The Dulwich Wine Society was founded in September 1991 in response to closure of the Inner London Education Authority wine tasting evening class held at Kingsdale School. At the outset, the founding members thought that if this new Society lasted for a term it would be a bonus, but if not, so be it – last year the Society celebrated its 25th Anniversary!
The fledgling society had the benefit of the experience of Master of Wine, Neil Fairlamb, who although he was previously an ILEA wine tasting tutor, was also a teacher at Dulwich College and he supported the Committee with wine expertise and networks until his departure from Dulwich to become a clergyman in Wales. The Society initially hired the first-floor function room at the Crown and Greyhound and developed an extremely positive relationship with the Manager, Barney Maguire. After Barney’s departure in 2002 meetings continued at the Crown and Greyhound until the Society became aware it was closing for refurbishment. The Society then moved to the first-floor function room at The Rosendale where it continues to meet.
Members come from all walks of life and live in Dulwich or the surrounding area. Reflecting the term-time format at the ILEA evening class, the Society meets weekly during each academic term on Wednesday at 7.30pm and generally about 8-9 wines are tasted with a break for cheese and biscuits. Evenings may take a formal tutored approach or a more informal interactive discussion, depending on the preferences of the speaker. Topics for the evening cover a range of countries, regions, wine makers and grapes from the old and new world, and established and emerging areas. Previous terms’ programmes with topics and speakers can be found on the Dulwich Wine Society website.
Members have been fortunate to receive tastings from a wide range of winemakers such as Emma Cullen from Cullen Wines, Margaret River, Australia, Ray McKee from Chateau St. Michelle Winery, Washington State, and Javier Hidalgo from Hidalgo Sherries, Jerez. Masters of wine and high profile wine educators speak at the Society’s meetings and tastings are regularly given by distinguished wineries and the Society is well supported by wine merchants such as Majestic, Oddbins, Corney and Barrow, Ellis of Richmond, A & A Wines, Enotria Wines, Uncorked and Dulwich Vintners.
Many of the Society members have developed expertise and interests informally, for example through tutored tastings, trips to the regions and networking with wine makers and merchants. Others have undertaken formal qualifications through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and are now tutoring at the Trust and undertaking judging roles at wine competitions. Society members actively participate in presenting a range of evenings during the year. These evenings are always well received and informative with dynamic interactive discussion and often some real treats from members’ own cellars generously shared with the group.
These evenings always prove enjoyable and informative and provide an ideal opportunity for newer members of the Society to make their first presentations in a more informal environment. Perhaps the most informal but none the less well prepared and presented evenings are the Society Quiz evenings when in many cases pride may well come before a fall! Favourites include ‘Call my Bluff’ - even with the original theme tune, supermarket challenge, and blind tastings.
Excellent trips have been organised by Society members to vineyards and wineries in both England and Europe. English vineyards have included Nyetimber and Ridgeview, both of which have international award winning English Sparkling wines in their collection, and Chapel Down which has a wide range of still and sparkling wines. The furthest afield the Society has ventured was to Toro in the Zamora district of Spain in Easter 2004 with a trip organised by Vina Bajoz, one of the largest cooperatives in the area. The Society had been introduced to Vina Bajoz at a tasting by their Marketing Manager, Nicola Thornton. Based in Toro the Society were treated to excellent local meals and hospitality with visits to vineyards and wineries in Toro, Ribero del Duero and Rueda. Members also saw first-hand the solemn Easter processions through the streets of Toro.
Luckily for the Society, longstanding members Greville and Tim Havenhand took on the task of organising annual trips to France including accommodation and all the vineyard and winery visits. They continue to deliver superbly organised trips to most wine growing regions of France. The Society has visited the Loire four times, Burgundy three times, Champagne, Alsace, Beaujolais, Maconnais and the Rhone twice, and Bergerac, St Emilion, Touraine and Languedoc once. The 2018 trip to Southern Rhone will the 20th year. The last night of each trip is notable for memorable meals at local Michelin star restaurants.
Further information on the Dulwich Wine Society
The Society web site www.dulwich-wine-society.co.uk provides further information on current and previous programmes, trips and contacts. The Society membership subscription is £45 for the current 14-week autumn session. The cost per evening, which includes the speaker and all wines and refreshments is £15 for members and £25 for non-members. Once or twice a term there may be a ‘premium evening’ with a special speaker and/or wines which costs £25 for members and £35 for non-members. If you are thinking of joining the Dulwich Wine Society and wish to sample an evening before committing yourself to the full session, a reduction in membership may be negotiated. Come along and give it a try!