne and you were cornerstones to my life... but much more important is your friendship and our past together.
Heartbreaking to lose a comrade with so big a heart and so gentle a soul.
Back in Dorset for dinner, after four hours picking ripe Pinot Noir which will go to making a Dorset Burgundy, I chose a few last bottles from the cellar:Meursault-Blagny 2009 Domaines Chanson, still perfect as Blagny is actually in Puligny.Châteauneuf du Pape 2002 Clos des Pape, a washed out vintage, but light and smooth.Cayetano del Pino y Cia Palo Cortado Viejisimo 1/5 butts, in half bottles, Peter’s selection - from The Wine Society.So I stayed with sherry for one more day!
May 1976. My diary for the week starts with having dinner with Steven and Bella in Paris at their charming apartment in Rue de la Cerisaie on 23 May. After regaling us with several delicious 1961 clarets, Steven announced that we needed a decent glass of port. He dashed downstairs with his dog, the faithful Digby, at his side, jumped on his bicycle and shot off to his splendid wine shop in the Cité Berryer, retrieved a bottle of Croft Old Particular 30-year-old tawny port and triumphantly brought it back to the apartment. Such style.
The following morning, 24 May, outside the apartment building, Steven and I bade each other farewell. We casually asked, as old friends do, what each other were doing that day, and he, in a gentle, matter-of-fact voice said: ‘Oh, I’ve got a tasting arranged. A bit worried about it. Hope it will work. I want to show the French that other people can also make wine.’
As ‘any fule kno’, that tasting on 24 May 1976 turned out to be ‘The Judgement of Paris’, possibly the most game-changing tasting that the wine world has ever seen.
Steven was a born host and organiser; he ‘moved and shook’ like no one else. He breathed ideas as others breathe oxygen, with a contagious enthusiasm that ebbed and flowed globally. His whole wine career was built upon a series of innovations – of which the Judgement of Paris was just one. Many were trailblazing; some had an element of the helter skelter about them, but all of them held the dedicated purpose of furthering the enjoyment of wine through education. These endless projects were often a frustration to his bank manager –and to Bella, his wife – but they were like milk and honey to Steven.
He would go about his adventures with a Beau Brummel elegance and steely resilience that often gave him the air of a magician. When explaining his next creative move, he would end with that contagious smile of his and, with an elegant flourish of his hand, pronounce: ‘Et voilà!’
In one way, Steven’s legacy started at his wine shop La Cave de La Madeleine in Paris all those years ago, where so many bright young things started their wine careers. It was all in a similar vein to Albert and Michel Roux’s Le Gavroche in London, where so many bright young chefs started their careers. What magnificent 1960s game-changing wine and food champions! No wonder Steven held his memorable Decanter Man of the Year luncheon at Le Gavroche.
In her splendid obit, Jancis Robinson MW mentioned that Steven went to that ‘sporty school Rugby’, even though he was more Eton material. He did tell me once, slightly enigmatically, that he was ‘meant to go to Eton’, and no one was less sporty than Steven. When we were discussing which sports we now enjoyed, Steven looked aghast at the question. ‘I know,’ he said: ‘Lunching is my sport’. And so it remained.
Steven’s untimely death has left a huge gap in the hearts of so many of his friends. Over the past few days, through the many tributes I have seen and heard, one constant refrain has been his inability to speak ill of anyone or anything. He was a gentleman; he nurtured all. A wine would always have a positive side to it. The fault, if pointed out, would be the fault of the glass, or the temperature, seldom of the wine itself. Likewise, Steven possessed a wonderful, almost innocent, trust in his fellow human beings. Whereas many wine traders were in awe of Steven, Steven was equally in awe of their achievements. It was that generosity of spirit that was so endearing about him. He cared about people, across the generations. In return, he was loved by so many.
Steven was always on trend, always looking for the latest grape variety or restaurant to support. Loyalty was always in his armoury, as was his desire to seek out the new. The Steven paradox. He used to chide me for going to the same local restaurant, pointing out that there were at least two excellent new venues nearby. Yet, he was a staunch supporter of his dining clubs and would entice all to be the same.
Bride Valley was, in a way, his most tangible pride and joy. The vineyard setting was perfect for parties. Steven was always happy to celebrate. Convivial to the last, he had recently, mischievously, pulled out a bottle of Noval 1963 from his cellar which he wished to share with David Orr and myself, knowing David’s attachment to Cockburn’s and mine to Croft. Alas, Covid-19 and his medication beat us to it, but this was very maverick, very Steven.
When we spoke during the last few weeks of his life, he always perked up when we talked about new titles or new ideas for the Académie du Vin Library, which was arguably his favourite legacy. He was delighted when my book, Sherry (2019), appeared, perhaps because it had been a forgotten wine, and needed Steven’s unique care and support.
But maybe, above all, his greatest legacy lies in the fact that we all simply miss him so much. Et voilà!
Reva Singh, founding editor of Sommelier IndiaI felt a deep sadness when I heard Steven had finally succumbed to the cancer he was fighting so valiantly and died shortly after midnight on 9 April at his home in Dorset. Steven was the perfect gentleman, a great friend of SI and a regular contributor to Sommelier India magazine from its earliest days. His last article appears in the April edition. When I sent him a bank transfer for it, earlier than usual so that he’d receive it in time, he wrote back to say, “This was meant to be a present”, which was so typical of him.
Here is some sad news and I will be short: my cancer has been viewed as terminal and all treatment has stopped. I am fine for the moment but might last until Easter, probably not. This means I must say Goodbye to you, Bunty, your boys and all at Sommelier India. You have been such a strong part of my life when in India, and of course so often over here, that I can only offer you a huge amount of thanks for your friendship.'
People like Steven are rare. It was my good fortune and privilege to know him — friend and mentor who will be difficult to replace.
My first encounter with Steven was on a private clients’ tour of Bordeaux Châteaux in 2001. It was clear how welcome he was at each Château as he and the proprietors had a good gossip while we did our cellar tours. He really knew more about them than they knew about each other, and they appreciated it.
One day we were tasting and lunching at Ch Calon-Ségur hosted by the redoubtable Mme Capbern-Gasqueton. Asked about a favourite vintage, I gave what she clearly regarded as the wrong answer as she replied with obvious contempt. Discreetly, Steven altered the table plan and took the hot seat himself. Un vrai gentleman!
Some years later I became chairman of the wine and cigar committee at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge and Steven agreed to conduct an annual masterclass for us. Nothing was too much trouble to set up as we tasted the same wines from en primeur through to old vintages from our cellars. As Steven’s emails came in from all around the world, he helped with en primeurs direct from the Châteaux and always could find the missing comparison from his own cellar.
Such a kind, generous and courteous man, he left behind many friends at the ‘Thames’. We shall be remembering him at our first post-lockdown tasting, which would have been his next masterclass.