When it comes to qualifications, one man has sniffed and slurped his way through more wine examinations than perhaps any other. That man is Gérard Basset, 54 years old, boasts not just a Master of Wine qualification, but also a Master Sommelier, and a Wine M.B.A. from the Bordeaux École de Management, for which he wrote a thesis on the psychology of the wine list. If that wasn’t enough, in 2010 he was named world champion by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) in Santiago, Chile. If anyone can claim to be the world’s greatest sommelier, it is probably him.
Not bad for a man who left school at 16 with no formal qualifications, began his career washing dishes at a hotel on the Isle of Man and, in 1977, when he first came to Britain from his home in France, knew absolutely nothing about wine. So last summer, when it was announced he was to be awarded an Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, the fairy tale was complete.
"It was such a beautiful day," he says, in an accent that retains much of the character of his first language. "If I go back to my childhood, I was very anti-royal. We thought these English people were crazy—we, after all, killed our kings. But when you live in England, you understand more the importance of the monarchy. It took me a while, but slowly I became quite fond of the queen."
This is the kind of story I like! A guy that essentially came from nothing and has built himself (without the luxury of “family money”) into the world’s greatest Somm.
These kinds of stories are few and far between, as if you dig a little deeper, you find these types of people usually come from a fairly well-off family.
This should serve as inspiration to folks that make excuses as to why they can’t get ahead in life. If anything, things are only getting easier compared to when Gerard Basset was growing-up. Social media and the internet now allow you to make connections and promote yourself (with relatively little expense) in a way that otherwise would have never-before been possible.