Gerard Basset MW
Became an MW 1998, died 2019
Gerard Basset MW lost his battle with cancer on 16 January 2019. One of the last IMW events Gerard attended was the Bollinger Medal 30th anniversary lunch in May 2018. This was not long after his operation, but he was absolutely determined to attend. 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. Gerard was the first individual to hold the MW qualification simultaneously with the Master Sommelier and MBA Wine Business accolades. In April 2010 he won the World Sommelier Championship and received the OBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 1994 Gerard was a founding partner of the Hotel du Vin Group. During his ten years at the helm Gerard mentored and trained a generation of young sommeliers who sought out his expertise and guidance to launch their own careers. On the back of his Hotel du Vin success, Gerard opened TerraVina with his wife, Nina, in 2007, a boutique wine hotel in Hampshire. He wrote for a number of wine publications and was vice-chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards. Gerard won an array of additional awards and accolades in his career and was regularly listed in the top 100 most powerful people in the hospitality industry.
Tribute by Rod Smith MW
I cannot relay this story – certainly not in person – without welling up.
After my mother died in 2013, my father – older, ill and heartbroken – was declining. He obviously could not bear to spend Christmas (predictability destined to be his last) at home, so my brother and I decided to take him to Portsmouth, where we had grown up as a family. Christmas together and an ashes-scattering on Boxing Day. My brother Adrian’s partner Rachel is also from Portsmouth, so they stayed with her family. I booked two rooms for dad and me at TerraVina, Gérard’s hotel in the New Forest, after having explained the situation to Gérard and Nina (dad was 84, with Parkinsons, and other things). We booked Christmas lunch for the entire extended family at the hotel restaurant.
Unfortunately, as perhaps some will remember, a storm in December 2013 caused a huge power outage across a great swathe of Hampshire and the south of England. The hotel moved its food to a rented freezer on a generator. The chef offered to try to cook for everyone at his home, and transport stuff, but it was never going to work.
So, me, dad, Gérard, Nina, and the others of the hotel guests who hadn’t left, spent Christmas Eve, by candlelight, next to a log fire, eating our way through the hotel’s cold food goodies and talking. Gérard’s solution to the problem was to raid his cellar, and that he generously did.
Gérard patiently listened, with rapt attention and compassionate interest, to my dad’s endless stories of the war, the RAF, my mum, and all manner of ephemeral nonsense from a rambling, recently widowed, and sick old man, whom he had never previously met.
And this was a hotelier in the middle of a potentially disastrous commercial situation with – I imagine – a whole pile of other things that were, and should have been – playing on his mind. But no, Gérard was himself. Utterly charming in every way. Probably the greatest gentle-man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. On Christmas Day the power had not been restored, and the lack of any heating at all was just not going to work for an old man. We had to de-camp to Rachel’s family.
Not only did Gérard and Nina not charge for the magnificent evening and over-night we had had (with some exceptional wines), they refunded everything already paid and apologised – entirely unnecessarily, for something in no way their fault.
Dad passed away about eight weeks later, having repeatedly told me how wonderful his Christmas Eve had been, and how lucky I was to have Gérard as a friend, and how grateful he was to have met him.
That was Gérard Basset’s effect on others. And I feel truly privileged to have known him.
I was in Rust in Austria, when the news broke, helping run the seminar for this year’s new intake of MW students. Many tears were shed, and just as many cheers raised, to a great man.