The Legacy of Steven Spurrier
*Photo courtesy of winespectator.com.
Few people are known for having deeply influenced their respective field. Michael Jordan played Baseball and possibly a little Basketball on the side. Macaulay Culkin launched the home improvement revolution. There are not too many few good men in Hollywood, but Jack Nicholson as an actor, is as good as it gets.
British wine expert Steven Spurrier, pictured here in 1975, loved food and wine. As we say in France he was “un bon vivant”. A wine expert like many others but you may not have even heard his name before.
Spurrier is single-handedly responsible for putting California on the World wine map. He hosted the Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting of Californian and French wines. Very little attention was given to wine outside the Old Europe before this day of May 24th, 1976.
This Englishman had set up a blind tasting of twenty wines, ten whites and ten reds. Nine French judges, top names in the French wine and food business, were invited to participate. Mainly centered on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it was perceived as hardly a fair fight to compare Bordeaux or Burgundy to Napa Valley or other parts of California.
The judges were convinced that California wines were inferior. Even after countless recounts, the shocking and almost unanimous results revealed that the 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Cellars, both in Napa Valley, won the contest. His friend, George Taber of Time magazine was the only journalist to witness the event. His article Judgment of Paris gave the California wine industry a much-needed boost, lending its vintners international credibility at a time when they were searching for critical approval and public acceptance. Marketers used the tasting to sell California wines all over the world.
Bottle Shock, with Alan Rickman playing Steven Spurrier, was a great underdog story, one of the David vs. Goliath stories in the wine business.
Most recently the director of the Somm series, a trilogy of documentaries available on Amazon Prime Video about sommeliers, made a documentary about the 1976 tasting, The Judgment of Paris, which is to be released this summer. Spurrier went on to triumphs and fails launching businesses such as the school L’Académie du Vin, two wine bars, Bistrot à Vin and the Blue Fox, as well as a restaurant, Moulin du Village.
He moved back to London in the late eighties with his wife, Bella, and their two children, looking for to revive his career. He was giving talks on wine and advised airlines on what to serve passengers. He wrote a series of educational wine books and began a long association with Decanter, a British consumer magazine, writing columns and leading tastings.
In 1987, the Spurriers bought a farm in Dorset, near the south coast of England, and he decided that the chalk soil, like what can be found in Champagne and Chablis, was a perfect place for vines.
His latest contribution was to help shed light on the potential of wine growing in England. In 2009, they planted almost fifty acres in the southern England Bride Valley and had its first release in 2014.
While wine had been Spurrier’s professional life, art was his passion. He built a sculpture garden in Dorset and filled his home with his favorite pieces: “Art means more to me emotionally than wine, there’s no contest.”
At the age of 79 years old, Steven Spurrier died on March 9th at his home in Dorset, England. He came up with the idea of showing off our terroirs and their attributes thru his now famous blind tasting. The truth is always in the glass. Cheers to Steven!!!