Obituary: Geoffrey Roberts

Geoffrey Michael Roberts, wine merchant: born London 23 November 1947; died London 30 April 1994.

WINE MERCHANTS nowadays come in two sorts. There is the conventional, ex-public-schoolboy type, for whom selling wine is an alternative to a career in the Army or the City, and the modern eccentric type, with a passion for wine, food and travel, for whom the wine trade is more closely allied to the arts than to business. Geoffrey Roberts was an amalgam of both, a strikingly handsome Old Etonian who wore dark suits and his hair short and, though he loved to shoot, adored the opera and the ballet and boasted that he had eaten in every Michelin three-star restaurant in France.

Geoffrey's father, Cyril Roberts, had been distinguished in the Army and at the Bar, but his main career was as the Member for Staff of the National Coal Board. They were an Eton family, and Geoffrey left Eton in 1965, a member of Pop and head of the Corps, before being called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1970. The law, though, was not his calling. Earlier he had even flirted briefly with the idea of going into the Army, but in 1971, with Richard Jacobs, he started the Hungerford Wine Company in an old building in that market town. He was living there with his friend Christopher Selmes, then a whizz-kid financier, who later employed as his chef the young Simon Hopkinson, now of Bibendum restaurant, and universally recognised as one of the best cooks in London.

Nobody knows where Geoffrey Roberts got his interest in wine; members of his family say it was certainly not at the table at home. He made a success of the Hungerford venture, which sold not very interesting 'contract' wine for corporate entertaining. Then, in the early Seventies, Roberts went to Australia, where he fell in with Len Evans, the Welsh godfather of the Australian wine industry, and risked all by buying an entire container-load of Hunter Valley wine for Hungerford. Three months after taking delivery he had sold the lot.

In 1974 Roberts went to California on a holiday. While there he met most of the wine luminaries of Napa and Sonoma. He convinced his new (but about to become lifelong) friends there, who included Robert Mondavi, Barry and Audrey Sterling, Richard Graft of Chalono, Jamie Davies of Schramsberg and Janet Trefethen, to export their better wine to the British market, which had hitherto known California chiefly as a source of cheap wine. He traded as Geoffrey Roberts Associates and the wine world in Britain was stunned by what he had to show - though he did have a little trouble unloading the container of Zinfandel he had bought, trying to repeat his Australian wine coup. The huge tastings he held (and financed himself so that he retained an unusual degree of independence) from the late Seventies for 10 or 12 years were compulsory London wine events, and made him 'Mr California' to the British wine press as well as to his customers.

He sold an interest in his thriving business to Les Amis du Vin, who were in turn absorbed by Kennedy Brooke, and then by the Savoy Group. Roberts himself remained as a consultant.

Roberts kept an apartment in San Francisco, where he stayed twice a year. He visited Australia usually in February; and for the last four summers rented a house near St Tropez, to which he motored in his recently acquired vintage Bentley. Invitations to stay there were cherished by his circle of close friends, who also relished the occasional gastronomic excursion to Paris or the provinces.

In the course of the last few years I saw Geoffrey Roberts more often at the opera or the theatre than at wine events. He was a keen supporter of opera and ballet charity events, especially when the beneficiary was an Aids charity. I last ran into him three weeks ago, at a performance of Terry Johnson's Dead Funny, when he expressed his opinion of the play by leaving at the interval. He faced his final, and mercifully brief, illness with bravery and characteristic good-humour.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?