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Gérard Basset

So long, Gérard

We had known it was bound to happen, even if we ignored it and hoped for a miracle. Still, it struck us as a thunderbolt. It is bizarre how you can see things coming for so long and still be shocked when they hit you – like a rabbit frozen in the headlights. Foreknowledge does not mitigate the pain, it seems.During these last few weeks, thousands of online posts have been written by hundreds of people in dozens of languages, and the same seven or eight words keep popping up in absolutely all of them: kind, witty, generous, talented, hard-working, persevering, knowledgeable, humble… Not surprisingly, these are precisely the attributes that you would hope to find in an ideal Sommelier.Even today, it is hard to imagine ASI without him around. I once wrote that Gérard was the sommelier that every sommelier wanted to be when they grew up. I realize now this was wishful thinking: Gérard was unique. Not (only) because of his countless titles. He transcended wine and sommellerie. He had a gift: he could touch other people, inspire them to be better, to believe they could achieve more, and to fight for their dreams.This is why we decided to dedicate this special newsletter to his memory, and asked some colleagues and friends to share their anecdotes and stories about Gérard. One homage of many to come, and an opportunity to remember him with a smile.As we get ready for the 16th edition of the ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest next month, in Antwerp, we can remember how Gérard taught us to never give up, and to always keep learning and improving. As so many of us will come together in Belgium, we’ll be working to promote sommellerie around the globe, in a spirit of excellence and with a dedication to sharing and service as our common goals.

Accomplishments, dedication and determination

Although he certainly wasn’t one to flaunt, Gérard Basset accumulated an unbelievable list of accomplishments, awards and recognition, over a forty-year career that saw him start as a dishwasher before climbing all the steps to the very top of his profession. He also achieved business success by helping build the Hotel du Vin chain, as one of its founding partners, and founded the much admired Hotel Terravina with his wife Nina, which was renamed Spot in the Woods in 2018.

He was the first person to obtain both the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles, a feat that in itself showed his exceptional level of mastery and knowledge in his profession, and about every aspect of wine. But he didn’t stop there. He also achieved an MBA in Wine Business, as well as an MSc from the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, and he was also the director of ASI’s technical committee, after having done the same for the Academy of Food and Wine Service, in the United Kingdom. He was also rewarded with the Order of the British Empire, and named 2013 Man of the Year by Decanter Magazine, as well as honorary president of WSET in 2014, to name but a few of the honours he garnered over the years.

The crowning moment of his career was of course when he won the Best Sommelier of the World contest in 2010, after persevering for many years in national and international competitions, including the Best Sommelier of Europe, which he won in 1996. He was one of the most beloved and highly respected figures in the wine world, thanks to his incredibly deep knowledge and impressive skills, but also his no less impressive generosity, sense of sharing and humility. He brought the highest standards to every aspect of his work and life, and that’s what the world of wine remembers him for above all.

Tributes to Gérard Basset

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…

Isa Bal – Best sommelier in Europe 2008

Gérard has always been very generous with his time and knowledge. I will never forget the time he insisted that we drink together a bottle I had just given him as a thank you. We sat on the terrace and enjoyed it together. English Français

Robert Joseph – Wine Writer

There are so many stories about Gérard, but when I think of them, so many seem to combine the three key elements of his character: his gentleness and generosity, his curiosity and eagerness to learn, and of course, his intense need to test himself and to climb ever higher mountains. We tasted together as chairmen…

Jancis Robinson MW – Wine writer

When Gérard was nearing the end of his life, we were able to have a short discussion on the phone about his book and the publishers I had suggested. Poor Gérard was in a lot of pain then and found it quite difficult to speak, but he was most anxious to know about the foreign…

Arvid Rosengren – Best Sommelier in the World 2016

There are many stories I can tell about Gérard Basset. What I will remember most was his warmth and altruistic will to help others. At the 2013’s World’s Best Sommelier competition, I had worked so hard and I was disappointed and upset by the result. I asked him for advice on how to do better.…

Eric Zwiebel – Sommelier, United Kingdom

I have lost my mentor, friend, confidant and spiritual father. I had known Gérard for 20 years. I think about what always impressed me, with Gégé, was the way he would tell or explain things. When I was preparing for competitions, he was always sacrificing his time to help me. One day, I asked him how…

Philippe Faure-Brac – ASI Treasurer

The first time I was lucky enough to cross paths with Gérard Basset was during the 1989 Best Sommelier in the World competition in Paris, in 1989. A few months before the finals in Rio, in 1992, where I was going to represent France, he phoned me to ask if I could host him at…

William Wouters – President, Belgium Sommelier Association

In 1994 or 1996, I don’t remember exactly, we had a reunion with a bunch of crazy sommeliers from different nationalities at the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester, Hampshire, which is about a 90-minute drive southwest of of London, in the countryside. I think we were about 14 sommeliers attending this highlight of conviviality,…

Nicolas Clerc – President, Academy of Food and Wine Service, United Kingdom

In January 2013, I was invited to discover the wines of British Columbia and Ontario, in Canada, and I was lucky enough to be with Gérard on this wine trip. I’d known him professionally, before, but not personally. After this trip, we became quite close and worked together on a lot of projects. This will…

Andreas Larsson – Best Sommelier of the World 2007

The first time I met Gérard, being a young and upcoming sommelier, I was star struck and impressed. Over the years, I got to know him better as we met during the various competitions we took part in. The first time we really sat down tête à tête was backstage during the final of the…

Paolo Basso – Best Sommelier in the World 2013

With Gérard, I shared four world championships as candidates, and obviously there were many intense moments. The most significant was at the 2010 World Championship in Chile, when on the morning of the final we met up for a relaxing walk together. Discussing how we had approached the exam, I realized that I had probably…

Serge Dubs – Best Sommelier in the World 1989

At first, I was impressed when I had the chance to meet Gérard–not only Gérard, actually, as I met the team and couple that Nina and Gérard were, on the way to an international sommelier competition. One day, Gérard asked me to come spend a few days at Auberge de l’Ill, to learn more about…

Giuseppe Vaccarini – Best sommelier in the World 1978 and former president of ASI

My first meeting with Gérard Basset dates back to the beginning of the 1990s when he was a candidate in international sommelier competitions and I was on the jury. From the very beginning, Gérard had attracted my attention because of his great passion and an uncommon level of knowledge of the wines, showing immediately that he would…

ASI would like to thank everyone who joined in the tributes to Gérard Basset, here and elsewhere, and offer once again our deepest condolences to Gérard’s wife Nina and their son Romané.

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