A friend of my parents recently downsized into a new house. Her husband was deceased and, as you might expect, she wanted away with many old possessions that were no longer relevant and didn’t belong in the new place. I therefore became the willing custodian of her vast selection of wine books.
Some of them were duplicates or previous editions of the current contents of my bookshelf – and in the case of Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine, I believe it’s the fourth of its kind! Many of them, however, were titles and tomes of which I had never heard and was looking forward to discovering. There was one book – a small and discreet hardback – which particularly stood out. Lest you take me for someone who could be swayed by a cover, no no, it was because of the musty smell that overwhelmed my nostrils. Even from a distance, the smell was strong to the point of being garish. Unable to ignore it any longer, I pick it up and look closer: “Dictionary of Wines and Spirits, 2280 Alphabetical Entries” by Pamela Vandyke Price.
If you’re not familiar with the name, Pamela Vandyke Price was an English wine writer, who was born in 1923 and died in 2014. Jancis Robinson has described her as “the first woman to write seriously about wine in Britain and who did more than most to popularise wines after World War Two.”
I really knew very little about this lady before finding this book and searching around on Google. She was at her peak before I was born. Her first book was published in 1966 and being, by all accounts, an utterly formidable woman, she went on to publish thirty more. I am delighted to have this most odorous of books in my collection, because just when I was starting to question what it means to be a woman in the wine industry, what future it could hold, and tracing the paths taken by women before me, these musty pages have fallen in my lap and reached out across the generational divide.
I’ll be sharing some of her writing on here in the hope that it entertains, interests and inspires the online wine community in this day and age. Until then, I love the closing lines of her obituary in the Guardian:
“Vandyke Price will be remembered by many as a difficult, prickly character, whose put-downs were deadly and who raged more than was needful at the mutability of circumstance in a writer’s life. By way of contrast, she was fiercely loyal in her friendships and she really loved her subject. Her nose and her palate – though always better on reds than on whites – were impressive to the end.
“Ah, the ladies have come! Now we shall not be able to taste anything – all your scents and smells,” remarked an old buffer in Bordeaux as Pamela swung into the tasting room at Sichel on the Quai de Bacalan. “I can smell the preparation you use on your hair,” she rejoined, “the cleaning fluid that has been used on your suit, your boot polish – and you have a pipe in your pocket.” What’s more, she could, and he did.”