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Martin Bamford MW

Martin Bamford MW

Became an MW 1969, died 1982

I met Martin as soon as he joined IDV from Harveys.  I had just started as head of new product development, and when he heard this he at once came up with a tale from his days in Bristol.  Learning cellar work at the hands of an ancient Bristolian, he remarked how conservative the drinks trade had always been.  “Mark my words, young Master Bamford, the most powerful force in our business is inertia!”  While I went on to break the bounds of inertia, Martin made it his mission to improve and perfect the finest traditions of the trade.

In so doing, he also carved out an enviable way of life in the company, exploiting the surprisingly relaxed financial and management constraints of those days (CF. the modus vivendi in today’s Diageo!).  He rapidly escaped the limitations of London and, sponsored and protected by Geoffrey Hallowes (a genuine old-school vintner), found his niche in lovely Chateau Loudenne, where he set about transforming the place and the wine almost, as far as I could tell, without financial limits.

I justified some of the expenditure by using the chateau as a think-tank for my team; developing the idea and the technicity of for instance le Piat d’Or (much abused by the traditionalists, but for a good while France’s biggest export brand).  Martin’s skill at handling sometimes tetchy technical men was vital in getting this stuff through them and the French authorities, since it necessitated altering the rules of wine production regarding storage of unfermented must to put back in dry wine before bottling, just like they have always done in Germany.

 We were horribly spoiled in our labours.  One night we were only three, including my wife Penelope.  Before dinner, Martin and I went across the meadow to the caveau privé, where lay, among many other treasures, a lot of Margaux 1875, apparently bottled at Loudenne and never touched since; not even recorked; such was the neglect into which this wonderful place had fallen throughout most of the 20th century.

Not surprisingly, many bottles were at low shoulder level, so Martin threw them on the cellar floor- more than a few.  Having found one to his liking, he decanted it and we walked back with it to the chateau across the field full of cowslips.

He had, I believe, a bet with Manual Zarraluqui, another Harveys immigrant, on which of them would first have a chauffeur.  Martin won, hands down.  He sturdily maintained that he couldn’t drive, and having failed miserably at a few lessons, Geoffrey Hallowes relaxed and there was Albert and a car!  It was only after Martin’s death that a valid licence was found in his desk.

Martin’s cat was an important presence.  Maxwell Joseph (who after all, owned the place) once came in to breakfast complaining mildly “Your cat slept on my bed all night.”

Martin could have a horrid temper; I remember leaving a meeting and going straight back to London, after repeated requests that he calm down.  He was well-read, and there were always books to one’s taste beside the bed at Loudenne.  His relations with the succession of chatelaines varied from happy collusion in thwarting the boring dictats from York Gate, to uncomprehending rage with the ones who didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve.

Things didn’t always go as smoothly elsewhere; in Macon, discussing Piat d’Or, the technical chief stormed out of a meeting saying “Je ne suis pas ici pour fabriquer ces vins trafiqués!”

– tribute by Tom Jago

 

Born in 1940, Martin Bamford was the first Master of Wine to depart this earth, and at the young age of 42.  Although educated at Pangbourne where he was a very competent runner, Martin never became a seaman and instead chose the wine trade, joining Harveys of Bristol in 1958 at the same time as me as a junior in the MOO, or mail order office, where I remember his taking an order from a customer for several bottles of Wickham white and on enquiry discovering that the man meant Yquem.

Harveys at the time had the reputation as one of the leading wine merchants with excellent training programmes so was the employer of choice for the vast majority of aspiring wine merchants.  But when the company was bought somewhat unexpectedly by Showerings, manufacturers of Babycham, this policy changed and there was a general exodus of much of this talent to other firms.  Martin, I and several others went to the Gilbey empire, then known as International Distillers and Vintners.  It was not long before Martin was sent to Bordeaux to manage Chateau Loudenne, a pink painted property in the Northern Medoc that had been owned by the Gilbeys for generations and was, like many similar properties at that time, fairly run down and producing indifferent wine.  This changed and under Martin’s guidance the vineyard practices were improved and the cellar modernised which had a dramatic effect on the quality.  IDV’s French wine exporting and procurement business was run from there and with considerable growth in the markets, particularly in the US, this side of Loudenne’s activity expanded, and eventually, after the purchase of Piat, Martin’s office was moved to Paris and he commuted between Loudenne, Macon and Paris.

