March 10: The 79-year old Steven Spurrier, a wine merchant known best for organising the historical Judgement of Paris 1976, but later as a prolific writer, judge, critic and a winemaker with his Bride Valley English Sparkling Wines, collaborating with Fratelli to craft M/S labels with Piero Masi and Chairing the now defunct Wine Society of India since inception, lost his brave battle with cancer and passed away peacefully at his home in Dorset yesterday morning, writes Subhash Arora
Known for his organising the historical Judgement of Paris 1976 Tasting that won him many followers as the top red and white wines from California beat the top wines of France, the visionary Steven Spurrier wore several hats as a prolific writer, wine judge and a few years ago also as a winemaker, producing Bride Valley Sparkling Wines in Dorset where his wife owns a farm. He is remembered for the first wine school he established in France, open to the public- L’Academie du Vin. The fearless, outspoken and well-recognised and awarded Steven was truly a global ambassador of wines.
He was proud of the Bride Valley English Sparkling wine introduced in 2014 and marketed it in the US through JC Boisset. He was firm on these bubblies named as English Sparkling Wines. When I asked him once about his views on them being called British Fizz in the US, he told me, ‘my take is to ignore it. Our label states ‘Fine English Wine’ as it is clear from the bottle that it is sparkling. The back label has to state English Sparkling Wine, which is what it is. It’s normal for anything coming from the British Isles to be known as British, but these wines come from England. There are no vineyards in Scotland, or in Northern Ireland, so British Fizz is actually a misnomer,’ but he added in a lighter vein, ‘if one tastes Bride Valley 2014 in the US thanks to our Distributor Jean-Charles Boisset, and says- it is the best British Fizz I’ve tasted, I wouldn’t be unhappy!’
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Meeting with Spurrier
I met Steven Spurrier first about 15 years ago when I was in London, judging for Indian Wine Challenge Wine Competition where Abhay Kewadkar, from the UB Group was also invited. UB had been an investor in the Wine Society of India of which Steven had been the Chairman from inception, even investing in it. We went to meet him at his house. He was extremely gentle, down-to-earth, warm, pleasant and very hospitable. After that I met him on various occasions in India and overseas including Hong Kong where I judged at DAWA and he was the Jury Chair; the last I met him was in Florence where he had been instituted as the Global Brand Ambassador for Chianti Classico wines. I always dubbed him as the Gentleman from the UK wine industry.
Remembrance by John Salvi MW
John Salvi MW considered Steven one of his closest friends and knew him for 54 years. He and I often talk about his friendship with Steven whenever we meet. Extremely saddened by his passing away, he says, ‘volumes will be written about all that Steven said and did. He had an immensely rich and rewarding life in wine, but what embodied him and what shone through him was his outstanding, yet elegant personality. He was genuine to the core, honest, truthful, modest, and decent. Rare attributes in such a famous man!’
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‘I met him when he came to lunch at my offices, in London, at Sichel and Co, and since I was celebrating the birth of my twins, I opened a bottle of 1900 Château Margaux which he never forgot!
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It was only natural that Steven wrote the Preface to his book- John Umberto Salvi MW-The Count of Wine, released in 2019. ‘I treasure his words. I would like to repeat about him verbatim what he said about me. The kind, genial, painstaking Professor Spurrier has acquired life-long followers from Africa to Ukraine. He called me, "his treasured friend". Steven and his gracious wife Bella are thrice treasured and beloved and will be deeply and sorely missed.’
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Man from Fratelli M/S Label
Besides the Wine Society of India, he is also known for the well-known label M/S introduced by Fratelli Wines a few years ago in a bid to improve their image of quality and diversity. Alessio Secci, a Director of Fratelli, says he first met Steven in 2009 in Akluj; 3 years later Spurrier invited him at his private club in London- Boodles London Club. He had tasted our wines and believed that Fratelli met the three Ps which for him meant Product, Property and People which in particular impressed him most about our story. We met him again in India with Kapil (Sekhri) and M/S was conceived-an idea inspired by Kapil, to put two masters together. Piero with his knowledge of Sangiovese grown in India and Steven with immense knowledge and exposure on international wines, were a perfect mix to make an international brand like M/S with deep Indian roots.
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‘He used to come to India every November and worked on blending with Piero Masi and me. Most of our discussions revolved around M/S red being a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz- Piero pushing more towards Sangiovese and Steven keen to keep Cabernet Franc in good proportion. He really kept our commercial interest in mind in the blends so that M/S could crack the international markets and we did succeed in the UK. Vintage 2019 was conceived at Piero’s home in Tuscany where Steven had visited and they tried several blends. 2020 vintage will be unfortunately the last vintage of M/S made with Steven knowing that he was left with very little time. He had asked for samples to be sent to Dorset to help him decide the final blend. He was a gentleman, humble, intelligent and a very classy English man.’
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Steven had been Chairman of the Wine Society of India for several years, from inception till it downed its shutters in February, 2016. He has been to India many times and due to his frequent writings in Decanter and collaboration on various projects, he had a huge fan following. Many people recognised his contribution to the promotion of the Indian wine industry in which he has been involved for several years.
We have sadly lost a gem in the world wine necklace. Rest- In- Peace, the gentleman of the English wine industry. We hope you will find plenty of fine wine in the world you have entered.
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