It’s been a while since I’ve felt proud, affectionate, or even significantly positive about the drinks industry. Maybe it’s just me getting old and crabby, but the scrabble for margins and listings, the inability to get to grips with the whole health thing and a general ‘end of empire’ flatness seem to have robbed it of a lot of the joy that was ubiquitous 15 years ago.
But this week something happened that reminded me what makes this industry special.
Paradoxically it wasn’t a happy occasion. It wasn’t a perfect Martini or a Michelin-starred meal; it wasn’t a vertical of cru classé Bordeaux or a perfectly cooked steak. It was Caspar Auchterlonie’s funeral.
A good number of you in the South East will probably have known Caspar, either from tastings and events, or from his position as a team leader in our Sommelier Wine Awards. Even those of you who never met him will have had the benefit of his pithy, amusing opinions down the years in our SWA Gold Book or his excellent tasting notes in Imbibe and probably felt as though you knew him.
As someone who was a good friend to me down the years, I’ve found it hard to come to terms with his death – not least because as well as being a warm, terrific, quirky guy, he was only my age.
But on a sad, grey day I got a real burst of pride in seeing such a terrific turnout from the drinks trade at his funeral. Caspar wasn’t a high profile merchant or TV personality – just someone who’d ambled along doing what he enjoyed in an industry he loved.
Wine trade people didn’t turn out because they felt they ought to ‘pay their respects’ in a dutiful way to an industry colossus. They were there because they genuinely wanted to be.
People who could have been forgiven for thinking ‘I didn’t know him well enough’ and not attending what is, after all, a difficult occasion, made the effort. The industry turned up and, most importantly of all, they meant it.
Much of this, of course, is a reflection of Caspar’s generous and appealing personality. But not all of it. If Caspar worked as a widget maker, would he have attracted the same plethora of heartfelt industry messages on Facebook or turnout on the day of his internment? I don’t think so.
People might get into the world of booze because they love the product, but they stay in it because they like the people. Or, more accurately, they tend to like people in general. And it reminded me that this humanity, is what makes the drinks world special.
Sure, the food, the cocktails and the wine are great, but you could earn more money in another industry and buy them with your hard-earned if you wanted. But the kind of people who are attracted to those things – who prioritise comfort, loyalty, warmth and conversation over simple wealth – are my kind of people.
They were Caspar’s kind of people as well. And he was one of you. One of us...