DB Awards 2016: a report on the winners

Lifetime Achievement Award

Mark Savage MWMark Savage MW

This year’s recipient is a highly-respected member of the UK wine trade who has spent a career sourcing wines with ‘honesty’ and ‘originality’.

Born in Kampala in 1949 – where he remained until independence was granted to Uganda in 1962 – Mark Savage MW’s first taste of wine was a bottle of La Gratitude from South Africa, which probably explains his love of wines from the Cape that has lasted to this day.

But it was only when he had moved to the UK with his family in the early 60s, that his keen interest in all drinks made from the grape became apparent.

During his teenage years, while he was being educated at Ampleforth College, Mark set up a wine tasting society, while later, having gained a place at Oxford University to read Greats, became president of the institution’s revered Blind Wine Tasting Team – and competed victoriously in the Varsity Blind Tasting match as a contemporary of Oz Clarke and Charles Metcalfe.

Unlike these two prominent wine personalities, however, our recipient eschewed a role in the media following his graduation, and chose to mix practical trade experience with intense study to achieve success.

Having gained varied experience with Moët & Chandon, Harrods, OW Loeb and Tanners, he established his own business in 1975 – after receiving the Vintners Scholarship in that year.

In 1980 he became a Master of Wine – by far the youngest of his generation – and it was during this decade that he became interested in the wines of North America, making him one of the first British merchants to buy from this continent.

Initially, he was a regular visitor to California, but as the wine scene there evolved and prices soared, his attention was increasingly drawn towards Oregon, Washington and even Idaho.

Importantly, early on in his American travels, Mark visited Oregon Pinot pioneer David Lett of Eyrie vineyards, and, having discovered the quality of this then fledgling operation, was the first to introduce the Eyrie wines to the UK, establishing in effect Oregon’s international reputation for great wines from Burgundian grapes. And to this day Mark is considered the leading independent expert on the region.

David Lett’s son Jason recalls: “His adventure with Oregon wine began in 1980, when he introduced himself to my parents. They immediately established fellow feeling with a man whose curiosity never compromises a keen sense of taste. I have had the privilege to travel with him to other up-and-coming wine regions, and his unflappable stamina, energetic palate, and insight are without comparison.”

But other great wines owe their UK fame to our recipient, and prove that not all he sought was well off the wine world’s beaten path. For example, he was the first to introduce British drinkers to Billecart Salmon, Gaja, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and St Emilion’s still rising star, Tertre Rôteboeuf.

Just as we can thank Victorian plant hunters for the giant Sequoias in UK soil today, we should be grateful to Mark for finding and bringing these great wineries to our discerning market – and, in doing so, the world’s attention too.

Presently, he is working directly with about 50 small family wine estates in a dozen different countries through Savage Selection, although his specialisms are Austria, Hungary and Slovenia, the Piedmont and South Africa.

His portfolio has been described as “magnificently eccentric” by Jancis Robinson, while Oz Clarke has said of our recipient, ‘I don’t think he could buy a dull wine if he tried’.

Despite running his own business for over 40 years, Mark has no plans to retire, nor reduce his busy schedule of commitments beyond his day job, be they on the international judging circuit or skiing, playing real tennis, and studying wine in antiquity.

Mark is liked and respected in equal measure, and, despite his many achievements, has remained a modest and low-profile figure, who, our judges felt, deserves much greater fame for his pioneering work in the wine trade.

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