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John Stimpfig: ‘It’s been a fascinating time to witness these changes in wine’

In his parting column, John Stimpfig reflects on how the wine world has changed over the years...

Alas, this is my last column for Decanter. After five fantastic years as Decanter’s content director, I am moving on to vineyards new.

As you can imagine, it’s quite a wrench. Not least, because Decanter has been part of my life since I became a loyal subscriber 30 years ago. It is no exaggeration to say that this has been my dream job.

When I first started writing for the title, John Major was still in Number 10 and Bill Clinton occupied the White House. Back then, the wine world was also a very different place. Bordeaux ruled the roost, dominating cellars and salerooms. In contrast, Burgundy and Barolo remained minority sports.

Meanwhile, China, English fizz, natural wine and Coravin were yet to make an impact.

There was no internet to speak of. So no email alerts on what to buy, or price comparison sites. Buying fine wine was a more opaque, personal and paper-based process – and does anyone remember mail order?

In the UK, the supermarkets reigned supreme – as they still do on volume – except that some ranges are actually more risk-averse now. We had a vibrant high street, led by the likes of Oddbins, where budding aficionados could browse, experiment and learn. Fortunately, the thriving independent sector has taken up much of the slack.

In the nineties, benign global warming was regarded as a positive by many regions. With it came a fashion for over-oaked Chardonnay and fruit-bomb Merlots, which pleased some critics. Not ours, though.

Wine also went through an unfortunate phase when the cellar was regarded as more important than the vineyard. Manipulation in the winery was then almost de rigueur, whereas today’s mantra is ‘less is more’.

Happily, chemicals are out and sustainability, organic and biodynamic viticulture are in. And there’s no doubt that great wine is very much made in the vineyard.

The last quarter of a century has been a fascinating time to witness and document all these dramatic changes. I am also drinking a very different range of wines today compared to 25 years ago. That’s partly due to my own palate preferences. (These days, I often prefer youth to age.)

But it’s also down to the simple fact that there are so many more exciting wines to choose from.

During my time, Decanter has also developed immeasurably from UK publication to powerhouse global brand.

Back in 1997, it had just launched the first Fine Wine Encounter in London. Today we run consumer events around the world.

Our online content offering continues to grow and prosper. Decanter.com (2000) was joined by DecanterChina.com in 2012 and, most recently, by Decanter Premium in 2017.

The Decanter World Wine Awards remains the world’s biggest and best wine competition – by a country mile.

Importantly, I believe that Decanter has played a crucial role in the ongoing democratisation of wine by explaining and opining on the seismic changes that have transpired.

It has been a huge a privilege to be a part of Decanter for so many years. I have met and interviewed many of my wine heroes, from Miguel Torres and Angelo Gaja to Serge Hochar and Paul Pontallier. Equally, it has been my undiluted pleasure to work with an astonishing array of writers, editors and experts.

Moreover, Decanter has taken me all over the world. Invariably, people have been extraordinarily kind and generous with their time, knowledge and hospitality. Without question, I have tasted and enjoyed more than my fair share of great wines.

For all of the above, I would therefore like to thank and pay tribute to everyone who has helped me along my way. They include my Decanter colleagues (past and present) as well as numerous winemakers, merchants, PRs, agents and sommeliers who make up the great global wine trade.

Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to you, dear reader – as I am about to rejoin your ranks. Thank you for your loyalty, criticism and support.

But above all, I’d like to toast you for your unrelenting enthusiasm for this wonderful, mind-boggling beverage, which we all love so much. Long may it continue.