Find out about our Decanter World Wine Awards 2014 Regional France judging panel with biographies of the Regional Chair Andrew Jefford plus Alex Hunt MW, Ben Llewelyn, Dawn Davies, Dominique Vrigneau, Jamie Hutchinson, Jean-Michel Valette MW, Nicolas Clerc MS, Paz Levinson and Rebecca Palmer.
Regional chair: Andrew Jefford
Jefford contributes a monthly column to Decanter and writes the widely followed ‘Jefford on Monday’ blog for Decanter.com and DecanterChina.com. He has been writing and broadcasting about wine (as well as about food, whisky, travel and perfume) since the 1980s, winning many awards for his work. After 15 months as a senior research fellow at Adelaide University between 2009 and 2010, he now lives with his family in the Languedoc, close to Pic-St-Loup.
Alex Hunt MW
Alex Hunt MW joined the wine trade as a van driver for Oddbins while studying philosophy and psychology at Oxford, where he captained the varsity blind tasting team. After graduating in 2000, he joined Mayfair Cellars, holding both sales and buying roles, before moving to Berkmann Wine Cellars in 2006, where he is currently purchasing director. Hunt received the Madame Bollinger Medal for excellence in the Master of Wine tasting exam, and since February 2012 he has written a regular column on taste and tasting for JancisRobinson.com.
Ben Llewelyn has worked in the wine trade since 1997, beginning at Oddbins, and then at Italian specialist Enotria. He moved his family to France in 2007 to experience the life of a winemaker while studying for his MW, and in 2008 he set up the wholesale wine agency and importer Carte Blanche Wines, which leans toward those producers who choose to make wine as naturally as possible and works with independent wine merchants and restaurants across the UK. Carte Blanche Wines purchased independent wine retailer Caviste in 2011.
Dawn Davies joined Selfridges as its first sommelier in March 2007 and is now the company’s wine and spirit buyer. Previously, she worked as head sommelier, and then restaurant manager, at The Ledbury restaurant in Notting Hill and as sommelier at the Square Restaurant in Mayfair, both in London. Before that, she was head sommelier at Boxwood Café (Gordon Ramsay) and Zuma. At Selfridges, Davies assists clients in selecting that special case of wine, gives advice on how to set up a new cellar, or helps with the growth of an established one.
Dominique Vrigneau joined Majestic on a work experience placement in 1986 after completing a five-year PhD in agriculture and oenology in France. He was soon promoted to the position of buying manager, and in 1991 he joined Thierry’s Wine Services after a chance encounter with founder Thierry Cabanne. He became the company’s buying director for France, Austria, Germany, Australasia and the US, and in November 2012 Vrigneau moved to a new venture, Watermill Wines, and now combines his buying capabilities with selling to key accounts. Vrigneau is also a Chevalier du Tastevin and has judged in key international competitions for many years.
Jamie Hutchinson is the managing director and co-founder of independent wine merchant The Sampler. After a career in venture capital, Hutchinson opened The Sampler in Islington in 2006, followed by a South Kensington branch in 2011, and plans to open other shops in the future. Hutchinson’s passions are Sherry, traditional Rioja, grower Champagne and Beaujolais, while his weaknesses are for wines with personality and that go against normal commercial conventions. Hutchinson is also the holder of the WSET Rafael Balao Lustau Memorial Trophy and won the WSET Cava and Penedes Wine Institute Bursary.
Jean-Michel Valette MW
Jean-Michel Valette MW is chairman of Vinfolio, a US-based internet marketplace for fine wine. He has also been chairman and MD of Robert Mondavi Winery, as well as CEO of Franciscan Estates. Outside of wine he is a director of the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams beer, and a director of Peet’s Coffee & Tea. His interest in vines and wine started at an early age during summers spent with his grandparents in Vouvray, and since becoming one of North America’s early Masters of Wine, he has been active in education, examination and governance of the IMW, where he is currently chairman.
Nicolas Clerc MS
Nicolas Clerc MS has been working with D&D London since 2009, and was the restaurant group’s beverage manager until February 2014. From 2009 to 2012 he looked after Le Pont de la Tour’s restaurant and wine shop, as well as the wine lists at neighbouring restaurants The Blueprint Café, Cantina del Ponte and Butlers Wharf Chop House. In 2012, he added Fish Market, Old Bengal Bar, New Street Grill and New Street Wine Shop to his portfolio of restaurants. Clerc started his career in 2000 at Michelin-starred restaurants in his native France (namely La Table Saint Crescent in Narbonne and La Barbacane in Carcassone). In the UK he has worked at Waldo’s in Cliveden House Hotel in Berkshire, Summer Lodge Hotel in Dorset, and the Milestone Hotel and Apartments in Kensington, among others, and in 2008, he spent a year at Vue de Monde in Melbourne. Clerc was named UK Sommelier of the Year 2007, won Best Sommelier and Best Wine List at the Tatler Awards in 2010, and qualified as a Master Sommelier in 2010. In 2011, he was awarded Champagne List of the Year at the Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year Awards.
Paz Levinson is the wine director of Food and Fun, a Paris-based consultancy. Levinson commenced her wine career in her native Argentina where she worked as head sommelier for a number of top end restaurants, including Restó and Nectarine. She also taught part-time at the Centro Argentino de Vinos y Espirituosas (CAVE) and the Instituto Argentino de Gastonomía (IAG) for five years. Levinson achieved her professional sommelier diploma from CAVE in 2006, at the same time as completing a BA in Literature. She recently became the first Argentinean to pass the Advanced Sommelier Certificate offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers in the UK. In 2010, Levinson was named Best Sommelier in Argentina by the Argentinean Association of Sommeliers and in 2013 she presented at the Best Sommelier of the World competition in Japan. Levinson has written for a number of magazines, including Argentina’s El Conocedor.
Rebecca Palmer is associate director and buyer for the Corney & Barrow Group based in London, Hong Kong and Singapore. As head of commercial buying, she is responsible for the core portfolio of both Corney & Barrow’s merchanting and wine bars businesses, covering all world regions except Bordeaux. Prior to working for Corney & Barrow, Palmer was a buyer at Direct Wines (Laithwaites), specialising in France and South America. A modern languages graduate, she has worked in the wine trade for 17 years.
Written by John Abbott