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Denis Williams MW

Denis Williams MW

Became an MW 1958, died 16 February 2021

Denis Williams MW died on 16 February 2021 at the age of 93. He became a Master of Wine in 1958 and celebrated his 60 years as a member in 2018.

Brought up teetotal, and after a somewhat chaotic education during the war, Denis joined the London House of Sichel in 1948 as a trainee.

The family company had offices in Mainz and in Bordeaux and he spent a year in each learning the basics of winemaking and wine handling. Sichel specialised in the wines of Germany and France and it had, hidden in its large portfolio, a brand name, Blue Nun, which was used for a light Rhine wine of a reasonable quality.

After the war palates were gasping for fruit and a touch of sweetness, and so this proved a huge success across the world – as many people’s first introduction to wine. The company developed from small beginnings, and Denis’s career progressed from wine-handling to joining the board, and ultimately becoming the MD.

He served for some years on the IMW practical panel and then took over the running of the exam. In those days he was able to field first-growths without bankrupting the IMW. He was chairman of the IMW in 1962 and served on the then Wine Development Board and as chairman of the Rhine & Moselle Wine Shippers’ Committee.

Tribute from Denis’s eldest daughter, Susan Williams

My father, Denis Williams, who has died aged 93, was a German wine expert and enthusiast who firmly believed in drinking what you enjoy, eschewing the snobbery that can be associated with wine.

Denis and his sister Gwyneth were born in Valparaiso, Chile. Their father David, left the North Wales family sheep farm to travel to Chile in 1905, finding employment as a product broker in agriculture and minerals, his wife Azile (nee Shipton) arriving in 1916 to replace young men at a British bank called to fight in France.

Following the financial crash in 1929 the family returned to North Wales initially, before settling in London. In 1939 Denis had just started Grammar School but was evacuated to North Wales where he attended LLanwrst Grammar School, and learnt Welsh. His father died in 1941 and Denis insisted on returning to London, completing his education at the North London Emergency School for Boys. In 1945 he was called up but simultaneously offered a place at Cambridge. In the end he enlisted in the Army Intelligence Corps based in Hamburg, using Welsh in signals to confuse the Russians.

Denis returned for career advice to his economics teacher who introduced him to banking, which he hated, then to Walter Sichel, Wine Merchant. Following training in German vineyards and Bordeaux, he started in sales with H Sichel & Sons Limited, travelling across southern England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland where he made many lifelong friends.

He qualified as the then youngest Master of Wine in 1958, later becoming an examiner. He was promoted to Managing Director of H Sichel & Sons Limited in the mid-70s, retiring after 46 years in 1992.

Denis loved retirement; time with his family, battling bureaucracy to build a community hall for St Marys Church, Riverhead, editing the parish magazine and taking his beloved dogs for walks. A lifelong European, he was heartbroken at Brexit. Always keen on blind tastings, we never left without a couple of bottles.

Denis married twice. Firstly to Kay with whom he had two children, myself Susan and David. He then married Diane Seldon (nee Gardner) in 1974 with whom he had three daughters, Laura, Elisabeth and Harriet. He is survived by Diane, his five children and eight grandchildren.