To subscribe to The Times go to https://help.shreveporttimes.com/subscription-services
This column, last week, went online about the time that Steven Spurrier of Bride Valley Vineyard in Dorset England passed away at home.
Spurrier, whom I often wrote about, along with Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, and
Master Sommelier Fred Dame, led the tasting trade into a profession. This writer never met Spurrier, however, Robinson described the 79-year-old as one infected with “youthful enthusiasm.”
He was the main character in Bottle Shock, the 2008 movie about the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting, that put California and Napa Valley wines on a stable footing with the best of Bordeaux. Well played by Alan Rickman, the movie was a modest production that did not gross its $5 million production cost.
However, it has remained relevant, though having read the book by George Taber, there was some poetic license taken in the filmic version.
He played himself in several other productions, including 2018’s Somm III, also with both Robinson and Dame. The main theme of the movie was for the three, all great legends in wine, to meet and drink the rarest bottles of their careers; Spurrier picked a 1908 Cockburn’s, Port, tasted when he was 13 years old, with his grandfather in 1954.
Raised in Derbyshire, his was a privileged upbringing; he attended the London School of Economics.
His accomplishments in wine were many. In Paris, he had a wine shop and a wine school, his long-term successes were scarce, he had spent much of his inheritance within the early years. He later tried to work within the rules of the three-tier wine system in the United States, but did not fare well.
He returned to Britain in the early 1990s, working as a wine expert at Harrods Department Store, but did not get along well with owner, Mohammed al-Fayed, a name that we will later learn to associate with another event.
He later formed the Italian Académie du Vin, and another in India, both failed.
However, his Académie du Vin in Tokyo still apparently lives on. He was a longtime columnist For Decanter Magazine, where he helped found their World Wine Awards.
In 2008, he and his wife Bella planted a vineyard on a hillside facing his home in Dorset. They called it Bride Valley, with modest success at first, and it has grown into a respected sparkling wine producer, as the region has transitioned with climate change into an extension of northern France.
His memoirs are in a recent book called “A Life in Wine.” As a wine merchant, educator, and critic, he had a varied career in the always-changing wine industry. He was an
ambassador for the world’s wines. He was excited about teaching wine to all nationalities, creeds, and colors. He lacked that certain snobbery of a French wine expert, and his British accent belied his lack of arrogance.
At the wine tasting in 1976, the wines were blind, meaning they were in unmarked bottles. The tasters were all French experts, vested in declaring the French wines best.
The Time magazine reporter that covered the event, George Taber, had a list of the wines, and noticed the confusion of the judges immediately. They presumed the better wines were French, and that was not the case.
An important taster, Oddette Kahn, editor of a prestigious French wine magazine, had
put California wines at the top of both her white and red wine scorecards. With the outcome known, she demanded to have all of the cards returned to the judges. That of course fell on the deaf ears of Spurrier.
The tasting, on its 30th anniversary, replayed in London; the outcome was the same, and the French press cried foul again. Oddly, Spurrier was a lifelong fan of Bordeaux, and he always felt those wines were superior!
In 2016, the Congress of the United States presented Spurrier with an award signifying the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris as an event of significance, that found the English citizen presented with a flag that had flown over the Capitol, an event of
which he was very proud.
Esther Mobley, a California journalist, eulogized him as an unlikely champion for California wines at the time, but he was probably at the helm of the turning point for California wines. This, of course, led to development of wines in other states, like Oregon, Washington, and even Texas.
His fateful travels to Napa, accelerated the recognition of brands like Château Montelena Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. He was Decanter Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2017.
The reaction to the tasting caused French winemakers like Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Joseph Drouhin, to invest in California and Oregon vineyards. The former joint ventured with Robert Mondavi, Napa to create a Bordeaux style blend, Opus One.
Stay healthy, and Cheers.
You can reach Robert Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read or Share this story: https://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/life/columnists/2021/03/16/robert-russell-what-you-should-know-steven-spurrier/4708184001/