Johnson reflects on Lifetime Achievement

“I’ll try not to let you down,” Hugh Johnson OBE told a crowd of leading figures from the wine industry as he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute of Masters of Wine and the drinks business.

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Hugh Johnson OBE accepts his Lifetime Achievement Award at Vinexpo.

Johnson looked back on his career as a “scribbler” that started with a Vogue article in 1960 about wine pairings for turkey and was nurtured by a friendship with “my patron, my inspiration”, the food and wine writer André Simon.

His ventures since have ranged from creating The World Atlas of Wine to presidency of the Sunday Times Wine Club, an advisory seat on the board of Château Latour and the foundation of Royal Tokaji.

Praising the Master of Wine qualification of “the gold standard”, Johnson highlighted the early path laid by Simon as “effectively the founder of wine education in London”. However, he also noted the importance of The World Atlas of Wine, first published in 1971 in partnership with Jancis Robinson MW, for developing people’s understanding and appreciation of wine.

“The ability to show where a wine was geographically was hugely important,” he remarked. “St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien were just a list of names that didn’t mean anything, but when you saw them on a map, saw where the roads are, where the water is, then the penny dropped and they became real places.”

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Hugh was joined at the ceremony by his son Red Johnson, founder of the British Bottle Company, a business dedicated to exporting UK wines, beers and spirits.

Introducing the award, whose previous recipients include Robert Mondavi, Marchese Piero Antinori, Jean-Michel Cazes and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, IMW chairman Sara Jane Evans MW praised Johnson as having “done more than anyone to bring wines to the world and make them enjoyable, popular and taken seriously.”

She noted: “Communicating about wine used to be – and still can be – a very dry, serious business,” before hailing Johnson’s writing and television series for “changing the way we think about wine.”

As part of the awards ceremony, guests were poured Mézes Maly 2010, a dry Furmint from Johnson’s Royal Tokaji venture, which he described as a “quixotic” endeavour started 25 years ago to restore the reputation of wines from this Hungarian region to their pre-Communist era glory.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented every two years at Vinexpo Bordeaux, with the recipient chosen in a vote by members of the Institute of Masters of Wine as someone who has made an immense contribution to the world of wine throughout their career.

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