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Monday 22 September 2014

‘Doyenne’ of women wine writers dies

15th January, 2014 by Lucy Shaw

Pamela Vandyke Price, considered the “doyenne” of women wine writers, died on Sunday aged 90.

Pamela Vandyk Price

Pamela Vandyke Price died on Sunday aged 90

The former wine correspondent for The Times, The Sunday Times and The Observer was Britain’s first prominent female wine writer.

During her career, Vandyke Price lectured on wine at Christie’s and penned some 30 books on wine, including Woman of Taste, Guide to the Wines of Bordeaux, Guide to the Wines of Champagne and Wines of the Graves.

In Jancis Robinson MW’s Oxford Companion to Wine, she is described as the “first woman to write seriously about wine in Britain who did more than most to popularise wines after the Second World War”.

A flamboyant and formidable character, Vandyke Price didn’t suffer fools gladly.

“There has always been sufficient tannin and acidity to keep me going,” she wrote in Woman of Taste.

She once held the position of President of the Circle of Wine Writers and went on to become its Trustee in Perpetuity.

Born in Coventry, the only child of a clock and watchmaker father and a secretary mother, Vandyke Price studied at Somerville College Oxford, where she was taught by literary luminaries C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.

During her time at Oxford, she entertained the idea of becoming an actress.

After university, she worked for the publishing house Condé Nast at House & Garden magazine.

During her tenure, she persuaded legendary food writer Elizabeth David to write a column for the magazine.

Her interest in wine didn’t materialise until after the untimely death of her doctor husband after just five years of marriage, who caught hepatitis from a patient.

Living in the flat near Hyde Park that she occupied until her death, she was approached by Allan Sichel of the Sichel wine family, who asked her to accompany him on a trip to Bordeaux as his wife wasn’t fond of long drives.

Vandyke Price accepted, and Sichel became her mentor, taking her on trips to Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond, which ignited her passion for wine.

After a trip to South Africa, she described it as: “the most beautiful wine country in the world”, though was forbidden from writing about South African wine for The Times during apartheid.

Recounting the sexism she encountered when attending lectures given by the Wine and Spirits Trade Association at the beginning of her career, she said:

“Some people wouldn’t speak to me. I remember sitting in the front row and there was a lech on the platform and every time I recrossed my legs he’d wake up.”

Vandyke Price helped pave the way for the next generation of women wine writers to rise up through the ranks, though she always shunned the term wine “expert” as pejorative.

“The thing I don’t want wine to be is difficult, complicated or specialised,” she once said.

4 Responses to “‘Doyenne’ of women wine writers dies”

  1. Katharine O'Callaghan says:

    Very sad to read this news. Pamela was a real character and paved the way for many other female wine writers. ‘Woman of Taste’ was published in 1990, when I first started working at United Distillers (now Diageo). It’s is on my bookshelf and I shall revisit Pamela’s many anecdotes in memory of a strong and talented woman who was definitely born ‘before her time’.

  2. Grahame Martin says:

    She was a wonderful , but could be exasperating, person. When I joined the wine trade in 1969 with the then IDV Home Trade, I was asked to assist in setting up and running a Trade Tasting at a large London Hotel. I was also told NOT to speak to Pamela if she asked a question, but to refer it to a senior member of staff. The inevitable happened and when asked a question I replied that I was new in the wine trade bur that knew the wine came from a small village in the Southern Maconnais where due to the soil being chalky, Chardonnay grew well. My senior saw me talking to her a came over and told me he would take over. She told the senior very firmly, “This boy is quite correct and if I need any further help I will ask for it. If your company is proud of it’s training, why not use it at these tastings?”
    Until I left the UK in 1989, I saw Pamela at many tastings and had the pleasure of being an organiser of a trip to South Africa to the Nederburg Auction. There are a myriad of Pamela stories – someone should write a book about her life in the wine trade. A very great loss indeed, there are few – of either sex – who are her equal as a wine writer in her prime years.
    Grahame Martin AIWS

  3. John McLusky says:

    Ah, Pamela, happy days. See you at the tasting in the sky. I wonder if the walrus is attending? Probably not! Love, John.

  4. Alan Mayne says:

    Dear Pamela. Very sad, always enjoyed meeting her at trade events. What a great lady.

    Alan Mayne

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