Abdallah H Simon - ‘Ab’ to the Bordeaux and American wine trade - died on 1 January aged 88.
The creator of Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Company and chairman from 1974 until retirement in 1999, Simon was considered one of America’s most powerful fine-wine executives.
Perhaps more than any other importer, he developed the US market’s thirst for First Growth and other Bordeaux. His price-setting influence played into retailing and the explosion of fine- and rare-wine auctions.
As Frank J Prial, The New York Times’s former wine columnist, wrote in 1988: ‘America imports more top-ranked French wine than any other nation, and Mr. Simon accounts for some 30 percent of that wine.’
In 1987, Prial said, Simon ‘spent $60 million buying wine, about one-third of it on the classified growths of Bordeaux, where his two or three yearly visits are probably more important than those of the President of France.’
Simon was born in Baghdad in 1922. His father, who sold textiles, spent time in Britain, and young Abdallah attended private school near Blackpool; later he attended American University in Beirut. After a pro-Nazi regime came to power in 1941 and anti-Semitism broke out, he quit Iraq for New York.
Following two years in the American army, partly in occupied Germany, Lieutenant Simon joined his brother David in the textile business in 1946, leaving it in 1952. His wine career began that year with a taste of 1929 Latour on the Queen Mary while sailing to Europe.
He entered the wine business with a small food and wine importer and in 1965 was hired by Austin Nichols, an established importer and distributor of European wines. He joined Seagram nine years later. In 1980 the France’s government made him a knight of the Legion of Honor for service to that nation’s wine industry.
Simon is survived by his wife, Francine, two sons, a granddaughter and two sisters.
Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York