Thursday 19th January 2023. A crisp, cold day. Walking by the river to Vintry Ward, the City of London’s vinous heart, where wine once shared its dock with garlic. I think of Steven doing the same; he’d be riding his bike more likely, but admiring the bright blueness of the day and the turquoise light over the water just the same.
We gathered to say goodbye at St James’s Garlickhythe (‘Wren’s Lantern’). The great names of the wine trade were there: I spotted Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Jasper Morris, Oz Clarke, Christian Seely, Bartholomew Broadbent, Giles MacDonogh, Jane MacQuitty, Anthony Hanson, Simon Berry, the Spurrier family and friends, 150 maybe 200, some of whom caught only in a fleeting glance…
Simon McMurtrie, Steven’s co-founder of our Académie du Vin Library, welcomed us into the church with a medley of Handel, Bach and Vaughan Williams, turning his talents to an organ recital, high and clear, in the gallery above our heads. Then joined by the voices of an achingly beautiful choir. Steven would have heartily approved.
Christian Spurrier read the poem by Rabindranath Tagore speaking eloquently for his father: ‘At every turning of my life / I came across good friends…’ And here we all were.
The rector told us to sing rousingly as that’s what Steven would have wanted, so we put our backs into it. A posse of publishers (Adrian Webster, Chris Foulkes and Carrie Seagrave, Hermione Ireland, Stephen Skelton) gave it their all from the central nave and I added my warble knowing it would be ably drowned by AW’s bass. The Lord’s my shepherd…; He who would valiant be… Our tributes to Steven out there in the loudness of our song.
Sarah Kemp led the eulogies peppering known-and-loved Steven anecdotes with an admirable smattering of Decanter treasures from her quarter-century of travelling and tasting with him: Steven stepping off the plane, unruffled after an 18-hour journey to Singapore; Steven finding space in his heart for the lowliest Palomino and the loftiest Pétrus; Steven sharing his knowledge with a young publisher who knew nothing about wine; and (my favourite) Steven telling Al Fayed he ‘Shouldn’t have hired such an attractive nanny’ after being fired for stealing the show at Harrods. He would have enjoyed us laughing in church.
The Judgement of Paris had to be mentioned, and Mark Williamson again had us smiling with: ‘It was a little like Chelsea Football Club being beaten by Haywards Heath Primary School…’ Steven was nervous about that tasting (said his best friend, Ben Howkins, later); the shocking results made him persona non grata in his beloved France, for a while. But did he regret it? Edith Piaf had the answer, as she sang us out: ‘Non, je ne regrette rien!’ Absolutely, he didn’t!
Outside, we greeted each other, shivered in the sunshine, then made our way towards the glimmering chandeliers of Vintners’ Hall, where Bella had arranged a fittingly lavish reception, Bride Valley Crémant and a lunch of canapés, at the venue Steven loved so much. There were speeches: Ben Howkins welcomed us; Marc Nadeau (Steven’s colleague, co-founder with Steven of the relaunched Académie du Vin business in Canada) led the toast; and Simon McMurtrie thanked Bella and the Spurrier family warmly and gave a pat-on-the-back to the Académie du Vin Library of which, along with his Jurassic-coast wines, Steven was so proud. There was laughter (‘Steven would have loved this!’), there were reminiscences, but there were no tears… As Christian had said for his father:
If you feel sad do think of me
For that’s what I’ll like
When you live in the hearts of those you love,
remember then, you never die.
Last to leave, the grandchildren, hoovering the final sausage-rolls: teenagers, fashionably dressed, the familiar handsome-profile among them… I wondered if they would go out into the world spreading a little of the Steven magic. I think so.
Susan Keevil is the Editorial Director at Académie du Vin Library.