I started drinking at the age of three. We were having a picnic on the banks of the river. My brother was drowning in the weir. My father was trying to rescue him. My mother was having hysterics. And there was this bottle of my mum’s damson wine. No one was looking, so I drank it. Delicious.
I’m reworking, reshaping, rewriting, revising my book Oz Clarke on Wine. That’s the first paragraph of the book. It goes on: ‘That put me off drinking till I was 18.’ Well, it was 19, actually. But why is this relevant? Because the world I grew up in was a wine-less world.
What happened during those 16 lost years? Nothing. Other people who end up in the wine industry may have had indulgent parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, with cellars full of wine and a desire to set a little fellow on the right path at an early age.
Not me. My parents didn’t really drink. My grandparents didn’t drink at all. So I didn’t.
And that was completely normal in those days. I read a report saying that during the 1960s only 5% of the British population drank wine. ‘Wine’s not for the likes of us’ could have been a mantra for us Brits. Wine drinking was a class thing. The professionals, the upper classes. Not many others. Labels were in foreign tongues, almost certainly incomprehensible to someone casually stopping by a wine merchant and wondering whether to take the plunge.
Read on for Oz and the New World plus the eight wines that mean the most to him…
Oz Clarke on Wine has just been published by Académie du Vin Library (£30)