We were all deeply saddened with last week’s news of the passing of Steven Spurrier (1941-2021).
It’s hard to think of indisputable figures in the world of wine, but the English wine merchant-turned-writer/vintner managed to live up to this.
In a lifetime of numerous efforts to celebrate the wonders of winemaking and tasting, most notably the 1976 Judgment of Paris, Spurrier not only helped opening the eyes of the wine world towards the excellence that came from Napa, California and the New World – which he became best known for, even if this never was his intended legacy.
Thanks to a lifetime of love and devotion, we are remembering the history of this fantastic man, a true gentleman who globalized the love of fine wine still to this day.
As a young wine trader between London and Paris in the early years of his career, having started at legendary Christopher and Co., Spurrier worked his always through French wines, which he helped promoting at the same time he promoted foreign fine wines to the French public, such as Port, Madeira or Sherry.
In the early 1970s, while making his way as a merchant with a growing reputation, Spurrier also went into teaching, thanks to pioneering L’Academie du Vin, which remains influential to the development of new wine experts.
The tasting that unknowingly changed the wine world
The world would know Steven Spurrier for what as at first a somewhat unnoticeable effort: staging a blind tasting in Paris, 1976, which meant a face-off between Burgundy and Bordeaux’s most prestigious wines versus unknown vintages of then-obscure Napa Valley, California.
No one paid that much attention to the tasting. Even though judges included some of the world’s greatest sommeliers and wine producers of that time, the results would be obvious: back then, the United States were pretty much ignored as a winemaking country. But Spurrier, a French wine lover who was always up-to-date with fine wines of the world, let it go on.
The now legendary Judgment of Paris ended with Napa’s Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 defeating giants like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion. Meanwhile, Napa’s Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973, defeated Burgundy’s finest. He was even portrayed by the great late Alan Rickman in 2008’s Bottle Shock for this occasion (even though he always claimed the story was absurdly fictionalized).
Unknowingly, Spurrier opened up a window to the New World of wine that was still far from being duly recognized. A tradition that inspired recent efforts such as our dear Eduardo Chadwick’s international efforts to promote the world-class qualities of Chilean wines.
Well, the rest to the 1976 results is history.
Back home, Spurrier kept on strong with his winemaking love. Apart from consultancy roles, works as a journalist, six books, works as judge, awarded columns and much more, he finally set up his own winery, Bride Valley Vineyard, in Dorset.
Elegant, kind, devoted
Spurrier is not only remembered for what he did, but also for who he was.
He was always elegantly dressed, with the most polite manners that friends could describe, at the same time deemed by every fellow wine worker as kind, generous, humble and ecstatic about all things wine.
The spectacular Jancis Robinson wrote a moving eulogy:
“Even though his famous Paris tasting in 1976 was truly ground-breaking, signalling infinite possibilities for wines other than the French classics, and he was valued throughout the world as an educator, taster and writer, he wore his achievements exceptionally lightly – always more fired up by the next project than by those of the past.”
Patrick Schmitt, editor-in-chief at The Drinks Business, pointed out how, “along with Spurrier’s unmatched sartorial elegance, I will remember him for his energy, charm, warmth and enthusiasm”.
“Always generous in his comments, Spurrier was happy to speak up at events to pay homage to a wine or winemaker when others remained quiet. He was also kind to fellow members of the trade, whatever their age and position, and encouraging in his approach to other wine writers, whoever they worked for, and however basic their level of drinks knowledge. And he was outspoken, fearlessly and clearly expressing his well-informed views on a range of subjects”.
Our sincerest condolences to Spurrier’s family, and a toast to his memory and legacy.
If there’s one thing we can finish off with, we’d gladly say that, with this sublime legacy, he will always live on on the hearts and minds of his much beloved wine world.
Until next time.