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60 years a Master of Wine

At the Annual Award Ceremony in November, as well as welcoming the 18 new Masters of Wine, the Institute honoured three Members who passed the MW examination in 1957. Colin Anderson MW, John Clevely MW and Vincent Larvan MW have now been Masters of Wine for a glorious 60 years (see Vintage Masters of Wine news release). Here, Colin reflects on his time in the wine trade and his 60 years as a Master of Wine.

I’m lucky to have been in the Wine Trade at a time when the whole show has moved from being a tiny, old-fashioned, local, niche market to the enormous worldwide drinks industry of today.

Starting work soon after the second world war, when the infant wine trade was just getting back on its feet, those were the days of Commonwealth Preference customs duty, VP British wine, Cyprus Sherry and South African Port. While the British wines provided alcohol, the commonwealth blends competed well in quality. The South Africans made fortified wines that knocked spots off many wines from Jerez and Oporto. It was the wild West. Then the first Trade Descriptions Act came in 1968 and things calmed down.

The Duty rates encouraged bulk handling, and labelling regulations were still open to wide interpretation. Luckily, we were at the quality end of the market. I remember doing the last bottling in the UK of first growth Claret – Ch. Margaux 1955. The Chateau supplied the labels. Such was their confidence that we could handle their wine carefully and correctly.

The 1960s and early 1970s saw the emergence of New World wines, and suddenly even more people were drinking wine. The developing interest in wine encouraged the big breweries to develop the wine side of their business, and the era of trade takeovers began. Small local wine businesses were taken over as valuable additions to the regional breweries and they, in turn, amalgamated to become national. Follow the money. The big brewers became wine merchants. Gradually, with the help of big wine brands, the public awoke to wine as a social experience, and sales shot up again.

In the space of ten years I got taken over, with the stock, four times. From small local, to regional and then national. I never applied for another job, they just came to me because, luckily, I was in the right place at the right time. And, perhaps, because people thought that the letters MW meant that I knew what I was talking about.

The developing clamour to be heard, from growers, traders and wine critics, grows louder and louder. At the same time the range of good wines on the UK market becomes wider and wider.

I watch with interest the development of small specialist wine merchants, and wonder whether the wheel will turn full circle.

What goes around comes around, and I also wonder about Customs duties and Commonwealth Preference post Brexit. Could the wonderful wines of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia be looking at an even brighter future in the UK at the same time as the Institute is spreading its wings worldwide? Things look promising.

Colin Anderson MW