Wed 06 Sep 2017

The Society’s List: A Look Back To 1967

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The Wine Society’s Lists of 50 years ago reflect a wine world narrower than it is today.

Bordeaux and Burgundy totally dominated. Port and sherry and sherry look-alikes from Montilla, South Africa and Australia were important and most members would have stocked them. Moselle and Hock were given a good airing though there were no German dry wines. The Italian (five wines) and Spanish (six wines) selections were rudimentary. There were four Portuguese table wines including the hugely popular, now forgotten, Periquita. East Europe was represented by Tokay and ‘Yugoslavia’. ‘Renski Rizling and Rumeni Muscat bottles in Maribor have exceptionally good character.’

The Australian entry was minimalist: malbec and ‘hock style’ Barossa riesling. North America did not feature and South America had only Chilean cabernet, which was bought from the Nitrate Corporation, shipped in bulk and usually delayed in Liverpool docks where it softened in to a very palatable red.

A slip of paper advertising hogsheads at £2.50 each is a clue to one big difference from today. Nearly all the Burgundies and many of the clarets were shipped in cask and bottled in Stevenage. On my first visit to the Society’s cellars a few years later I was amazed to see the whole of one wall filled with racks with dozens of barrels filled with The Society’s White Burgundy, then and now one of the most popular wines on the List.

The bottling hall at Stevenage

The Society was skilled at bottling. Vintage Port pipes were rolled round the cellar to rouse the sediment before bottling. Our bottlings of wines like Fonseca 63 and 66 were legendary and better, in my experience, than those bottled at source. Good use was made of sherry casks, which were sent up to Scotland when empty to house our whisky fillings for The Society’s Highland Blue Whisky. Dry amontillado produces the finest results.

The 1967 range of claret looks mouthwatering with twenty-four 1961 clarets (Lynch Bages 22/6 a bottle, Montrose 25/9) and forty-three 1959s (Lafite 54/-, Palmer 23/-). Christopher Tatham, the gifted wine buyer, chose wonderful red and white Burgundies which stood the test of time for decades. His wine-buying travels were mostly in France. He had begun to develop the Loire list by 1967 but he had not yet explored the potential of the south of France, as Marcel Orford-Williams does successfully today.

The economic climate was not easy. The year ended 31st January 1968 saw a very small surplus after two years of losses following The Society’s move out of London. The previous year there had been a 10% increase in duties, a credit squeeze and a price freeze and Resale Price Maintenance had been abolished. Previously The Society was not bound by this and had been able to sell its whisky and gin at prices below the rest of the market. The Society, however, where reputation for sourcing genuine and authentic wines was well known probably benefitted from the wine trade scandal that had revealed that many wines offered for sale elsewhere were mislabelled and not what they proclaimed to be. In fact as The Society became settled in its new cellars, 1967 was probably a turning point in its history when it took on its new lease of life.

Early days in Stevenage

An apology in the List reminds us never to be complacent:

‘A large consignment of Australian Barossa Flor Fino Sherry was caught in the Suez Canal during the Middle East War and is still on the Bitter Lake. However, fresh consignments were dispatched around the Cape and no doubt will be improved by the extra and at one time traditional sea voyage’.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Take a look through an archive of Society List covers from 1880 to the present day.

Comments

  1. Soorat Singh Esq says:

    Interesting, it would be great to have a downloadable archive of lists from every decade or so to peruse. Also to see how descriptions and language have evolved.
    Just to see how fashions and say 1st growths prices have changed.
    Thanks.

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