Harry Waugh Remembered
© Parks Redwine
About the author:
"My real name is Redwine
"
I have been the president of a wine importing company (the Atlanta Improvement Company) in Atlanta, Georgia since 1990. I am also the "Dean" of international wine competition directors, having now put on over 30 competitions since 1982. (I put on the NorthWest Wine Summit at Timberline Lodge every spring, and in early September VinoChallenge International here in Atlanta.)

I was a wine columnist for the Atlanta Journal/Constitution from 1976 - 1982, but I did use a psudonym at that time - no one would believe that my real name was Redwine. (The name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, with its meaning having nothing to do with wine. The family came to "the colonies" - Philadelphia - in 1750.)

In most professions there are icons - those individuals who for one reason or another stand out among their peers, the players who make it to the Hall of Fame.

When it comes to those in the wine profession, Harry Waugh was such a person. Harry was born in Chilwick, in Hertfordshire, England on June 9, 1904. He was the third son of a distinguished veterinary surgeon and horse trainer. His father died unexpectedly when he was only four. Harry was educated at Cranleigh, and in his twenties held a number of different jobs. In 1934, at the age of 30, he became a junior clerk with the firm of Block, Grey and Block, well-known West End carriage trade wine merchants. During World War II Harry served as a member of the Welsh Guards. After the war he joined John Harvey & Sons of Bristol. Then as today, John Harvey & Sons was most noted for their Sherry business, but they also carry on an active business in table wines. Harry quickly gained an enviable and highly respected reputation for having an extremely keen palate - a reputation he carried for the rest of his life. He became the principal buyer for table wines for John Harvey & Sons.

A great palate alone, though, was not enough to make Harry into a living legend. It was his personality. He exuded charm and enthusiasm with his customers, mostly other English wine merchants, but also retailers and restaurateurs in the United States. His clientele, in turn, genuinely appreciated the wines he discovered during his visits and forays into various French and German wine regions and vineyards. He is acclaimed as being one of the first merchant-connoisseurs to "discover," after the war, the soft, suave Merlot=based wines of the Pomerol region of Bordeaux - heretofore little appreciated by the wine trade. Of course, we are talking about such legendary vintages as 1945, 1947 and 1949, many of which are still outstanding today, nearly 60 years later.

While Bordeaux wines held his main interest, they were nit alone. He also pioneered the simple, yet authentic wines of Beaujolais: straightforward, fruity, quaffing wines, as opposed to what has been referred to as "souped-up brewers' and grocers' wines" (referring to wines that probably had had some Rhône grapes like Grenache and/or Syrah added to the pure Gamay-based unadulterated Beaujolais). One other area for which Harry became famous was his early appreciation of the wines of the United States, especially those of California. Again, he was among the very first international wine authorities to tout their praises in the press.

In the 1950's Harry began to record his buying trips to France and Germany. He used the format of a diary, recording the places he visited and stayed day by day. He gave particular mention to various wines he had sampled, as well as the people he met, and the restaurants (and meals) where he dined. At first these were typed and distributed to the staff at Harvey's. A bit later the editor of a well-known British magazine, Wine, had his notes published. This brought Harry to the attention of others in the wine trade, from all over the world. Harry next had a series of five books, generally referred to as his wine diaries, and published between 1966 - 1973. Harry's fame was now ensured. He became a favorite lecturer among U. S. chapters of Les Amis du Vin, a consumer-oriented wine society. He made frequent transatlantic trips to host innumerable tastings and dinners, which perpetuated and extended his recognition as a true authority figure in the wine trade.

During this time he founded, along with Allan Sichel (of Château Palmer) and Jack (Sir John) Plumb, the Bordeaux Club in London (1949); he established the English branch of Les Compagnons de Beaujolais (1965); and the Zinfandel Club (1976), also in London, which featured all types of California wines. In 1950 he was invited to become a member of the Saintsbury Club, a grand wining and dining group. In the 1960's he became a member of the (international) Wine and Food Society of which he was, for a number of years, wine committee chairman. He was also the wine buyer for the Cunard Lines steamship company (the QEII, etc.), and a director of Château Latour, one of Bordeaux's then-four First Growths. For a while I believe that he was also the wine buyer for London's five-star Savoy Hotel. One of the highest honors bestowed upon him was the title "Master of Wine," without having to take the various rigorous tests, the only person ever so recognized. (He always referred to it as an "Honorary" Master of Wine.)

Harry visited Atlanta at least four times (not counting flights that went through Atlanta). As with his visits to other U.S. cities, his appearance was always a highly anticipated occasion, whereupon people brought out some of the finest bottles from their cellars to open and share with him. They would intently listen to every word he might say about their wine. He would rank the various wines, and give his thoughts and reasons for doing so - whether they were being tasted blind or not. He never failed to enthrall his audience.

On a more personal note, Harry's first marriage dissolved after the war. He devoted himself to his profession for nearly 30 years before meeting Prue, whom he married in 1974 when he was 70 and she was 39. They had twins, a son and a daughter, a year later, when Harry was 71. Both offspring followed in their father's footsteps: his son worked for Château Petrus and his daughter worked for England's foremost wine magazine, Decanter.

Harry is best described as having been decorous, civil, polished, gallant and a genteel person: a true gentleman, with whom it was always a pleasure to be near. He was the quintessential English wine merchant. He had charm and a sense of humor. He is famous for his answer to the question, "When was the last time ... " or ... "Have you ever mistaken a Bordeaux for a Burgundy?" "Not since lunch" was his reply.

He did not use a lot of adjectives when describing a wine, instead you would hear "This will make a nice wine," when referring to a young wine, or "This is top rate," when referring to a mature wine. He had quite a scare in his eighties when, during a buying trip to Burgundy, he was involved in a minor automobile accident. He completely lost his ability to smell. Fortunately, this lasted only several months, but it had him quite worried. Harry is also described as having been erudite and quite convivial, and a genuine wine connoisseur who loved his work. He regularly made visits to the world's great art museums whenever his travels permitted.

All in all, Harry was a legend in his own time. He is worth knowing about by today's new generation of wine aficionados. He was a mentor to Michael Broadbent and many others. Jancis Robinson said of him that just before his final short illness and hospital stay he could be seen at several tastings, sitting there with the straightest of any backs, taking notes. He died on Nov. 29, 2001. He is missed, and also remembered, on this, what would have been his 100th birthday.

June 9, 2004

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