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From the archive: Steven Spurrier on ‘wine – a way of life’

In commemoration of Steven Spurrier, who passed away earlier this week, we're rerunning some of his most popular articles. Here he reflects on his lengthy and varied career in wine, for his book, Wine – A Way of Life... Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Decanter

A couple of years ago, my eight-year-old grandson asked, ‘Grandpa, why are you famous?’ And all I needed to do was to show him a copy of George Taber’s book, Judgement of Paris – California vs France and the historic 1976 tasting that revolutionized wine.

I’d always thought of writing a slim volume to tell the grandchildren about my life, and bit by bit it grew into something bigger. However, Wine – A Way of Life remains a memoir, not an autobiography. For my 21st birthday, my maternal grandmother gave me membership to The Wine Society and a 12-bottle wine rack.

While these presents added to my enjoyment of life, my paternal grandfather had lit the flame eight years before after a Christmas Eve dinner at the family house in Derbyshire, saying I was old enough for a glass of Port.

It was quite amazing. ‘What’s this, Grandpa?’ ‘Cockburn’s 1908, my boy.’

In the 1950s my parents took me and my elder brother abroad with them to France and Italy, where the bistros and trattorias epitomised the ‘conviviality’ of wine drinking, leaving a colourful impression compared to grey, post-war Britain.

At the London School of Economics I joined the Wine Club, but already, thanks to my family, there was never any doubt that wine would become my profession.

Steven Spurrier A Way of LifeFrom joining Christopher & Co, London’s oldest wine merchant, in 1964, moving to Provence on my wedding day in 1968, relocating to Paris two years later to purchase a wine shop in the city (‘Your wine merchant speaks English’ ran my ad in the International Herald Tribune), founding the first private wine school in France, creating the Paris Tasting, expanding into restaurants and warehousing, and then losing it all in the late 1980s, it has been a rocky ride.

The chapter on my return to London in 1990 is entitled ‘The Road Back’, which began with a brief spell running the Harrods wine department and then meeting Sarah Kemp in 1993 and joining the Decanter team.

The next chapter –‘Life with Decanter’ – sets the scene for what is still my main focus after a quarter of a century, and while my 300th column will be in the October issue, I cannot hope to match the 430 columns of my mentor Michael Broadbent MW.

The last roll of the Spurrier wine dice has been Bride Valley Vineyard in Dorset – a risky step that caused Eric de Rothschild to say with sympathy, ‘Welcome to the Club’, which is covered in the final chapter, ‘Poacher turned Gamekeeper’.

My attitude to wine – apart from my mantra ‘drink for mood and not for food’ – is based on the Three Ps: Place – where the vineyards are, generally very nice to visit; People – those who produce wine, who are generally good, and if they are bad they will make bad wine; Product – the result of P1 and P2.

Looking back over a lifetime around the Three Ps, I am still totally in love with it all. I have been very fortunate indeed, for wine has brought me more than I ever could have imagined.

Wine – A Way of Life (£20, Adelphi, May 2018)

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