A tribute to John Avery MW
26th Mar 2012
Philip Lawrence, a long-standing customer of Averys, shares his fondest memories of the late John Avery MW, who died last week.
(Francis) John Avery MW 1941-2012
Friends and wine trade colleagues were shocked and saddened to hear this week of the death of John Avery MW. John died in hospital on March 23 after a heart attack suffered at his house in Wrington Vale, Somerset. He will be sorely missed.
(Francis) John Avery was born in Bath on 27 December 1941. He was fortunate to be born into one of the UK’s premier, if somewhat unorthodox, wine merchant families. At that time Avery’s, which dates back to the late 18th century, was under the direction of John’s father, Ronald Avery. He too was much admired and respected both within and outside the wine business. John was educated at Clifton College, Bristol and then at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied agriculture. He entered the family wine business as a director in 1966 and then took control in 1976, after the death of his father. Like Ronald Avery, John had a fierce passion for claret. But unlike his father John was also fascinated and attracted by the wines of the New World. Undoubtedly one of John Avery’s great achievements was to discover and promote Australian, New Zealand and South African wines in the UK. Indeed, many of the famous and best New World wines were first introduced into the UK by John Avery.
As a number of commentators have noted John Avery was not especially adept as a businessman; the balance sheet was not his natural home. And Avery’s was bought out by Pieroth in 1987. But John had a passion for and knowledge of wine that was second to none. Also a most extraordinary palate and the ability to characterize and describe the most complex of wine taste spectrums in language that was typically both poetic and accurate. In fact he was undoubtedly an exemplar for all that was best in his beloved profession. His excellence as a taster led to him being one of the best known wine judges in the world, specialising in New World wines from South Africa and New Zealand. John’s seal of approval was a major marketing plus for any house or property that he liked.
In his business life John Avery was known for sometimes being rather chaotic and on occasion tardy. But his infectious enthusiasm for good wine and his charm and generosity meant that he was universally popular. I had the pleasure to meet him at a number of dinners that Avery’s hosted in the South West showcasing fine wines. A particularly notable one being a Lafite dinner at Calcot Manor a few years ago. Suffice to say that the audience were captivated by John’s insights and detailed knowledge concerning, not just the properties, but the subtle differences between many of the vintages. These Avery’s dinners were truly splendid and also most enjoyable occasions.
John Avery was passionate about wine, but he was not one dimensional. John followed cricket, horse racing and was a great enthusiast and supporter of the theatre. Like his father he was also a keen mariner, with a deep love of sailing. Such rounded individuals are rare today. John Avery brought discernment, taste and massive enthusiasm into the world of wine. Many will mourn his passing, but many will also remember with warmth his generosity, humour and passion for life. No man could say “in vino veritas” with more authenticity.
Professor Philip Lawrence FRSA FRAeS