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

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution