• Rob Dixon

The Class of 2000

Updated: Jun 4



The Class of… 2000

We take a look back at some previous courses, we remember the candidates, events from the year and bring together some personal memories from the most exceptional experience offered in Wine Education.

Our first cohort is a cracker with many still actively involved in the Academy and the trade. They were more than happy to share their memories, which are still fresh 20 years on, and many are confirmed collectively – like Martin Dibben’s excellence in speech-making, and Pigeon…!!

The maiden course of the new millennium would host a fantastic group of Champagne enthusiasts and would go on to provide the Academy with 4 Chairmen.

The Champagne Academy Gazette is published annually and in 2000 it reported the events of 1999. Champagne shipments reached 327million bottles, with 32million exported to the UK, which represented a twelve-fold increase since the foundation of the Champagne Academy in 1956.

The last harvest of the 20th Century was an anxious one with hailstorms at the end of June and again in mid-August. The yield per hectare was important as they needed to replace the high sales of 1999 – boosted by Millennium celebrations. But the weather recovered and the two weeks before harvest were sunny enough to gain good sugar and get a higher yield. Harvest took place on 15, 18 and 20 September and a vintage year was being considered.

Chairman David Garlick worked along-side Presidential House Perrier Jouët and selected the inimitable Savoy Hotel for the flagship London dinner in 2000. It was the first year that guests were invited to join Academicians. A welcome addition that continues today.


The Candidates

Paul Beavis – went on to Chair the committee 2007

Alain Bras

Victoria Cahill - went on to Chair the committee 2005

Gordon Davidson

Martin Dibben – went on to Chair the committee 2013

Nial Dooley

Georges Dugarin

Karen Humphries

Antinoto James

Lucy Knowles

William Lees-Jones

Mark Lockwood

Finn O’Driscoll

David Ramsey – The Winner of the Golden Magnum and organiser of the Scottish Dinner

Fiona Smith

Steve Winchcombe – went on to Chair the committee 2009

David Garlick was Chairman in 2000 and is the organiser of the Northern Dinner

Memories

William Lees-Jones

What a great idea and hello to the Class of 2000 – was it really 20 years ago?

What a week it was and, apart from the obvious disappointment of David ‘super-swot’ Ramsey coming top in the exam, I have nothing but happy memories of the week. In fact, I can think nowhere that I would rather be than in Champagne right now as we approach Week 3 of lockdown.

I’ve been back to Champagne many times since but never will it be the same as that week – highlights include learning how to sabrage a bottle of champagne with a flute glass in a nightclub in Reims with the Chairman of Veuve Clicquot (I have done this many times all over the world to great aplomb usually late at night and often breaking a few glasses in the warm-up stages) and a vertical tasting of Charles Heidsieck in the Crayeres cellars.

We learned so much and tasted our way through over 120 champagnes during the week as well as enjoying more than our fair share of pigeon en croute. There were laughs and some great characters – Martin’s speech at Chateau Boyer at the final lunch was memorable in extreme.

I can honestly say that my week in the Champagne Academy was one of the best educational trips that I have ever been on and I remain an advocate for champagne to this day – I’m not sure whether we moved on from ‘Old Boys’ to something more appropriate but certainly 20 years ago that was a question that we collectively raised and argued about long into the night.

Note to self – must get down to London for the next UK dinner…

David Ramsay

I would echo William's thoughts (except the one about David (super swot) Ramsey. I remember playing pool until 3am frequently and never seeing William who presumably was getting some much-needed beauty sleep!

We had the most amazing week of really learning what Champagne was all about and the enormous generosity of the sixteen houses. Truly a week to remember. Another thing was getting to know the other fifteen candidates and of friendships made that last to this day.

I remember visiting the cellars of Ruinart, I think, when James Anandarajan decided to try a dive from the top step and was only saved by becoming entangled in the legs of several of the people in front of him. A lucky escape! Another memory that I often recount is at the visit to Moet there was a tiny lady pouring what I think was a double magnum, or possibly bigger, using just one hand. The power of Champagne!

Winning the Golden Magnum, as it was known then, was a total shock when surrounded by all the other talent on the course but here we are, twenty years on and I still have five magnums left. The ones I would describe as my favourites I suppose. If this lock-down continues they won't be around much longer!

