When asked how California wines were viewed in France in 1976, Steven Spurrier replied, “California wines were not viewed. California wine did not exist.”

In his memoir, A Life in Wine, Spurrier describes his introduction to wine at age 13.

“The decanter was moved in my direction. The wine, Cockburn’s 1908, was quite extraordinary, and the impression it left has lasted a lifetime. That was my Damascene moment, the moment when the seed was firmly planted for my life in wine.”

Referring to l’Académie du Vin’s blind tasting he hosted that year at the InterContinental Paris, Spurrier summed up the event a few months ago. “On May 24, 1976, the nine judges chose California wine above the top wines of France. And the rest is history…I should know. I was there.”

Surrounded by his beloved family, homegrown Bride Valley vines, and walls covered with art he loved, Steven Spurrier passed away at home in Dorset, England in March. It was just weeks before the 45th anniversary of the landmark event that became known as the “Judgment of Paris.” “The stars were aligned,” said Steven in January during a video conversation with George Taber, TIME journalist who covered the 1976 tasting, and Patricia Gastaud- Gallagher, his colleague at l’Académie du Vin. “We had so much help. We were doing it from the seat of our pants, but we were profession- als. We were altruistic and it was all done for the right reasons. It opened the game.”

The world of wine so  eloquently  shaped by Steven Spurrier will sorely miss him: wine merchant, author, educator, vintner, champion of wine regions all over the world. For Napa, there’s no question about the defining significance of that Monday afternoon in Paris. A permanent sculpture is being commissioned to provide Napa with an everlasting remembrance. As Steven himself put it, “Napa is a beacon. Napa Valley and California are a beacon of quality to wine around the world.”

“As they swirled, sniffed, sipped, and spat, some judges were instantly able to separate an imported upstart from an aristocrat. More often, the panel was confused. ‘Ah, back to France!’ exclaimed [one judge] after sipping a 1972 Chardonnay from the Napa Valley.  ‘That is definitely California. It has no nose,’ said another judge—after downing a Batard Montrachet ’73 [from France].”   — George Taber, Judgment of Paris


Article By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr