FINE WINE Wine and Food Diary of Giles MacDonogh

“Steven Spurrier as I knew him” a tribute by Giles MacDonogh

Written by Giles MacDonogh

“Steven Spurrier as I knew him” a tribute by Giles MacDonogh

“That multi-faceted man of wine, Steven Spurrier died on 9 March, six months short of his eightieth birthday. He was a good age, but his death nonetheless delivered a tremendous shock.  For someone who had not seen him since the start of the pandemic, the image I had of him was still the elegant man about town, often riding a bicycle, always impeccably dressed, and showing little or no sign of decrepitude. In fact, we learned he had been suffering from cancer for some time, and for many months he had known that it was terminal. He died as he would have wished it, surrounded by his wife of more than half a century, Bella, his children, and grandchildren.”

Steven was a wine merchant, wine teacher, wine writer, wine taster, winemaker, and wine publisher. In short, there was very little to do with wine he hadn’t done and done with notable aplomb. I had known Steven for forty-one years. I must have met him through Mark Williamson, whose highly successful Willi’s Wine Bar opened in Paris in 1980.  Mark was a Spurrier ‘Old Boy’, who had worked in Steven’s Paris wine shop, La Cave de la Madeleine before launching his own business. In the seventies and eighties, the city was full of Spurrier’s trainees, and many of these went on to become hugely important members of the British wine trade, ten or twenty years later.  Spurrier’s other outlet was his  Académie du Vin, which gave courses on wine and wine appreciation. Some of the tutors also became famous in French wine writing circles, men like Michel Bettane and Michel Dovaz, while Joel Payne, a former aid worker in Africa who followed courses at the Academy, established himself across the Rhine and became one of the most important voices on German wine.

Photo of Steven Spurrier taken for his book “A Life in Wine ” published by Amazon

“Spurrier himself wasn’t easy to get to know well. I must have glimpsed him first out with his wife pushing a baby in a pram. He had a slight stammer that became more acute when he was flustered. I suspected it was a defence mechanism, designed to make it hard to penetrate his shell. With time he let his guard slip and I was able to enjoy an occasionally wicked sense of humour. Steven’s background was pretty old school. “

He was born to a family of industrialists in Cambridge on 5 October 1941 and like Tom Brown, he went to school at Rugby. This was followed by the LSE. It is ironic perhaps that he chose to study economics, as he was by his own admission very good at losing money. He joined Christopher’s in 1964, an up-market wine merchant largely staffed by Old Etonians. He was paid £10 a week supplemented by a monthly allowance of £60 – enough to make him a lad about town in the Swinging Sixties. Early photographs show him as just that: Beatle hair-cut, droopy moustache, and bell-bottoms.

About the author

Giles MacDonogh

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