Raymond Chan: a wine critic without pretension

Raymond Chan, wine critic; b July 21, 1956; d February 10, 2019

Raymond Chan won a strong fan base of winemakers and marketers alike.
[Image Andrew Gorrie]
Raymond Chan, who has died aged 62, was a great wine communicator and for spearheading dynamic tastings in Wellington in the early days of the modern New Zealand wine industry.

He will also be remembered by family and friends (of whom more than 300 turned up to celebrate his life at a wake in Martinborough) as a man of incredible courage and determination.

Chan died at home in Wellington last month with his partner, Sue Davies, by his side.

It had been a long journey with cancer, and he was constantly praising Davies for the incredible support she provided during that time.

He lived with cancer for 10 years. During this time, he led a new style of wine communication – paid wine reviews online. He swiftly won a strong fan base of winemakers and marketers alike who wanted and needed written independent wine reviews.

He wasn’t without his detractors, but this did not deter Chan from his meticulous detailing of viticulture and winemaking information on his website, which was an invaluable resource tool for the New Zealand wine industry.

He and his work will be sorely missed because of his great ability to communicate about wine to both newcomers and experts alike. Despite his battle with debilitating cancer, he ploughed on with daily life, cycling down the hill from his home in Hataitai to Newtown each morning, working on his website each afternoon.

Chan wasn’t without his detractors but this did not deter him from his meticulous detailing of viticulture and winemaking information on his website.
[Image Andrew Gorrie]
His sunny disposition and love of wine came through in both the tastings programme he spearheaded in Wellington in the 1980s and 1990s, and on his website.

His desire was to democratise wine for all. He succeeded.

Wine never appeared on the family dining table when he was growing up. It became important to him when he graduated from the University of Otago in 1978 and worked at Chan’s Garden Restaurant, owned by his family in Dunedin.

Raymond was one of five children. He was the eldest of the four born in New Zealand to immigrant Chinese parents who were separated for seven years between his father’s arrival in New Zealand and the emigration of his wife and eldest daughter.

The family owned a fruit shop and later a fish and chip shop and, eventually, Chan’s Garden Restaurant in South Dunedin.

When the family opened the restaurant, they all became interested in wine.

“I was amazed by the early New Zealand wines of the day, and our whole family got keen on wine through the restaurant,” he said.

Chan’s sunny disposition and love of wine came through in both the tastings programme that he spearheaded in Wellington in the 1980s and 1990s and on his website.
[Image Stuff]
He became friends with wine reps from different companies and developed close relationships with wine industry people, such as Malcolm McIntyre and Chris Staynes, with whom he formed the Wine Federation of Otago and entered wine options, a guessing game in the wine industry.

The 1980s were pivotal years in Chan’s early career. He became a judge at the Royal Easter Wine Show in 1988 when Master of Wine Bob Campbell was expanding the judging system. Then he moved to Wellington in 1989 to work at Wilson Neill as a wine adviser for the late Jose Hernandez and, later, when Wilson Neill was taken over by Dominion Breweries (DB), he went to O’Reilly’s on Thorndon Quay, where he worked for Zuke Marinkovich from 1991 to 1994.

This role saw him establish Wellington wine tasting programmes, most influentially at Regional Wines & Spirits, working for the store’s late founder, Grant Jones, whom Chan described as a visionary.

After Chan’s death, one friend wrote on social media: “He opened my eyes to wine.”

Chan’s desire was to democratise wine for all. He succeeded.
[Image Maarten Holl]
Another said: “Without him, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten into a wine career and he was super supportive even when I knew nothing – he always had time to answer my questions, no matter how trivial I imagine they may have seemed to him.”

I can echo those comments. The first time I met him was at an upstairs tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in 1995. I was a young wine writer with very little knowledge at the time and, realising I needed to learn, the tastings beckoned.

Chan’s passion for wine was infectious. He was warm and welcoming. He lacked pretension and exuded an openness to teach, which is sorely needed in wine circles today.

I owe him a lot. Like many Wellingtonians in the 1990s, I learnt more about wine from Chan than from anyone else in wine circles. He encouraged me as a young writer, happy to see a newcomer and help them on their path.

