As a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, and as the proud President of Wine GB, it’s a huge pleasure to be with all of you this evening in this magnificent hall. And if I may, Master Vintner, I would like to thank you for so generously hosting this Wine GB dinner here tonight.
Now, some of you may know that the love of wine runs in the veins of my family. My grandfather, P Morton Shand, wrote about food and wine. He knew a great deal about French and German wine and it shows something of the bias of the times when in 1925 he wrote, ‘A Book of French Wines’, followed later by ‘A book of wines other than French – mostly German’. Had he been alive today, I believe a book of English wines would have been proudly penned by him!
My father became a wine merchant after leaving the army, and the scant knowledge I have of wine comes from him. He was also an ardent bibliophile, so I think he would have heartily agreed with Robert Louis Stevenson’s remark that ‘Wine is bottled poetry’. And I’m reliably informed that after a glorious Summer, this year’s vintage is worthy of Shakespeare! Not only is it a bumper crop, but the long ripening season suggests it will be even better than ever.
As your President, I’m delighted that our wines will have an even higher profile in this country and abroad. As you all know, our wine-makers make a huge contribution to tourism in this country. There are now over 500 vineyards in the UK and 200 of them are open to visitors. Many of them offer tours, accommodation and restaurants as well as a chance to buy their excellent wines.
Since becoming President of Wine GB in 2012, I have witnessed our wines going from strength to strength in quantity and, even more importantly, in quality. Our wine-makers have been winning national and international prizes – and, I’m happy to say, beating our French friends on many an occasion!
So Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we can all agree that, thanks to the work of Wine GB and the support of the Vintners Company, more and more people will be able to appreciate the fine wines grown and made in Great Britain. In these times of uncertainty, that can only be a good thing because – if I may quote the Vintners Company motto – Wine Cheers the Spirit! And in these dark January days, we all need our spirits cheered!