The UK wine trade is considerably impoverished.
We were shocked to learn that last Tuesday the UK wine trade lost one of its most colourful characters. For 23 years Simon Staples (self-styled @BigSiThe Wine Guy) rose through the sales ranks at Berry Bros & Rudd to become its ebullient sales director. In April 2020 he transferred his enthusiasm for Bordeaux and, presumably, his loyal customers’ enthusiasm for his joshing sales technique, to Lay & Wheeler, where he was director of private clients until his untimely demise at the age of 55.
He had always been an extrovert. At grammar school in High Wycombe he was captain of the First XV rugby team before going on to do his A-levels at Stowe. He didn’t fancy more study so spent the next few years travelling the world, ending up in Harrods wine department, where he was rapidly promoted to manager. There his larger-than-life personality and work ethic impressed Alun Griffiths MW, who later recruited him to set up a fine-wine sales department at Berrys.
I see that he is mentioned in no fewer than 22 articles on this website. We got off to a bad start when I teased him for his 2005 suggestion that wine investment would be included in an official UK government pension-provision scheme. But of course as soon as I met him, I was instantly charmed by his exuberance, cheek and evident passion for wine. We made a series of videos of Staples and me discussing the latest en primeur campaign soon after we returned from Bordeaux each spring.
In 2008, white-suited, he married fellow Berrys’ employee Sarah Holton in a spirited celebration at Highclere Castle, the pile where Downton Abbey is filmed. And in the wake of the scrapping of wine duty in Hong Kong a month later, in 2011 they were sent to the territory where his job was to ramp up sales in this rapidly growing wine market.
Staples managed to convince his bosses that the expatriate couple needed to be put up in a serviced apartment in the glamorous Four Seasons. He was there for the rather strange conference Wine Future HK in 2011, where I witnessed how an initially sceptical Staples was bewitched by a presentation by US wine critic Robert Parker and their shared enthusiasm for top-quality bordeaux.
When things fell apart between Berrys and their HK partner, Staples was sent to Japan, which, like Hong Kong, answered his equally passionate love of food. It was Staples who in 2016 guided Nick, a fellow Manchester United supporter, and me to a particularly wonderful restaurant in Tokyo, described here.
By then he had been recalled to London, where he clearly missed the Asian lifestyle as well as the restaurants. He was extremely kind and extremely enthusiastic – as witness his scheme to raise money for the global literacy charity Room to Read via a specially blended bottling of 2013 red Bordeaux (see All in a good cause). I learnt a great deal about blending as a result, and was not at all surprised that our blending session in Pauillac was followed by a sensational dinner at Ch Cordeillan Bages, then the town’s Michelin-starred restaurant, with Jean-Charles Cazes of Ch Lynch Bages, one of Staples’ favourite châteaux.
We managed to lure him to our flat a few years ago when Japanese Master of Wine Kenny Ohashi came for dinner with some of his Japanese associates, all huge fans of Staples-san.
It is just so sad that we have lost, far too early, such an entertaining character, and someone who trained legions of wine traders in the UK. We are the poorer without him, and send our very best wishes to his widow Sarah.