Monday, April 30, 2018. Brett Jones passed away today in London.
Known as the Wine Maestro to those of us in the wine world, Brett Jones was a father, grandfather, partner, gentleman, and friend to many.
I first met Brett and his long-time partner, Wink Lorch, in Brescia, Italy, in October 2011. We were there as part of the European Wine Bloggers Conference to explore the sparkling wines of the Franciacorta region.
“I think it’s your accent she doesn’t understand,” Brett said laughing. I was trying, with little luck, to order food from a server in my (very) broken Italian.
With that comment, a friendship began.
I was new to the European Wine Bloggers Conference and knew only a couple of people; Brett and Wink graciously took me under their wing during the conference and made introductions to all of their writing colleagues. They offered me a place at their table throughout the conference.
I appreciated Brett’s British charm, wit, sense of humor and graciousness.
I left that conference with two new friends, ones that I would keep in touch with by email and meet for dinner at least once a year while in London.
Though twelve months would elapse between our annual dinners, our conversations picked up right where we left off the year before. Each April or May, we met, pulled corks, ate, and shared stories of family, talked about travel and wine reminisces.
I loved Brett’s stories about his early years in hospitality and owning a wine shop in Billericay, Essex. Brett’s wine career spanned about 40 years. He started his wine bar, Webber’s, in 1976 and sold it in 2002. He then moved on to teaching and writing about wine.
He told me his moniker ‘the Wine Maestro’ was the idea of a marketing friend. “I needed a way to stand out he told me.”
Brett stood out more for his friendly smile, gracious demeanor, and sense of humor than the Maestro moniker.
About two years ago, while having dinner at The Quality Chop in the Farringdon area of London, Wink and Brett told me that Brett’s cancer had returned.
Despite the serious prognosis, Brett painted his prognosis with an optimistic brush. That was typical of him.
On Monday, December 4, 2017, I attended the Circle of Wine Writers Christmas event in London as Wink’s guest. Brett was unable to join her but she updated me on his condition and we made plans for me to visit with Brett that Friday.
On Friday, December 8, I visited with Brett and Wink at their flat in the Limehouse section of London. A bitter cold evening, I recall walking from the DLR station with anticipation of catching up and getting some recommendations from my upcoming trip to France but anxious that Brett would not be up for a visit.
Brett was in high spirits and optimistic that cold evening. We picked up right where we left off from when we saw each other about eight months prior; he cracked a few jokes, shared stories, asked about my family (he always remembered my daughter’s name) and listened intently to my stories.
“I look forward to seeing you then,” Brett said to me as I left their flat that evening. I told him I would see him when I visited in April.
On Friday, April 20, just ten days ago, I visited with Brett at St. Joseph’s Hospice. Though his physical condition had diminished considerably, he was in good spirits. He greeted me with the same warm smile that welcomed me to the group in Brescia seven years earlier. During the visit, he shared stories of his three daughters and son and grandchildren.
Brett told me how grateful he was for his many life experiences: working in the wine industry, owning a wine bar, meeting many luminaries, living for a while in New Zealand, and his life with Wink.
He was, without a doubt, a very proud and loving grandfather. He smiled widely and glowed while showing me a card his granddaughter Millie drew for him just two weeks before.
Clearly in physical pain, he was still as gracious as ever. He made the point of telling me how great the St. Joseph’s staff had treated him. If anyone from St. Joseph’s reads this — he appreciated you! And, I appreciated the care your staff took to adjust his meal cart to his specification while I was there.
He shared stories of his time operating Webber’s Wine Shop, memorable customers, some of his successes, and happy times.
He also shared a few regrets as a way to pass on some life advice. A few years ago, while attending a holiday wine event, he told me of a lost opportunity to reconnect with someone who he had a falling out years before.
“I regret not just going over to him and shaking his hand, I’m ashamed I didn’t.” His words hit me because I too have a number of past disagreements to reconcile.
Brett told me he was using this time to reconnect with old friends via phone and advised that I consider doing the same and not to let old disagreements go on too long.
It was a warm day for London, about 80 degrees. As I walked from St. Joseph’s Hospice, down Mare Street towards the Bethnal Green tube station, I said a prayer for Brett, took inventory of my blessings, and made a list of friends and former friends that I needed to reconnect with.
Tonight, thinking back to our first meeting seven years ago in the Franciacorta region, I raise a glass of Barone Pizzini Animante Franciacorta sparkling wine in Brett’s memory.
Rest In Peace, Maestro.