Fiona Smith

I also have very fond memories of that week - far and away my finest trip as a Morrisons wine buyer. The Champagnes we tasted were spectacular, as was the hospitality (pigeon was clearly in season) and the deep knowledge we gained of the industry - what a privilege. Although it was twenty years ago I remember the people in the group being great fun - Martin Dibben in particular with his wonderful speech on behalf of the group at our final meal, Finn O'Driscoll with his many items of booze-branded clothing, Karen Matthews my partner on the bus, jolly Steve Winchcombe, Gordon and David Ramsay from Forth Wines (how has he still got 5 of his winner’s magnums left?), Paul Beavis, and Prince William Lees-Jones as he became known, plus many others.

Happy memories and thanks also to David Garlick our Chairman in 2000 who soon afterwards became my boss at D&D Wines and latterly also employed my husband, generously giving him an entry to the wine trade. What I didn't know during that week was that there was actually a hidden 17th member of the group - in the form of my son Tom who will turn 20 in November and thankfully safely entered the world six months after the trip; not advice I would give to any other expectant mother but he turned out to be a perfect baby in every way.


Finn O’Driscoll

I still cannot believe that it has been 20 years since that amazing week in Champagne - I am sure we all have not aged a single day!

It is clear to me from all the previous emails the sheer level of long-term positive impact that whole week experience had for all of us and the memories that have certainly stood the face of time - although I personally never recall making it to bed by 3am any day and I still think it was a fix that David got the Golden Magnum - I had Martin's name written all over it...…..how could you have 5 magnums left!

I have also been fortunate to visit the region on numerous occasions since then - and if you have not experienced it I would highly recommend a visit during the first week of December for the Reims Christmas market - great opportunity to immerse yourself in Champagne and sort your shopping at the same time...….fingers crossed we do hit some form of normality, as this year will be my 6th consecutive year to make the trip....you will see from attached picture I even managed a trip to Lanson (thanks Paul!)

I can't leave without mentioning the Pigeons...…..although I do understand our comments were taken on board and the Champagne houses now coordinate lunch and dinner menus!

Gordon Davidson

I too agree with Fiona about Martin’s legendary speech! It was all a bit of a haze in places, it was very busy, and god knows how we all made it! I’ve been back many times and to many other wine regions, but this was one of those special courses and trips that I feel honoured to have been a part of.

I am a bit of a ‘hoarder’ and have just pulled out one of my many ‘wooden wine boxes of tat’, to find nine of the lunch and dinner menus from that week which I am happy to copy and send on to whoever would be interested in what you ate and drank (very well I may add!) over the week? A stand-out dish that I still talk to people about was the ‘La Volaille de Bresse en demi-deuil, riz basmati au foie gras et aux truffes noires’ (Poulet de Bresse, shaved truffle underneath the skin and a champagne butter sauce I think?) at Gerard Boyer … I can still taste it and it’s indelibly stamped in my memory!

David Garlick – Chairman 2000

What a great idea for Academicians to relive their “best educational experience” matched by stunning Grande Marque Wines-many served from Magnums or even Larger!

2000 was my year as Chairman of the Academy -and what a year to have that privilege.

Perrier Jouët were the Presidential House and the support of Gabriel Fay and Ken Wilkins helped me ensure it was a special year all round including the course itself.

I arrived in Champagne on the Friday morning the day before the exam at the end of the course -joined the potential Academicians for Dinner that evening in Reims followed by nearly all sixteen candidates staying up late for what has become a few statutory additional bottles or Magnums pre bed. Nicole’s last Magnum of LP Rose ensured all slept well!

Miraculously all sixteen candidates passed the exam the following morning with flying colours-although that couldn’t have been said about the colour in most of their faces.

There was an extremely close battle for the Golden Magnum Winner with David Ramsey just edging Karen Humphries by “half a glass” to win the Trophy.

All sixteen new Academicians signed up to become members of the Academy for life ,and I set a goal then for a few of them to follow my lead by becoming Members of the Academy Committee in future years, and am delighted to say three did and still are today - Martin Dibben [Treasurer], Steve Winchcombe [Stock Controller] and David Ramsey [Scottish Dinner Organiser].

I am certain that is Testament of what is undoubtedly the best Professional Educational trip in the World and that Academicians become the best Advocates of Grand Marque Champagne for life - I certainly have!


Fantastic menu and paired wines from Boyers' resturant at the 2000 final lunch.


Author

Rob Dixon

Champagne Academy Newsletter

3rd May 2020

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