Raymond Chan won a strong fan base of winemakers and marketers alike.
[Image ]
He was a breath of fresh air. His support for my writing career will always give him a special place in my heart. His encouragement and support for many others in the New Zealand industry means that they, too, can echo this thought.

His funeral was a small family affair in Wellington, followed by food at his favourite yum cha restaurant. The wake to celebrate his life was another matter. It was held at Ata Rangi, one of the first four wineries to establish itself in Martinborough.

The catering was by Ruth Pretty and more than 300 people turned up to pay their tributes to the man who most described as having a ground-breaking influence on their journey into winemaking, viticulture, marketing, sales and writing.

It has been my great privilege to know, admire and learn from the man who inspired one of my personal greatest wine passions – German riesling. It was a passion that he and Davies also shared.

He will be very deeply missed and very highly revered, as he deserved to be, for the role he played in championing wine and its producers at a formative time in the modern history of New Zealand wine.

Joelle Thomson 16 Mar 2019
Joelle Thomson is a writer and published author of 15 books about wine.

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Raymond Chan’s pivotal role will be remembered

 

I wrote this obituary this morning for Raymond Chan, who was my friend, my mentor and a man who played a pivotal role in championing wine and its producers at a formative time in the modern history of New Zealand wine. It is also published on my website at www.joellethomson.com

Courageous, determined and undeterred. Raymond Chan will leave a legacy of great courage, as well as of good humour and a passion for wine.

He passed away on Sunday 10 February after a long journey with cancer, which lasted the best part of a decade. His long term partner, Sue Davies, was an integral part of this journey, offering unwavering support, putting her own career on hold, much of the time, to ensure Raymond had what he needed.

His bravery will remain as inspiring as his cheeky good humour and his passion for wine, which perhaps shone brightest in his role at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington where he ran and hosted great tastings for many years.

Wine never appeared on the family dining table when Chan was growing up. It became important to him when he graduated from the University of Otago in 1978 and worked at Chan’s Garden Restaurant, owned by his family in Dunedin.

“I was amazed by the early New Zealand wines of the day and our whole family got keen on wine through the restaurant,” he once said, when asked how he got into wine.

He and his wine friends, such as Malcolm McIntyre and Chris Staynes then formed the Wine Federation of Otago and entered wine options, a guessing game in the wine industry.

The 1980s were pivotal years in Chan’s early career in wine. He became a wine judge at the Royal Easter Wine Show in 1988 when Master of Wine Bob Campbell was expanding the wine judging system. Then he moved to Wellington in 1989 to work at Wilson Neill as a wine advisor for the late, Jose Hernandez, and, later, when Wilson Neill was taken over by Dominion Breweries (DB), he went to O’Reilly’s on Thorndon Quay where he worked for Zuke Marinkovich from 1991 to 1994.

This role saw him establish Wellington wine tasting programmes, which he spearheaded most influentially at Regional Wines & Spirits, working for the store’s late founder, Grant Jones, who Raymond described as a visionary.

“He opened my eyes to wine,” said one wine friend, on social media this morning.

“Without him, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten into a wine career and he was super supportive even when I knew nothing – he always had time to answer my questions, no matter how trivial I imagine they may have seemed to him,” said another wine industry friend.

I can echo those comments.

The first time I met Raymond was at an upstairs tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in 1995. I was a young wine writer with very little wine knowledge at the time and, realising I needed to learn, the tastings beckoned. Raymond’s passion for wine was infectious. He was warm and welcoming. He lacked pretension and exuded an openness to teach, which is sorely needed in wine circles today.

It has been my great privilege to know, admire and learn from the man who inspired one of my personal greatest wine passions – German Riesling. It was a passion that he and his partner, Sue Davies, also shared.

Raymond will be very deeply missed and very highly revered, as he deserved to be, for the role he played in championing wine and its producers at a formative time in the modern history of New Zealand wine.

AGM – May 2017

There was a good turnout of 27 at the AGM. Whilst the meeting was not over in the record time set in 2016, there were no contentious issues to deal with. The President gave a very full report in which he referred to the passing of two long-standing members – Maureen Davies and Ron Thomson. The supper after the meeting was enjoyed by all those attending.

