Wine and the City spends an afternoon with the indefatigable author, designer and restaurateur behind the Habitat furniture chain and London restaurants Bluebird and Boundary, to chat about drinking Cahors with Nancy Cunard in the '50s, smoking Cuban cigars with David Hockney, and a road trip to Burgundy in Bill Baker's Land Rover.
I got into wine while working as a designer for John Harvey & Sons in Bristol – a breeding ground for some of the most influential people in the wine trade: Michael Broadbent, Harry Waugh – you name it. It was the most wonderful induction to the world of fine wine.
How did you develop your newfound passion?
I started drinking quality wine and began to understand the differences between vintages, châteaux and regions. I decided red and white Burgundy were my passions – they have an indefinable decadence about them. I was born in 1931, which was a terrible year for Bordeaux. As a result I’ve been given some disastrous presents. Michael Broadbent gave me a bottle of 1931 Haut-Brion, which was undrinkable vinegar. Luckily, it was a good year for Port.
Are you a Bordeaux or a Burgundy man?
As I get older, I understand the subtlety of wine more. I find Burgundy more French than Bordeaux. Bordeaux has been Americanised and is very concerned with money. Burgundy is more intellectual than Bordeaux. Old Burgundy has such fantastic, complex flavours. I’ve got two cellars under my house in Berkshire, one for white wine and one for red. They’re the perfect temperature and humidity for both wine and cigars.
I’ve heard you’re partial to the odd cigar…
Cigars are another passion – I smoke three Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No2s a day. I often drink Chilean wine as I find it robust, full of flavour and well priced. I object to paying £500 for a bottle of wine. Being a war child I am still obsessed with value for money. I’ve tried Pétrus on very few occasions. It’s a beautiful wine, but I can’t drink it in a relaxed way.
Who do you like to share your prized bottles with?
My dear friend Bill Baker, who died three years ago, was the best person to drink wine with. I shared a huge number of bottles with him over the years, and bought most of my wine from him at Reid Wines – he was incredibly knowledgeable. He would drive me around Burgundy in his huge Land Rover, loading case after case at every vineyard we stopped off at. When I went on Eurostar with him, he’d bring a big basket full of wine, which we’d crack open during the journey.
Do you see wine as an investment or something to enjoy?
Both. I’m not an investor in wine, but I like the idea of it. If you’re going to invest in anything, then wine and art are the best things to spend your money on because you can enjoy your investment. I collect a lot of art. I buy my contemporaries – Hodgkin and Hockney. Hockney is a big wine lover – I’ve drunk vast quantities of wine and smoked many cigars with him. On a trip to Southern France in the early ’50s I went to stay in a converted barn belonging to English socialite and heiress Nancy Cunard (pictured), who counted Aldous Huxley and TS Eliot among her lovers. We drank Cahors late into the night until our teeth went black.
Article originally published in Decanter magazine