RIP Steven Spurrier: Losing a Gentleman of the Wine World

This morning the Academie du Vin Library issued a press release announcing the death of an icon in the wine world:

Steven Spurrier died, earlier today. He was at home, at Bride Valley, surrounded by family. Steven was a pioneer in wine – a visionary who never lost his passion for new projects, new discoveries and the world of wine. He will always be remembered for founding the Académie du Vin, the celebrated Judgement of Paris and in recent years, the Académie du Vin Library and, together with his wife Bella, the Bride Valley Vineyard in Dorset, England – as well as much else besides. He was also a hugely loved husband, father and grandfather. He will be sorely missed, not just by his immediate family and friends, but by people right across the world of wine. His enthusiasm and love of wine will live on through Bride Valley, the Académie du Vin Library, the relaunched Académie du Vin in Canada and through the work of the many wine makers, wine writers and wine educators he championed.

A memorial will be organised in due course.

Spurrier was, in reputation, a towering figure in the world of wine, most famous for his organization of the famous Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976. But Spurrier was a fantastic and prolific writer as well as advocate for the world of wine.

He was also a consummate gentleman. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and spending a few brief moments chatting several times, both at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers as well as at various other functions. The last time we talked, he was standing (rather alone and surprisingly unmolested by wine lovers) behind a table at the Naples Winter Wine Auction, pouring his Bride Valley sparkling wines for anyone who wanted a taste. With no one else clamoring for his attention, I took the opportunity to enjoy hearing a writer deeply passionate about wine talk about his latest chapter in life as a winemaker.

Spurrier was energetic, humble, and wonderfully gracious in that interaction, as he was in every encounter I’ve had with him or witnessed with others in the past decade or so that our paths have crossed.

At that same Florida auction, I attended a seminar and tasting revisiting the 1976 Paris Tasting, in which Spurrier talked about how the tasting came about, and in which he shared remembrances with journalist George Taber and winemaker Bo Barrett, who were also in attendance.

If you’re interested in an in-depth recounting of Spurrier’s career and the Paris Tasting, I encourage you to listen to Levi Dalton’s fantastic interview with him on I’ll Drink to That!

Adam Lechmere interviewed Spurrier recently for Club Oenologique magazine, and Karen MacNeil interviewed him on Zoom just last week. Both are worth a look.

I’m sad to see the wine world lose one of its greatest boosters, but it certainly seems like Spurrier lived his life well, and the mountain of accomplishments he leaves behind speak for themselves.

But perhaps just as much as those accomplishments, the nature of the man himself seems to have made an impression on so many.

Perhaps it’s close to irrelevant, but it makes a point for me: in none of the tributes or obituaries that are pouring forth does anyone mention that Spurrier stuttered.

It was a mild stutter, to be sure, seemingly controlled with ease by reading from prepared remarks. But it was unmistakable in conversation, and yet no one mentions it. I like to think this is less about politeness and more about the fact that Spurrier’s spirit and energy so utterly transcended this (presumably not inconsiderable) challenge in his life, that it simply doesn’t bear any more mention than the color of his hair. I don’t think that would have been true for just anyone.

Of course, many others in the wine world knew Stephen very well indeed, and their remembrances will doubtless be emerging today and later this week. It is clear that he will be sorely missed by those who knew him best.

Here are some of the tributes to Spurrier that are worth reading:

Jancis Robinson remembers her dear friend and a man she says was “the opposite of a prima donna.”

The folks at Decanter, for whom Spurrier wrote for decades offered this remembrance.

Some lovely thoughts from Christina Rasmussen

Esther Mobley offers an obituary.

Oliver Styles pens an admirable personal remembrance.

Adam Lechmere has written perhaps the most in-depth and nuanced obituary.

Eric Asimov pens the official New York Times obituary.

Karen MacNeil offers some memories in her newsletter.

Dave McIntyre shares his memories.

On Vinous, remembrances from Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni.

I’ll add more as they are published.