Through his father’s family, Martin had an Estonian title.  He was Baron von Sederholm, but kept it pretty dark.  I discovered this after a group of us at short notice wanted to lunch at the famous Tour D’Argent, and everyone said we were too late to book.  Martin said, “leave it to me” and went into his office.  On arrival at the restaurant, Martin led us in and was greeted by the Manager with “Bonjour Monsieur le Baron”.  He told us the background afterwards, and some time later, he introduced me to one of the Sederholm relations who was living near Lyon at the time.  His mother later confirmed that the title came down from his paternal great grandfather.

– tribute by Simon Smallwood MW

 

One of the affectionately known “Three Little Pigs” of Bordeaux  – the others were John Salvi and John Davies – whose love of gastronomy lead them to many attempts to eat at as many Michelin starred restaurants in a week.  It is rumoured that their best effort was the World record of 42 stars, or lunch AND then dinner at a different 3 star restaurant every day for a week.

I was a colleague of Martin’s in Harveys and IDV and was one of the last Ms W to see him as in September 1982 a small party of Ms W was invited to Saint Emilion to see the vintage in operation, and I was in it.  Martin was to have joined us over the two or three days but was so busy with the harvest at Loudenne that he was only able to join us on our last evening’s dinner at Chateau Cheval Blanc where the talk was the similarity of the current year to the famous 1947, which was one of the wines served at dinner that night.  Afterwards Martin, with his chauffeur as he never drove, went home to Loudenne.  We returned to London early the next day and were shocked to be told that Martin had died in the night.

In the late 1970’s boom, accepted wine trade thinking in big companies was that exclusivity arrangements with leading chateaux were the only way to secure required volumes, and Martin, in charge of procurement was in the forefront of these negotiations for IDV.  Inevitably, this bubble burst due to chateau owners combined greed and inevitable off vintages.  Consumers walked away, leaving the distributors with unsalable stock and unable to honour the contracts they had so confidently set up earlier.  Unravelling these was a nightmare for everyone, and the pressure on Martin may have been a contributory factor to his early demise.

– tribute by Pat Lloyd MW

 

Martin Bamford was originally I believe one of the graduate trainees recruited by George McWatters at Harvey’s of Bristol.  Like several others he migrated to IDV after the takeover of Harvey’s by Showerings.  At one time IDV had 13 or 14 MsW in its ranks.

Martin is best known for the time he spent as manager of Chateau Loudenne, IDV’s property in the Medoc.  Apart from the production of a good Cru Bourgeois, Loudenne was used as a centre for IDV’s purchases of wine from Bordeaux and also for hospitality for IDV’s customers from around the world who looked back with nostalgia on the reception they received there.

Under Martin’s rule the standard of cuisine and of course of the wines served at meals were memorable.  He was a true gourmet and known to travel all over France to eat at restaurants whose reputations had reached him.

Tragically he died at a shockingly young age, in his early 40s.

– tribute by Dick Bowes MW

 

We have come here to remember Martin Bamford.  This large congregation is a tribute to the devotion of his friends and colleagues, both inside and outside the wine trade, for Martin was a great personality and a man of many talents.

I attended his funeral in Saint Yzans de Medoc.  This moving occasion showed very clearly that he had many devoted friends in France and indeed in America.  The Bordeaux wine trade was well represented and many well-known chateau proprietors, both from the Medoc and from the other side of the river were there.  There was also a sizeable contingent of some of his greatest friends, who had flown out from England.

I first knew Martin when we were at Harveys together at Bristol over twenty years ago.  He had been educated at Pangbourne Nautical College, and had planned to follow his father into the Royal Navy, but having won a scholarship to Dartmouth he failed the eyesight test, to his bitter disappointment.  The Navy, I like to think, lost a potential admiral and the Navy’s loss was the Wine Trade’s gain.

In Harveys, Martin quickly made his mark, displaying a precocious maturity for such a young man and an enviable ability which left his less talented colleagues speechless. He became fully effective when he was made Personal Assistant to Mr Fred Cox who was Harveys legendary fortified wine director.  He and Mr Cox really hit it off, and I think Martin found it useful, in view of his youth, to have the constant backing of a great man, a situation he never failed to put to good use.

