Uncorking the legacy of a life-changing som
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
It was a chance job as a kitchen porter that set Gérard Basset on the road to becoming one of the world’s most celebrated sommeliers. In a career spanning four decades, the Frenchman was crowned World’s Best Sommelier, qualified as a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier, and even received an OBE. Born in St-Étienne in 1957, he moved to England in the 1980s, working at Chewton Glen in Hampshire before going on to co-found the Hotel du Vin chain. “Yet he never forgot about those people who gave him those early breaks,” says his son Romané Basset. “And he was very much about passing that on.” Following Basset’s untimely death from oesophageal cancer in 2019, his family set up the Gérard Basset Foundation – a charity that promotes inclusivity and diversity in the drinks and hospitality industry by offering financial, educational and professional leg-ups to those who need it most.
Backed by sponsors including Artémis Domaines, LVMH, Taylor’s Port and Camus Cognac, as well as funds raised from an annual Golden Vines dinner and auction, the Foundation has so far awarded more than 60 scholarships to drinks professionals in 23 different countries. “All our scholars are passionate about what they do,” says Romané, “but they’re often facing obstacles that are beyond their control – discrimination on the basis of gender or race or sexuality, for example, or hurdles that are political or financial.”
One of the early recipients of the Foundation’s Artémis Domaines Golden Vines Victims of Conflict Scholarship was the Ukrainian sommelier Maryna Revkova. Having fled Kyiv following the Russian invasion, she was awarded a six-month internship at Artémis Domaine’s Château Latour; this year she represented Ukraine at the ASI World’s Best Sommelier Competition in Paris. “I was also able to buy a small energy generator for my family in Ukraine, who had no connection, water, electricity or heating. Now we can talk at least every day,” she says. Revkova is studying to become a Master Sommelier with the goal of becoming a winemaker. Being awarded the scholarship, she says, “was one of the most important moments of my life”.
The American spirits expert and bartender Darian Everding was already a vocal campaigner for greater diversity and inclusion in the spirits industry when she was awarded her Alexa Camus Golden Vines scholarship this year. Both queer and neurodivergent, she has made a name bringing spirits to new audiences – her upcoming internship with Camus cognac in France, and impending Wine & Spirits Education Trust qualification, will, she says, “continue to open doors”.
The Foundation also offers grants to organisations “targeted at reaching more people at a more foundational to intermediate level”, says Romané. And it’s this work, with the help of new patrons and supporters, that the Foundation is now aiming to build. “One of our most successful grantees so far has been the Pinotage Youth Development Academy South Africa,” says Romané, “an academy that offers vocational training and work experience to 18- to 25-year-olds from rural and marginalised communities in the Cape and Stellenbosch. We fund 50 places on their Wine & Marketing programme – because, of course, there are a lot of employment opportunities in wine in that part of the world. In the past two years more than90 per cent of students on that course have gained their WSET level 2 qualification.” Another grantee is the Wine & Spirits Professional Centre in Athens, Greece, which offers hospitality training and career advice to single mothers – “a cohort who are often stigmatised and struggle to find employment”.
The Foundation also has strong ties with America’s Hue Society, a community-based organisation that uses wine events and education as a medium for strengthening networks among indigenous communities and people of colour. Thanks in part to the Foundation’s support, the Hue Society recently launched its first chapter in South Africa. “We’ve already awarded 23 grants in 11 countries – now we want to reach even more people,” says Romané. “And to do that we need more patrons who can offer help either in money or in kind.”
The other way you can support the Foundation is by bidding at the Golden Vines Charity Auction, which culminates every October at the £10,000-a-ticket Golden Vines weekender – a programme of tastings, parties and dinners catered by the world’s top sommeliers and chefs. Past lots have included a tour of Florence with Gucci, wine tours by private jet and a chance to test-drive the latest supercars at Car of the Year in Miami. The world’s finest wines and spirits are also, naturally, up for grabs.
The next Golden Vines weekend will take place in Madrid next October, and the waiting list for tickets is now open. One hundred per cent of the proceeds from the auction go towards the Foundation – the last auction raised $1mn. An excellent memorial for the kitchen porter from St-Étienne.