My good friend, fellow wine merchant and erstwhile mentor Nick Dobson died recently, after a short battle with cancer. He was just 54 years old. The funeral is today, and although I am unable to make it down to Wokingham to be there, I cannot let the occasion pass without at least writing a few words of appreciation for his life and his friendship.
My start in the wine business would have been much more of a daunting prospect without Nick's generous and sage advice. Towards the end of 2003, when I decided I wanted to start importing wine, I scoured the Internet for some or other friendly merchant that seemed "small" (for want of a better expression) who might be willing to give some advice to a total beginner like me. Having found Nick's site (and noticing that he himself had started only a year or so previously) I sent him an email, with goodness-knows-how-many questions. Within the day, Nick replied with a host of answers/advice twice as long as my own email(!) From there, we had numerous other email correspondence and phone conversations. I couldn't believe my luck in finding someone so knowledgeable about setting-up a wine business and (crucially) so willing to share that knowledge - not to mention his valuable time - with someone that he had never even met.
The following year, I met Nick for the first time, when he and I and various other wine merchants got together at Waddesden Manor, to share some good food and wine and to form the Association of Small Direct Wine Merchants (ASDW). I won't bore you with the details - briefly, it was (indeed still is) a trade association for small independent merchants who get together occasionally to share ideas and organise wine shows and trade tastings. Over the next few years, we met at least 2 or 3 times a year and shared some good times at various meetings and tasting events. Nick and his charming wife Jean even put me up for a night at their house, when he had organised a tasting event in his home town of Wokingham - and their kindness and hospitality made me feel very much at home. We also had a tradition of sending each-other a case of our best wines each Christmas and I very much enjoyed sampling some of his excellent and quirky selections from places like Austria, Switzerland, Beaujolais and southern Burgundy.
|At The Atlas, Fulham in June 2006 - Nick Dobson is 3rd from the right|
Things have moved on since then, and I am no longer a member of ASDW, but some of us have kept in touch. And although I hadn't seen Nick for a couple of years, we still enjoyed the occasional chin wag on the phone, very often for an hour or more - like me, Nick could talk for England! I have some great memories of us all getting together for AGM's and tastings at The Atlas in London, Canon's Ashby House, Wokingham Town Hall, and other venues. So I have Nick to thank not only for helping me get into the wine business (for better or worse!) but for being one of the driving forces in gathering together a disparate band of wine nuts who not only worked for a common cause, but - much more importantly - formed some long-lasting friendships. For that, and more importantly for Nick's own friendship, I am truly grateful.
Nick was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of 2012 and he quickly decided to sell his business, in order to spend more time with Jean and their son Charlie and to try and beat his illness. The last time I spoke with hin, he was surprisingly upbeat and philosophical, and for a short while he even seemed to be making some progress. Unfortunately, it just wasn't to be.
My heart goes out to Jean, Charlie (who is a lot younger than my two boys) and all of Nick's family. To me, Nick was one of a kind, and a good friend. To them, he was infinitely more precious than that. I'll be thinking about them a lot, in the coming days and weeks............