Harveys in those days was certainly a wonderful place to learn the Wine Trade and Martin took his opportunity with enormous enthusiasm.  There prevailed in the lower echelons of the company at that time a stimulating climate of knowledge about wine and food and Martin was very much part of this scene.  He tasted daily and developed his excellent palate and knowledge of the wines of the world, and he was usually the ringleader of any gastronomic escapade, whether in local restaurants or in France, where he had a number of memorable holidays with his friends in Harveys.  The accommodation was always on a shoestring, and the pennies were saved for at least one visit to a famous restaurant, invariably arranged with great flair by Martin for it was one of his characteristics that when he did something important, he liked to do it with style.  Ronnie Hicks has a splendid story of a visit to la Tour d’Argent when Martin and friends were ushered with great ceremony to the best table in the house by a head waiter who addressed Martin as Monsieur le Baron.  To this day we have never quite discovered whether or not Martin was entitled to this form of address, but the suspicion remains that he was, for Martin was something of a patrician at heart.

In 1966 Martin was persuaded by David Peppercorn to join what is now IDV.   Two years later he was sent to Chateau Loudenne in the Medoc, where he soon became fluent in french and passed the Master of Wine examination in 1969.

After the Gilbey brothers had bought this charming chateau un 1975 it was made a model property, but following two wars and the passage of time it had become rather run down.  Martin’s task was to put it on its feet again and to develop its commercial possibilities world wine as a base for the sale of Bordeaux wines.  Martin was the right man for the job:  at Loudenne he ran a very tight ship and his influence could soon be seen in the chais, the chateau and the office.  He always expected a high standard of his staff and of the experts he employed.  And he got it.

I am fortunate that my name has appeared fairly regularly in the Loudenne Visitors Book, and I can recall the way in which, on each succeeding visit, one noticed more and more improvements, as disused parts of the property were brought into play.  Martin was a very able administrator with a great eye for detail and a determination to do things properly.  At times it must have taken all of Martin’s charm and strength of character to obtain the necessary funds, but obtain them he did and put them to very good use.  Chateau Loudenne is again today one of the finest estates in the Medoc, both from the point of view of its buildings, its surroundings and its wines.  Martin had a profound influence on them all.

In the chateau, his excellent taste and eye for detail were equally apparent.  With the help of a succession of charming chatelaines and a devoted staff he ran a very civilized household, where the visitor was made to feel completely at home amid beautiful surroundings.  Over the years he made many friends at Loudenne, for his company, and for himself.

While still in charge of Loudenne Martin was given the difficult task of integrating the newly purchased firm of Piat & Cie of Macon into IDV.  To do this he had to spend much of his time there, away from friends at Loudenne and very much on his own in a situation that cannot always have been comfortable.  I think it says much for his strength of character that he managed to complete the task with such distinction.  I am told that it took him two years, since when Piat has never looked back.  He set the seal on the operation by opening a Paris office.

As a businessman Martin had a breadth of vision that is denied to most of us:  one often felt that he was a jump ahead of the field.  It was not in his character ever to show his full hand and even his closest friends would probably agree that he was at heart a very private person.

Martin took a lot of trouble over his friends.  Having no family of his own, for he was a bachelor, I think he regarded his friends as his most valued possessions.  He could be amazingly jealous to them, both with his time and money, and he was a wonderful godfather to many of their children.  I don’t know how many godchildren he had, but I suspect it was over a dozen. My youngest daughter was among them and she insisted on being here today, for godfathers like Martin are few and far between.

Martin’s friends will remember him above all as wonderful company.  He really was a most entertaining fellow!  He had a delicious sense of humour, and a ready wit, which made the most of life’s absurdities.  He was also a talented mimic.  Yes, he had many talents and great style.  He was much loved and will be greatly missed.  He will be a very difficult man to replace at Loudenne.  To his friends he is irreplaceable.

– address given by Robin Don MW at Martin’s Memorial service

 

Martin died on September 24th 1982.  He was our friend.  The 12 years we knew him will supply a lifetime of memories, tastes, smells, sights and feelings.  I met Martin on our first french trip in 1970 when a pilgrimage to Bordeaux resulted in a lunch at Chateau Loudenne.  The event was personally presided over by Bamford.  Through subsequent visits and mailings, a warm friendship evolved and ultimately the Prop was retained by IDV France to assist them in all matters graphic.

Bamford’s thoughtful foresight and friendship have proven themselves over the years.  This year I returned to France for his funeral.  To the very quaint church in the little village of Saint Yzans de Medoc just up the road from Loudenne.  Memories were in abundance.  My wife Loretta and I first visited the church in 1970 because we got to the village too early for lunch and went to see “what’s up the road?”  We remember this particularly as we were harried by a herd of cows as they passed around and almost over our small Renault.  This made us late and everyone laughed as we explained our tardiness, Martin most of all.

