A Tribute to Gerard Basset OBE

by blog on January 17, 2019

Gerard Basset (Photo credit: gerardbasset.com)

From Gerrard’s website:

Gerard Basset, one of the world’s greatest wine professionals, passed away yesterday morning surrounded by his family. He had fought a brave battle against cancer of the oesophagus since 2017.

Gerard was the first and remains the only individual to have held the excruciatingly challenging Master of Wine qualification simultaneously with the Master Sommelier, MBA Wine Business and MSc from the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. The crowning glory of his career came in April 2010 when he won the World Sommelier Championship, cementing his extraordinary domination of the industry. This was further augmented on receiving the OBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to hospitality.

His geniality and elegant interaction, with customers and staff alike, was a joy to behold, and made you feel good about hospitality.

Born and raised in France, Gerard originally trained as a chef, but embarked on a career as a sommelier when he moved to the UK in the 1980s. It was not long before his prodigious talent came to the attention of the wine trade with award wins for the UK Sommelier of the Year, Best International Sommelier for French Wines and Best Sommelier of Europe in quick succession. 

Parallel to his competition success was a growing business empire including Hotel du Vin, of which he was a founding partner, and TerraVina, which more recently became Spot in the Woods as the business was adapted to his state of health and desire to be at home in the New Forest. He will perhaps be best remembered for mentoring and training a generation of young sommeliers who sought out his expertise and guidance to launch their careers.

And in our Sir Wregg’s words:

His awards were legion. Gerard was appointed OBE in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to the hospitality industry, and selected as the Decanter 2013 Man of the Year. He served as President of the Court of Master Sommeliers (Europe) and in 2014 was appointed Honorary President of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust which he held for three years.

Professionally, he was one of the most courteous and humble people in the wine trade.

I met Gerard on several occasions. Often, he was bashfully collecting some prestigious wine award. Professionally, he was one of the most courteous and humble people in the wine trade. He was more interested in your point of view than projecting his opinions (or displaying his evident knowledge), and, as one someone who was forever learning, would ask you loads of questions and listen intently to your answers.

He was the master judge on various Decanter World Wine Award panels and despaired of my rigorous dislike of bland mediocrity. He was one to see the good in wines as well as the good in people. Eventually, after a day on various panels, wherein we had awarded the odd grudging bronze (in sharp distinction to the hunks of gold bandied around elsewhere) we found a wine that would surely bring a smile to his face. I put my hand up to attract his attention:

“Gerard! Finally, we have a prospective gold for you.”

Gerard came over to our table and sniffed the wine in question.

“Too oaky, too extracted, too obvious. No gold!”

In the trade, Gerard inspired great devotion, and trained a generation of brilliant sommeliers at Hotel du Vin and Terravina, all of whom have gone on to make their profound marks on the UK wine scene, and would all give due credit to him for their success. He invited me once to do a natural wine dinner at Terravina and I had the opportunity to see the great man in action. His geniality and elegant interaction, with customers and staff alike, was a joy to behold, and made you feel good about hospitality.

He was one to see the good in wines as well as the good in people.

He is survived by his wife, Nina and his legacy to the wine trade will live on and on. He was – and is – much loved.

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