Steven Spurrier is a legendary figure in the international world of wine: an author, educator, consultant, wine merchant, and recently, vintner whose sparkling wine, Brides Valley, helped establish the early (and exciting) sparkling wine industry in southern England. Spurrier is perhaps best known for having co-created the tasting between top wines from California and France in May 1976, subsequently referred to as The Judgement of Paris. A graduate of the London School of Economics, Spurrier is the author of eight books on wine of which two: L’Academie du Vin Wine Course and L’Academie du Vin Guide to French Wines have been translated into several languages. His memoir, A Life in Wine, was recently published by the l’Academie du Vin Library. Spurrier has also written more than 300 columns for Decanter magazine which he joined in 1993. Over the course of his career he has received many awards including the “Ritz Carlton Millenia Lifetime Achievement Award,” the “Le Grand Prix de l’Academie Internationale du Vin” award and also “The Andre Tchelistcheff Maestro Award” from California. In 2017 he was made Decanter Magazine “Man of the Year.”
Learn more about Steven by reading the written interview below:
Karen MacNeil: You have always said that art is one of your great passions—perhaps even somewhat more than wine. Is wine a form of art in your opinion?
Steven Spurrier: Of course good wine is an art form, as terroir and taste cannot exist without human intervention. It is both a product of nature, and of man, along many steps of the way. A reason I put art as high or higher than wine is because each work of art should be unique and wine can be produced in small or even large identical volumes. The signature of the place and the maker should be present in both. I look at my art all the time while I can look forward to my wine but only experience it on opening.
KM: What do you find is the best thing about the wine business today? The worst?
SS: The best thing are the people. The worst thing is wine made to IMPRESS rather than to EXPRESS.
KM: What wine books (other than your own) on your shelf to you take down most frequently?
SS: Almost always old ones with stories about wine and people. I have just finished rereading Hugh Johnson’s The Story of Wine which the l’Academie du Vin Library was proud to republish. An intellectual tour de force and a real STORY.
KM: How many wines do you imagine you have tasted in your lifetime?
SS: Quite impossible to assess. Could vary between 10 and 500 per week. At 5000 a year it would be 300,000!
“Of course good wine is an art form, as terroir and taste cannot exist without human intervention. It is both a product of nature, and of man, along many steps of the way.”
KM: Had you not grown up in England and started in the wine trade, what country would you have liked to have lived in and what would you have been?
SS: I grew up in privileged comfort in Derbyshire in the middle of the English countryside where I was bored stiff from the age of 13 or so. I then escaped to London at 18 to join the London School of Economics and grow up in 1960s London. I can’t imagine having a different upbringing as it gave me both confidence and freedom to lead my own path.
KM: Whenever people talk about their experiences with you, they unfailingly mention your style and graciousness. (American women find you charming. And of course, American men always want to know where you get your suits made). This is an unusual question, but did you always possess such style?
SS: My style is modelled on my father, a very handsome man of great charm. He liked to be liked by his peers, so always made an effort to be polite and gracious, which makes the wheels go round. As for the way I dress and so on, vanity was more me than him.
KM: What person, living or dead, would you most want to drink wine with?
SS: My elder brother Nicky, who died in late 2019 aged 80. He lived the last half of his life at the family home, Marston Hall, and was Warden of the local church in an unbroken line of male Spurriers since the 1630s. I respected his seniority and envied his security, while he admired my doings and independence.
KM: Recall the biggest and best mistake you ever made and what you learned from it.
SS: Going to live in New York City in 1981-2 to launch a branch of l’Academie du Vin. If I learned anything it was not to trust flattery.
KM: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
SS: The creation of l’Academie du Vin, in Paris in late 1972. Everything really came from that and still does.