As things developed, Martin came to see us regularly where we had the pleasure of introducing him to London broil, soft shell crabs, many American wines, Mozart, and no neckties.  But they were no match for all the pleasures to which he introduced us.  Great meals, and a frame on which he hung conversations, sightseeing trips and detail.  We worked together producing all sorts of graphics and often we would answer the phone and hear a cheery voice say “Mo, Martin here”.  Before we got down to business, I’d hear all about his latest lunch or dinner and wines, the shape (health) of his grapes, the weather, or the local Bordeaux or Paris gossip.  Sometimes there was no business.  We just laughed.

Menus from famous places popped regularly out of air mail envelopes, often foot-noted in his illegible scrawl which had to be translated for Loretta.  Martin had a very special life, always balancing the finer things with cumbersome daily events.  He was unique:  a classic man in an un-classic time, a catalyst between diverse friends with similar interests.

We’ll miss him.  But we still have his friends and the twelve years of discoveries from which to draw solace.  He’s still our friend who gave us a lot to look back on and go forward with.  We love him for that.

– tribute by Mo Lebowitz, nicknamed “The Prop”, a New York graphic designer and printer who became IDV’s wine graphic guru

 

When Martin died in 1982, Ronnie Hicks and I bought a hogshead of Loudenne 1982 which we had bottled in several ordinary sized bottles but also in magnums, jeroboams and an imperiale.  We held a memorial dinner as each size came into maturity, the last being at the Dorchester in 2004.

– tribute by Robin Don MW

 

I joined Harveys in 1959 as a graduate trainee, and expected to be sent to Bristol.  However Tim Miller at King St was moved to set up a London depot, so I initially took his place there and it was some weeks before I went to Bristol and met Martin, who had joined the company about a year earlier.  At 12 he had been sent to Pangbourne, survived there till he was 18 and had joined Harveys from school.  I stayed with him in his flat in Clifton and we got on well.  I remember that he used to ponce about with a stick with an ivory handle, saying that his grandparents had had a large house in St Petersburg and an estate near Riga but did something to upset the Czar, and were luckily kicked out just before the Revolution.  They arrived in Edinburgh and eventually moved to Somerset.

Martin’s job was assistant to Fred Cox, our Vice Chairman, who was in charge of tasting all the butts of sherry coming in, and other wines as well.  Fred was one of the tee-total Plymouth Brethren so was allowed to taste provided he didn’t swallow.  Around this time Harveys decided to put a restaurant in the basement.  Martin ate there most days, calling it “The Canteen”

In 1961 I worked at the Bristol Vintners shop chain looking after the product range and Martin came to help me.  The chain grew to 105 branches and then shrank to 85 after axing the poor performers.  At this time Harveys had failed with their first table wine brand “Club No 1”.  Martin then re-launched it as “Bin Claret” at a more reasonable price, and it worked well from then on.

We were living in SW5 and Martin was a frequent visitor.  At supper one evening he was pontificating at length on some claret or other, so my wife in self-defence conspicuously poured herself a glass of Coke, much to Martin’s horror!  I remember an evening in Notting Hill with Martin, Simon Smallwood, Ronnie Hicks and Michael Maguire.  We consumed a huge amount of Champagne, Claret, and Vintage Port, and I had great difficulty getting home.

In 1965 Showerings bought Harveys, and then Allied Breweries took over both companies.  Martin and I were “rationalised” and found a haven in IDV.  Martin was sent to the USA and sell wines for the newly formed “Wine Selection International” and in his irreverent manner related that in New York the only way to do this was to go to the steam bath-house on a Sunday with the five Jews who decided everything!

One day Martin was chosen to run Chateau Loudenne with its sumptuous view across the vines down to the Gironde.  Gilbeys, now part of IDV, had bought it in about 1870.  When Martin arrived it made Loudenne Blanc, inappropriate for the Medoc, and the only profitable activity was its large dairy herd.  Martin set about the transformation.  The house took on soft colours and curtains.  The chais was cleaned out of ancient farm implements and replaced with vats and equipment. Later Martin took on Piat and set up a sales office in Paris.

The last time I saw him was in Pommery’s Reims cellars in 1981 at the 25th anniversary of the Founding of the Champagne Academy.   We sat slowly drinking our way through a magnum of Vintage Pommery and musing over old times.

– tribute by Nick Baile MW