Who was Steven Spurrier?

Steven Spurrier was a British wine merchant, educator, writer, and consultant who is best known for organizing the historic “Judgment of Paris” wine tasting in 1976. The tasting pitted top French wines against lesser-known California wines in a blind tasting, and to the surprise of many, the California wines won in both the red and white wine categories. The event helped to put California wines on the map and challenge the traditional dominance of French wines.

Spurrier was also a respected wine educator and writer, and he founded the Academie du Vin in Paris, which was one of the first wine schools in France. He was a regular contributor to various wine publications, and he authored several books on wine, including “Spurrier’s Wine Guide: A Complete Introduction to the Wines of the World”. In addition to his work in the wine industry, Spurrier was also a prominent member of the British wine trade and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2016 for his services to the wine industry.

Steven Spurrier’s Early Life

Steven Spurrier was born on October 5, 1941, in Cambridge, England. He grew up in a family with a strong interest in wine, as his grandfather was a wine merchant and his father owned a wine shop. Spurrier was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and then went on to study at the University of London, where he earned a degree in French literature.

After finishing his studies, Spurrier worked briefly in publishing before deciding to pursue a career in wine. He spent several years working for his father’s wine shop, where he gained practical experience and knowledge of the wine industry. In 1964, he moved to Paris to work for a wine merchant, and he fell in love with French wines and the French way of life. He eventually established himself as a wine merchant and consultant in Paris, and he became a well-respected figure in the French wine industry.

The Judgment of Paris

Steven Spurrier After the Judgment of Paris

The Judgement of Paris, Steven Spurrier (Image Source)

The Judgment of Paris was a wine competition organized by Steven Spurrier in 1976 that pitted French wines against California wines. The tasting was held in Paris and was intended to be a publicity stunt for Spurrier’s wine shop. However, the outcome of the competition surprised everyone and had a significant impact on the wine industry.

In the blind tasting, a panel of French judges compared top French wines, including Château Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion, against lesser-known California wines, such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena. To the shock of the French judges and the wine world, the California wines won in both the red and white wine categories.

The Judgment of Paris challenged the traditional view that French wines were the best in the world and put California wines on the map. It helped to establish the Napa Valley region as a premier wine destination and paved the way for the rise of the New World wine industry. The event was later depicted in the 2008 film “Bottle Shock”.

Steven Spurrier’s Thoughts on The Judgment of Paris

  • “The tasting was supposed to be a fun event, but it ended up changing the course of wine history.”
  • “The tasting was a moment of serendipity, when everything came together in a way that no one could have predicted.”
  • “The Judgment of Paris was not about French wine versus Californian wine. It was about blind tasting and recognizing the quality of the wines based on their own merits.”
  • “The results of the tasting were a wake-up call for the French wine industry, and it forced them to reassess their approach to winemaking.”
  • “The Judgment of Paris gave a boost to the American wine industry, which was just starting to gain recognition on the international stage.”
  • “The tasting helped to break down the barriers between the Old World and the New World, and it paved the way for a more diverse and dynamic wine industry.”

Steven Spurrier After the Judgment of Paris

After the Judgment of Paris, Steven Spurrier continued to work in the wine industry as a consultant, educator, and writer. He became a vocal advocate for the improvement of English wines, serving as a judge for several English wine competitions and helping to establish the English Wine Centre in Alfriston, East Sussex.

Spurrier also played a significant role in promoting wines from around the world, particularly those from emerging wine regions like South Africa, Australia, and Chile. He founded the Wine Society of India in 2007 and was a mentor to many young winemakers around the world.

In 1988, Spurrier started his own wine school in Paris, l’Ecole du Vin, which offered courses for wine enthusiasts and professionals. He also wrote several books on wine, including “Steven Spurrier’s Wine Tasting: Teach Yourself”, which is considered a classic in the field.

Spurrier passed away on March 9, 2021, at the age of 79, leaving behind a lasting legacy as a champion of the global wine industry and a pioneer of blind wine tasting.

Steven Spurrier After the Judgment of Paris

After the Judgment of Paris, Steven Spurrier continued to work in the wine industry as a consultant, educator, and writer. He became a vocal advocate for the improvement of English wines, serving as a judge for several English wine competitions and helping to establish the English Wine Centre in Alfriston, East Sussex.

Spurrier also played a significant role in promoting wines from around the world, particularly those from emerging wine regions like South Africa, Australia, and Chile. He founded the Wine Society of India in 2007 and was a mentor to many young winemakers around the world.

