Patrick Duffeler Reflects on Steven Spurrier, the “Light of the Wine World”
The wine world lost a legend and The Williamsburg Winery founder Patrick Duffeler lost a friend with the passing of Steven Spurrier on March 9.
The British wine expert’s legacy includes organizing “The Judgment in Paris,” a blind tasting event in 1976 that elevated the profile of California wines when they beat out French wines. Spurrier was an educator, writer, taster, judge, merchant and winemaker with his own vineyard in England.
Duffeler first crossed paths with Spurrier one year after “The Judgment in Paris” rocked the wine world. In 1977, the then 34-year-old Duffeler had just joined an investment group in Geneva after leaving Philip Morris and the world of Formula 1 racing behind. His new employer had a controlling interest of a Burgundian wine operation, Poulet, and pegged Duffeler to create more promotions for it.
An aside — the roots of The Williamsburg Winery were born then. Duffeler caught the wine bug and conceptualized the idea of one day owning and operating his own winery.
His first promotional effort on behalf of Poulet centered on the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, a red wine made from the Gamay grapes native to the Beaujolais region of France. The annual release of a vintage, one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November, evolved into something of a party. Those first bottles were precious cargo and there was something of a race to see who could deliver the new vintage harvest to Paris first. Beaujolais trucks would line up just before midnight ready to distribute.
Poulet capitalized on that concept by partnering with Formula 1 racing. How fun it was to have a professional race car driver motor to Paris with the new release – an honor afforded to Jean-Pierre Beltoise, the Frenchman who won the Monaco Grand Prix in a rainstorm in 1972.
The promo was huge and cause for Duffeler and Spurrier to meet and discuss the details.
“I was 34; Steven Spurrier was 36 and we hit it off,” Duffeler said.
Spurrier owned his own wineshop in Paris and next door to that opened the city’s initial private wine school, L'Academie du Vin. It was an audacious move for an Englishman to do so in the prestigious center of Paris.
Some of the locals observed how “cheeky” it was for Spurrier to be so bold in an area that prided itself in its own wine heritage. Duffeler chuckles at the memory. “I hit it off with him immediately,” he says.
The men reconnected years later at an annual wine show in London. Despite the time between meetings, they conversed easily just as before.
“I respected him,” Duffeler says.
Spurrier went on to become a consultant editor, writer and critic for London-based Decanter Magazine, globally recognized as the most authoritative wine enthusiast publication.
The Williamsburg Winery received multiple awards over the years from Decanter, starting in 2010, when all five of its selections were recognized.
“Steven was such a personality,” says Duffeler, who admired Spurrier’s discerning palate. “He would be able to grab the essence of a wine. He was a stylish, unpretentious, very humble, soft-spoken person.”
Spurrier became a judge for the Virginia Governor’s Cup, having just judged for the annual event in 2020.
Spurrier was also influential in having the British Association of Wine Writers visit The Williamsburg Winery — another opportunity to showcase Virginia wine.
Duffeler calls Spurrier “a light of the wine world.”
“He was a person who was delightful. There is something remarkable about people who know their wines. It’s a focal point to know how to train your palate to distinguish all the nuances. Steven developed an extraordinary palate. I will miss him very much.”