Today I experienced a full-circle moment in my wine journey, thanks to a lovely literary festival by UK Ways with Words, an alluring speaker and the mystery man who introduced her in Southwold, Suffolk.
USA — Nascent Interest
I’m no wine expert, just an interested consumer. Prior to moving from the USA to Australia in 1995, my interest in wine was in the ‘developing’ stage.
In the early 1980s, Gary, my late husband, and I toured the Napa Valley. This was my first vineyard-visiting, wine-tasting experience. We loved the wines by Clos du Val and duly signed up for their newsletter and regular wine club deliveries. This was before our son was born, and we felt quite privileged to receive and try their different wines.
Somewhere around that time, after reading his regular wine columns in the New York Times, I bought Terry Robards’ New Book of Wine, The Ultimate Guide to Wines Throughout the World. This became my go-to book for wine-related questions and learning.
In the early 1990s, I bought another wine book, Puligny-Montrachet: Journal of a Village in Burgundy. I believe this was discovered via a stellar critique in the NY Times Book Review; in any case, this mosaic of history, culture and expertise about one of the world’s greatest wine-producing areas encapsulated much that I love: travel, culture, history, wine knowledge and all with in-depth observations about France.
When we moved to Sydney in 1995, for what was meant to be a two-year international assignment for my job, I took only a small number of favourite books and stored the rest in our Connecticut attic. The two above-mentioned wine books travelled with me Down Under.
Australia — Wine-lover’s Heaven and Wine-reading James Halliday
My Aussie work colleagues introduced me to the extremes of Australian wine: at one end, Grange Hermitage; at the other, always-reliable, value-for-money Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay.
My Australian boss once made a perfect observation that Aussie winemakers horrified the French (and other) traditionalists by their openness and willingness to experiment, try new methods and blend different varietals in development of ‘new world’ wines.
During my time Down Under, I also discovered Aussie wine writer James Halliday, whom I recommend unreservedly as one of the world’s greatest wine writers and my absolute trusted, go-to source for up to date, interesting and insightful information about anything and everything to do with Australian (and New Zealand) wines.
Clive and I met James Halliday once, at a book-signing at Dymocks on George Street, Sydney. I had purchased two copies of his annual wine guide – one for us and one for my son – and an extra copy of his ‘Varietal Wines’ (which I still refer to regularly) for my son, who was now based in the U.S. and developing his own interest in wine.
A small highlight, which I’ll always remember, is that Halliday looked at me approvingly when I held out his ‘Varietal Wines’ for signature. He said something along the lines of, ‘I think this is one of my better books, though most people don’t buy it.’
I’m afraid my ego puffed up enormously as I fancied myself quite the discerning wine person or at least wine book-buyer. My little wine library expanded Down Under as Terry Robards’ reference book and the lovely portrait of Puligny-Montrachet were joined by Halliday’s writing about the wines of Australia.
UK and Europe – So Much to Learn
When Clive and I undertook our new adventure to move to the UK, I asked a wine-knowledgeable friend (that’s you, Peter N!) for recommendations on the best wine writers for the UK and Europe.
‘Jancis Robinson,’ he said, without hesitation. I began following her on Twitter and reading her online articles. In a recent memoir by James Halliday, he said Jancis Robinson is the best wine writer in the world. I looked at her ‘Oxford Companion to Wine’ on amazon multiple times but hesitated to buy it because it’s such a large reference book and I wanted to physically handle it first.
Which brings me to today.
Wine and Ways with Words – and Jancis Robinson — in Suffolk
When we saw that Jancis Robinson would speak at this year’s Ways with Words literary festival in Southwold, we immediately bought tickets.
If you ever have a chance to hear Jancis Robinson speak in person, I highly recommend attending – she’s erudite, amusing and a wonderful speaker.
This afternoon, Jancis was introduced and her talk facilitated by a man named Simon – he didn’t give his surname, though many in the audience seemed to know who he was. He and Jancis traded many knowledgeable and affectionate comments about the wine trade, wine history, the accelerating pace of change in today’s global wine industry and their shared love and appreciation of a life around wine.
Following the talk, I finally purchased Robinson’s (newly-released 4th Edition) Oxford Companion to Wine, which to my delight she autographed ‘To Carolyn, a companion in wine.’
When we arrived home, I told Clive I was curious about the man who introduced her. A quick Internet search revealed he is Simon Loftus, well-known in Southwold and Suffolk for his longstanding leadership (he was for some years Chairman of Adnams Brewery), a wine trader and writer on wine and travel, and author of several books — including Puligny-Montrachet: Journal of a Village in Burgundy.
It felt like one of those serendipitous events that sometimes happens in life. If only I’d taken my copy with me today. I could have asked its author to autograph it for me – this wonderful book I discovered in the USA; loved enough to take with me to Australia; again kept with me when we moved to the UK; and then found myself sitting a few feet from its author in a church hall in the county I now call home.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll run into Mr Loftus again in Southwold, and if we do, I’ll tell him this story and ask him to sign the book, 25 years after I bought it.
Thanks, Jancis Robinson and Simon Loftus, for today’s most enjoyable wine talk and especially for your lasting wine writing.
Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.