In 1988, Spurrier started his own wine school in Paris, l’Ecole du Vin, which offered courses for wine enthusiasts and professionals. He also wrote several books on wine, including “Steven Spurrier’s Wine Tasting: Teach Yourself”, which is considered a classic in the field.

Spurrier passed away on March 9, 2021, at the age of 79, leaving behind a lasting legacy as a champion of the global wine industry and a pioneer of blind wine tasting.

Steven Spurrier’s Relationships

Steven Spurrier, at home in his cellar.

Litton Cheney, August 2020.(Image Source)

Steven Spurrier was married to Bella, a wine merchant whom he met in Paris in the 1970s. The couple had two children together, Kate and Christian.

Steven Spurrier was known not just for his professional relationships but also for his deep personal connections with the winemakers and vineyard owners he mentored and advised throughout his career. Many of these individuals considered him a close friend and confidant, and Spurrier was known for his generosity and willingness to share his knowledge and expertise with others.

One of Spurrier’s most notable protégés was Rajat Parr, a sommelier and winemaker who worked closely with Spurrier during his time as wine director for Michael Mina’s restaurants in San Francisco. Parr credits Spurrier with introducing him to the world of fine wine and teaching him the importance of terroir and vineyard management.

Another close associate of Spurrier’s was David Pearson, the former head of wine at Christie’s auction house. Pearson met Spurrier when he was just starting out in the wine industry and credits him with providing invaluable guidance and mentorship throughout his career.

Beyond his professional relationships, Spurrier was widely admired and respected for his wit, charm, and infectious passion for wine. He was known for his ability to connect with people from all walks of life and his deep curiosity about the world around him.

After Spurrier’s passing in 2021, many of his colleagues and admirers paid tribute to his contributions to the wine industry and his enduring legacy as a pioneer of blind wine tasting. He will be remembered as a trailblazer and innovator whose influence will be felt for many years to come.

Controversies

Steven Spurrier was generally well-respected and admired within the wine industry, but like any public figure, he was not without his share of controversies.

One of the most notable controversies involving Spurrier came in 2017 when he was accused of being involved in a fraud scheme involving a wine investment fund called The French Cellar. Spurrier was a board member of the fund and was accused of failing to properly disclose conflicts of interest related to his involvement in the wine industry. However, Spurrier denied any wrongdoing, and the case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Another controversy involving Spurrier came in 2020 when he was criticized for comments he made about female sommeliers during an interview with the magazine SevenFifty Daily. In the interview, Spurrier was asked about the lack of diversity within the wine industry, and he suggested that women who aspire to become sommeliers should “behave like men” in order to succeed. Many women within the wine industry found Spurrier’s comments to be tone-deaf and insensitive, and he faced criticism for perpetuating gender stereotypes and promoting a culture of exclusion.

Despite these controversies, Spurrier remained a respected figure within the wine industry, and his contributions to blind wine tasting and the promotion of new and innovative winemakers will be remembered for years to come.

Bottle Shock the Movie

Steven Spurrier was portrayed in the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock,” which depicted the events leading up to the Judgment of Paris tasting. While the film was well-received by audiences and critics, Spurrier himself had mixed feelings about it.

In an interview with Decanter magazine in 2008, Spurrier said that while he enjoyed the film, he felt that his character was portrayed as too much of a villain. He also expressed disappointment that the film did not accurately depict the other judges who participated in the tasting, some of whom were highly respected and influential within the wine industry.

Despite these criticisms, Spurrier acknowledged that the film had helped to bring more attention to the Judgment of Paris and the impact it had on the wine industry. He also praised Alan Rickman’s portrayal of him in the film, saying that Rickman had captured his “English reserve” and understated demeanor.

Writings

Steven Spurrier was a prolific wine writer who authored several books on wine and wine tasting. Some of his notable works include:

  1. “Steven Spurrier’s Wine Tasting: Teach Yourself” – A comprehensive guide to wine tasting and appreciation, which is considered a classic in the field.
  2. “Académie du Vin Guide to French Wines” – A guidebook to French wines, which Spurrier co-authored with Michael Broadbent.
  3. “The Wines of France: The Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers” – A consumer guide to French wines, which provides advice on how to select and purchase the best French wines.
  4. “The Vintage Wine Book” – A guide to vintage wines and their aging potential, which features detailed descriptions of notable vintages from around the world.

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In addition to his books, Spurrier also wrote articles for various wine publications, including Decanter and Wine Spectator, and was a frequent guest speaker at wine events and festivals around the world.

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: August 24, 2023Last Updated: February 29, 2024

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