Harry Waugh, who has died aged 97, was not only the kindest, most self-effacing and gentlest of men but also one of the most influential, innovative merchant connoisseurs.
He was only four when his father died. After schooling at Cranleigh, in 1934 he providentially found a job with London wine merchants, Block, Grey and Block. After war service with the Welsh Guards he joined Harvey’s of Bristol and, thanks to a combination of tasting ability and charm, became the chief table wine buyer – and seller.
In 1947, with Allan Sichel and Jack (later Sir John) Plumb, Harry founded The Bordeaux Club, whose regular wine dinners he continued to attend well into his 90s. He was among the first to introduce the British trade to the hitherto little-known wines of Pomerol, and in the early 1950s he co-founded the English branch of Les Compagnons de Beaujolais. In 1976, with John Avery and Hugh Johnson, he founded the Zinfandel Club.
He was a long-time member of the Saintsbury Club, a member of the Wine and Food Society and one of the earliest chairmen of its Wine Committee. In 1962 Harry was appointed to the board of Château Latour, remaining a director until shortly before his death. He was made MBE (Member of the British Empire) in 1994 for services to wine.
Harry was the most naturally gifted of all professional tasters. In the 1950s he started recording his visits to wine districts, with detailed yet unfussy notes on wines. His tasting was unforced, instinctive and unerring.
He retired from Harvey’s in 1966 but continued travelling, tasting and writing. His first book, published in 1966, was Bacchus on the Wing. This was followed by three other books.
In 1970 he married his former secretary, Prue (his first marriage, which he never referred to, was dissolved after the war), and, aged 69, became the father of twins. Harriet – appropriately – works for Decanter, and Jamie follows in his father’s footsteps in the wine trade.
I owe Harry a lot. He persuaded me to join Harvey’s in 1955, and later, thanks to his friendship with senior partners at Christie’s, I got another lift up, moving from UK sales director to an empty office in King Street, charged with the job of starting up a wine auction department.
I was constantly amazed by Harry’s spriteliness, and above all by his unimpaired appetite and appreciation of wine. He ate all before him, drank his fair share of the seven or eight different wines we would serve, slept like a log and never felt the worse for wear the following morning.
Like so many others I benefitted from Harry’s warmth and generosity of spirit. He was loved by all and will be missed.
Harry Waugh, MBE, wine merchant, writer and connoisseur, 9 June 1904 – 28 November 2001
Written by Michael Broadbent3 December 2001