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Michèle Aström Chantôme – Secretary General of ASI

Gérard has always been special to me. We first met in the late eighties and our paths crossed a few time until I really got to know him when he won the Champagne Ruinart UK Sommelier of the Year in 1992. From that moment, I discovered his fighting spirit. He could not live without taking on a challenge in his professional life. As soon as he had reached a goal, he needed to focus on a new target. He would never have given up without achieving what he had decided to. That’s also why I was so confident regarding his fight against cancer. I did not want to imagine he would lose that battle.

Of course, everybody knows Gérard was the most awarded sommelier, Master Sommelier, Master of Wine, Best Sommelier of Europe, Best Sommelier of the World, but he was also terribly moved when Princess Ann offered him the Officer of the British Empire title in the Queen’s name. The modest French guy who had come to England from Saint-Étienne following his favourite football team, being “recognized” by his country of adoption… He was so proud of this title! It meant a lot to him. And as he used to have a good sense of humour, I reminded him it was thanks to me that he had applied for British citizenship! He wanted to participate in the European Trophée Ruinart so much that he had been “harassing” me during my summer holidays to convince me to change the rules of the contest and accept a French sommelier representing the UK… As he had been living in England for years and married Nina, it was obvious he should become a British citizen, without losing his French citizenship.

Every time we happened to travel together I was surprised to see how many books he could purchase in the airport shops. Wine books? Not at all… He had already tons of them at home. All he was looking for were books about life achievements, in sports, art, business, and biographies of winners from any field. He always needed examples to reassure him he was on the right path. He wanted to know how they had been successful, and would even draw some lessons from their experiences.

For ASI, when Shinya Tasaki asked him to be Secretary General, he wanted me to assist him on the Board and also for the Sommeliers Contest Commission. I must say it has been a fantastic period for me. It was quite an experience as I discovered his way of thinking, of working. We used to be terribly busy but we also had fun and it was very rewarding.

Another great experience was when we worked for the Tutorial in Argentina. We reviewed all the videos of the World Contest in Mendoza and he explained all the tests and was giving some tips to the candidates. He did it in a simple and convincing way. All we could expect from a guide, a coach. He knew exactly what he was talking about, after all the high level competitions he had experienced.

It is not easy to stop writing about Gérard! I have been fortunate to be his close friend, and Nina’s, for some 30 years. There are so many good memories I could tell… almost all over the world, always with fantastic people who all admired him… Once he told me: “sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming, I have such a fantastic life”.

Sadly he could not go further because of that terrible illness. He left us too early. It is so unfair… But from wherever he is, his soul will always be close to us and will go on guiding us. We still have so much to learn from him…

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