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September 13, 2023

Remembering Melvyn and Janie Master

When I first met Melvyn Master, he was a larger-than-life personality in New York City during the heady 1980s. He was a witty storyteller, a bon vivant, and profoundly knowledgeable. His passion for the most obscure and forgotten wine-growing region or talented young winemaker was equal to that he showed for the most famous. He had introduced grower Beaujolais to the U.S. and co-authored with John Livingstone-Learmouth The Wines of the Rhône. Melvino, as I came to call him, also became one of my oldest and dearest friends.

I remember being introduced to Melvyn at Jonathan Waxman’s apartment in the West Village. I had settled in New York after the U.K. government finally noticed my expired work visa. Melvyn had moved to New York to collaborate with Jonathan on opening Jams. This restaurant would become the white-hot center of culinary creativity in Manhattan for the scant five years of its existence, introducing the city to Waxman’s deceptively simple yet soulfully nourishing cuisine. Melvin’s winelist shared an equal sensibility with great names and young talent sharing equal billing. Melvyn became a guide and confidant as my career progressed in New York. We shared a similar formal British wine education, were naturally rebellious, and were excited by discovery. I saw in him the professional I wanted to become – an explorer, an iconoclast, a keen talent scout, and a natural storyteller.

By the late 80s, Melvyn had relocated to Provence with his wife Janie and their young family. I stopped by Chez Master whenever I could – Janie was an extraordinary chef and a graciously patient hostess for whatever mischief Melvyn and I could devise. Eventually, I would create European Cellars in their dining room. Melvyn became my scouting partner and advisor, and many of European Cellars’ first back labels would carry both our names. Melvyn traveled with me to my earliest appointments at Domaine de la Janasse and Domaine de Marcoux. At these early tastings, he started calling me V.V. for my ability to identify the old vine samples we were presented. From that time onward, every note, letter, fax, or email would be addressed to Cher V.V. or Cher Melvino.

Over the last three decades, our paths may not have crossed as often as we would have liked, but we each relished every letter, fax, or email addressed to Cher V.V. or Cher Melvino. When we did get together, it would be as if no time had passed. Two years ago, we shared a meal at their rural home in New Hampshire, where Daphne finally met Melvyn and Janie. From that meal came the best Vermentino you’ve yet to taste, Rolle à d’Aix.

While my most recent visit to say goodbye to Melvyn and Janie was a few weeks ago, our long overdue reunion a few summers ago, now mingled with countless recollections of the many hours we shared over the years, is how I will always remember them. Daphne and I send our deepest sympathies and condolences to their son Charlie and daughters Amy and Sophie. Your parents’ kindness, generosity, memorable dinners, guidance, and support made my company, European Cellars, a reality and made me who I am today.