“A STAR player”, “world class”, and a “shining example” – those were the tributes paid from around the globe to top wine expert and New Forest hotelier Gerard Basset who last week died surrounded by his family.
French-born Gerard (61) was proprietor of the popular Spot in the Woods café and B&B in Netley Marsh which he ran with his wife, Nina, whom he met while working at the five-star Chewton Glen in New Milton in the 1980s.
However, he was best known for his supreme wine expertise which led to him winning a host of competition titles and the deep respect of the international industry.
In 2011 he was made an OBE for services to hospitality and last year was presented with one of France’s greatest honours, the Order of Agricultural Merit, by the French ambassador to the UK.
Nina, with whom he had a son, Romané, said: “Whilst we are devastated to have to say goodbye to Gerard for the last time, we draw strength from the kind messages that we have already received from the many people whose lives he touched.
“He fought a brave battle against cancer and we are comforted that he died at home surrounded by his family and that he is now at peace.
“Both Romané and I are profoundly grateful for the support we have received from our friends across the world, including many in the wine and hospitality industries, and to know that Gerard was so loved by all those who knew him.”
Although known locally for Spot in the Woods, Gerard was co-founder with Robin Hutson of the well-regarded Hotel Du Vin chain which he later sold to buy Busketts Lawn Hotel. He and Nina ran it as Hotel Terravina before its latest incarnation.
Anthony Climpson, chief executive of local tourist group Go New Forest, said: “Gerard was quite literally world class. His impact on the hospitality industry across the globe was profound.
“From his time at the Chewton Glen, his pivotal role in developing the Hotel Du Vin brand and latterly back in the Forest establishing the fabulous Hotel Terravina, Gerard was a colossus in his field.
“He will be sadly missed and I’m certain I speak for everyone in the local tourism industry in sending our heartfelt condolences to his wife Nina.”
It was at the Chewton Glen that Gerard accrued some of the knowledge that made him such an authority, and helped him become the only person ever to hold the combined titles of Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, Wine MBA and World’s Best Sommelier.
Andrew Stembridge, managing director at the Chewton Glen, reacted with “tremendous sadness” to Gerard’s death, and said: “These achievements were the result of tremendous hard work, ambition and determination.
“He was the first ever Chewton Glen sommelier and was recruited to join the hotel by our founder Martin Skan, who tirelessly supported Gerard’s studies and encouraged him to enter competitions and deepen his knowledge of the wine industry throughout the world.
“Gerald left a lasting legacy of excellence and innovation in wine at Chewton Glen. Today our cellars boast wines from every famed region of the world and we pride ourselves on our outstanding selection of English wines, which even Gerard as a proud Frenchman applauded.
“But I think I will remember him best on the occasion of Chewton Glen’s 50th anniversary when, talking of his time at the hotel, Gerard said, ‘Coming to work, you felt like you were in a winning team – almost like playing for Manchester United’, and I think the industry has perhaps today lost one of its star players.”
Gerard was born in 1957 and raised in France. He initially trained as a chef but switched to be a sommelier when he moved to the UK in the 1980s.
He was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2017. In July last year he was given 6-12 months to live.
Gerard was a former president of the Court Of Master Sommeliers Europe, which said in a statement that “words cannot express how saddened we are”.
It added: “Innumerable people in the wine world have felt the influence of Gerard; especially sommeliers. He has been a mentor and inspiration to so many, a shining example of courtesy, humility and professionalism that we all should aspire to.”
A private funeral will be held before a memorial service in London in the spring. Messages of condolence can be sent to email@example.com