Pamela Vandyke Price: Wine expert whose acerbic writing scorned supermarket brands in favour of independent and traditional makers


Pamela Vandyke Price embarked upon a career of writing about wine at a time when it was still an unusual thing for a woman to do. "She was the first woman to write seriously about wine in Britain [and] did more than most to popularise wine after the Second World War," says her entry in Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, which continues: "She is probably most distinguished as a performer, however, having trained initially as an actress." She was also a woman of strong dislikes; a portion of her final years was spent drawing up a list of those who were not to be asked to her funeral.

Complementing this was a splendidly robust sense of self-aware humour. As she said more than once in her rather scatty memoirs, Woman of Taste (1990), she knew that she could frighten maîtres d'hôtel and junior journalists with one glance of her "beady eye," but I shall always remember those expressive eyes surrounded by laughter-lines. Sensationally good company on the wine trips so necessary to every wine writer's livelihood, she was a repository of frank and funny stories about hosts and fellow guests alike; and, in an unusually maternal role, the keeper of a portable medicine chest that could cope with most mishaps and minor injuries.

Impatient with younger wine writers' emphasis on the consumer, and the attention they paid to supermarkets and multiple retailers of wine, Pamela's mission was always to help the wine trade as a whole. Her introduction to the intricacies of wine-making, tasting and judging its quality, and her understanding of the business of wine came via her mentor, Allan Sichel. Pamela loyally remained a champion of the independent wine merchant and the traditional structure of the trade. At the same time, her ebullient personality made her readers delight in personal contact with her, as in the tastings she hosted when she was the wine correspondent of The Times.

Pamela Walford was born in 1923, the only child of a middle-class family in the Midlands. Her father was a clock- and watchmaker in firm called Williamsons, and when it was bought by S Smith & Son of London, the family moved there in the mid-1930s. Her Irish-French mother was a secretary; her parents, Pamela wrote, were ill-matched and should not have married. Educated privately, following a year in lodgings at Oxford, she got into Somerville to read English, and was taught by J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis. The war over, she enrolled as a graduate at the Central School of Speech and Drama, telling an interviewer in 2001: "I wanted to write plays and produce, but although I can make people laugh I can't make them cry."

Deciding instead to become a journalist, she got a job at Condé Nast as household editor of House & Garden. ("Did they sack me three times," she wondered in print, "or only once?") There, say her memoirs, she "manoeuvred Elizabeth David into working for us. She was impossible but became a very good personal friend." Those who knew both these strong women find this unlikely.

A friend introduced the Anglo-Catholic Pamela to medical student Alan Vandyke Price "the scion of two distinguished Jewish families … rising star of his medical group". His mother was Marjorie Vandyke, daughter of S F Vandyke, manager of the Rembrandt hotel in Knightsbridge. At 18, Alan had been part of a clean-up expedition to Belsen. The couple's common interests were acting and the theatre, and when Alan did his National Service in the RAF, they lived for a time in South Wales. He had contracted hepatitis from a patient, and never drank, but "he wished us to be known for our entertaining". A big staff job was coming up and we hoped Alan would get it; if I had a baby a big inheritance would provide for the next generation". But in 1955, the hepatitis claimed Alan's life.

Pamela was consoled by a platonic relationship with the considerably older Allan Sichel of the Sichel wine company, which owned part of Chateau Palmer. Condé Nast had given her time off to do a Wine and Spirits Association course, so when she met Sichel, and he invited her to accompany him in three weeks' time on a buying trip to Burgundy, she didn't have to think long: "I was a pretty piece in those days and thanks to Mummy I always had nice things to wear. So I said to him, 'Why do you want me to go with you'? And he said, 'Not, my dear child, for the reason you obviously think. I'm an old man now, my wife doesn't like long drives and I think you'd amuse me.'"

Pamela relished the tastings that were at the heart of the job, and wrote at least 27 books on wine and food subjects. She won several awards during her long career, including a Glennfiddich award for wine writing. In 1981 the French made her a Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole.

She did not scruple to name people who had displeased her, as when she attacked "the astonishing perversity" of her former features editor on The Times. "When a feature was sent back with a furious comment", she wrote, "I would slightly rewrite the first paragraph, and then retype the rest on a different machine. It would always be accepted." In the 1970s, Pamela complained to Private Eye: "Every time I describe a wine as anything other than red or white, dry or wet, I wind up in Pseuds Corner." She was instrumental in setting up the Circle of Wine Writers and was its sole trustee.

Pamela Joan Walford, wine writer: born Leicester March 1923; married Alan Vandyke Price (died 1955); died London 12 January 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine