Nick James

I joined the Wine Trade more by accident than anything else and after a 2 year session at what was disguised under the title of "management trainee" - more like forced labour in my book - I found myself covering the West End for Saccone & Speed. Then one day a letter arrived inviting me to attend a week's course in Champagne. Spot on I thought and soon I joined 11 others - there were only 12 Houses in the Academy in those days - out in Reims first of all.

I was one of two billeted at Krug and noted that the fridge was well stocked. I remember we emptied it in the expectation of it being filled the next day so I invited everyone round only to find - yes, it was still empty! Now this was the first week of the course being condensed to a week, as it was originally two, and the Houses hadn't quite got the hang of it in terms of the lavish hospitality that interspersed the studying. Lunch and dinner morphed therefore into a glorious form of educational indulgence - gold plates at Roederer, the finest Vintage at each House and wonderful food all round. One or two of us found it a bit too much but Not myself! It's worth noting that in those days most of the Houses were either owned or still run by those that carried the name of the individual House and these wonderful people were our hosts and actually lectured us.

Thence to Epernay and I remember being greeted by Christian de Billy, who lectured us on vineyard pests where the red spider mite took on the form of some ghastly science fiction monster so compelling was he! I never realised that some years down the line he would become my boss and I would fulfil my dream of running a top House here in the UK. The course was in September then , not as it is now, so we saw the vendage and also enjoyed the Epernay fair where, after a healthy dinner and copious quantities of the golden liquid we took to the dodgems dressed in our suits and with red roses in our lapels. We failed to understand after the power had been switched off and the word "gendarmes" mentioned why the French hit each other on their roads but somehow avoided each other on the dodgems - I'm afraid we did the opposite! Somehow I seemed to have won the silver bucket and on the way home I decided that the world of Champagne was for me. I have therefore been oh so lucky in working with Lanson, then Taittinger and finally finishing my working days with Pol Roger.

It was an honour to be chairman in 2001 and I took over from Guy Boursot, who was also on my year. We had a memorable meal at the Berkeley, followed by some splendid evenings around the country - Ireland did not disappoint! In fact the class of '76 is quite close. I went fishing in Alaska with John Muter last year- nearly lost him to a bear - and Val Simpson the first "old girl" has been someone who has been the backbone of the Academy for many years now. When asked which is my favourite Champagne I always reply "it's the one I have in my glass at the time". Yes, I love the product and the people I have met and worked with and I can honestly say that my "journey" in the Wine Trade was instigated and enriched by that one week back in September 1976.

I owe the Academy and indeed Champagne a great deal!

Chairman Year

2001

Academy Year

1976

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