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Suckling: the billionaire, the Pope and the Hollywood producer

So now we know what James Suckling's been up to since his bizarrre departure from Wine Spectator at the beginning of the summer.

That occasion was remarkable for a several reasons. First, the gracelessness of the response from the magazine that Suckling helped launch and served for a quarter of a century, much of it as Europe bureau chief (you’ll recall that Marvin Shanken, after perfunctory words of regret, said that moving Bordeaux and Italy tastings to New York would actually ‘strengthen’ the coverage).

Then there was the outpouring of goodwill tweets, lambasting Spectator and its po-faced executives…

Suckling has refused throughout to say a word against Wine Spectator, despite lots of encouragement from me. ‘I had an fantastic time there,’ is all he will say.

You get the feeling he’s so delighted with his new life he can afford to be generous. His obvious pleasure in spreading his wings speaks volumes.

He loves being able to visit Napa as a critic, for example: ‘I hadn’t been there for five or six years’. Napa is the preserve of Spectator eminence grise Jim Laube, and Suckling wasn’t allowed near there professionally.

And he’s just made an extraordinary pair of wines, with grapes from half a dozen different countries.

They are called One World One Wine – you can find the cepage in our news story.

The white is rather good, mineral, zesty, nice rich fruit and length. The red’s a bit rougher round the edges, but saved by its rather delicate tannins. He’s only made 700 cases in all, so they’re not commercial in any way.

This is the wine that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is going to drink at his farewell dinner in Birmingham on Sunday

Suckling seems to be able to tap into the right networks: he invited Jancis Robinson and Decanter.com to lunch at the sumptuous offices of billionaire Professor Nasser D Khalili, whose charity, the Maimonides Foundation, is the right place to launch a wine designed as a ‘statement of harmony and unity’.

The Maimonides Foundation aims to promote dialogue between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Suckling came across it when he was casting around for a charity to donate the proceeds of the wine to.

Khalili, who is Jewish-Iranian, owns the world’s most important collection of Islamic art, and recently loaned his collection of Faberge eggs to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. He is – or was – 21st on the Sunday Times Rich List.

When he was asked what the Pope should be served, he naturally said, ‘Well, there’s this little Mexican-American-French-Slovenian-Hungarian wine I know…’

What else is Suckling up to? He’s about to launch his new website, www.ssuckling.com, which he says is going to be ‘80-90% video’ (he’s spent the last couple of months shooting A listers in California and Bordeaux with Hollywood producer James Orr – Father of the Bride, Sister Act 2, look him up on imdb) and some cigar coverage. He’s currently ‘in negotiation’ with Spectator over who gets 21 years worth of tasting notes.

He has also signed to international talent agency IMG – the main rival, as Jancis points out, to Gary Vaynerchuk’s CAA…

That seems to be enough to be going on with. Watch this space.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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