The existing Committee were all re-elected. Since the AGM there have been some issues around the need for licences which are being addressed. This has entailed a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing with WCC as can be imagined. We do not agree entirely with their view but appear to have little option but to fall into line.

Subsequent to the meeting, the Committee noticed there had been a small typographical error in the Notices of Motion. The reference to Clause 2(b) should have read Clause 4(b). To leave it unchanged makes a nonsense of Rule 2(b) so it is the intention of the Committee to implement the change as though Rule 4(b) was always the intention with appropriate advice to all members. There will also be a footnote to this effect in the AGM Minutes so the matter can be ratified at the next AGM.

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Condolences, Good Value, Attachments, Alan Scott

The Presidents

Holy smoke, did I just see November 2016 at the top of this newsletter?  Seems you only have to blink and a month has gone by.  Where does the time go?  The only thing that seems to be dragging on is the American Presidential election.  The Lord forbid our club elections should ever be as lively as that election is proving to be.  Quite a bit happening right now with a number of items to address.

Condolences

The Presidents
The Cellar Club Presidents at The Cellar Club’s 25th birthday dinner, The James Cook Hotel, Feb 2006. From left to right Derek Thomson, Ron Thompson, Alan Evans, Wayne Kennedy, Graeme Fountain, Francesca Menzies and John Browning.

It is with deep sadness that we wish to report the passing of one of our Life Members , Ron Thomson.

Ron’s participation in the club dates back to our early beginnings when he was the editor of our newsletters until he relinquished that role to take over as our second President in 1986.

Ron became a life member in 2009 and whilst he has not attended tastings since he moved to Waikanae, he and his late wife Barbara, continued to attend our dinners until more recently when health issues began to intercede.   Ron continued to provide occasional pieces on New Zealand wine history which ran in this newsletter a little time ago.  Our condolences go out to his many friends in the Cellar Club.

And before anyone points out the issue of spelling I am aware that the “p” has slipped.  It is Ron Thomson and Derek Thompson, I just couldn’t change it in the jpeg.

Good Value at the Wine Club

A committee member was interested to hear one of our new member’s comment recently about the ‘good value’ you get from our wine club, and we thoroughly agree.  Just look at the Hunters meeting, all those good wines for less than $15 per bottle.  You won’t get that in a Supermarket.

Attachments

Allan Scott was involved in the first planting of vines in the Marlborough wine region in 1973.
Allan Scott was involved in the first planting of vines in the Marlborough wine region in 1973.

There are several attachments to this newsletter; firstly the payment advice for Nov 2016 which includes the December Dinner; and secondly the menu for Muse in December.  There is a third attachment which honours the achievement of one of the Clubs very early members.  Sharyn Evans was a member of this club way back in the formative years.  She has recently retired after 47 years as a violinist with the NZSO.  I attach an item from the Orchestra’s programme notes a couple of weeks back.  Just emphasises what a talented membership we have had and still have.

Allan Scott

Members may have read the weekend magazine from the Dompost, which featured  an article on Allan Scott.  It mentioned he’d be giving a talk about his new book ‘Marlborough Man’ at Unity Books at 12 pm on November 11.  Just in case anyone is interested.  The item was too long to include in the newsletter.

Cheers
Robin Semmens, Editor

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Condolences – Ron Thomson

The Presidents
The Cellar Club Presidents at The Cellar Club’s 25th birthday dinner, The James Cook Hotel, Feb 2006. From left to right Derek Thomson, Ron Thompson, Alan Evans, Wayne Kennedy, Graeme Fountain, Francesca Menzies and John Browning.

It is with deep sadness that we wish to report the passing of one of our Life Members , Ron Thomson.

Ron’s participation in the club dates back to our early beginnings when he was the editor of our newsletters until he relinquished that role to take over as our second President in 1986.

Ron became a life member in 2009 and whilst he has not attended tastings since he moved to Waikanae, he and Barbara continued to attend  our dinners until more recently when health issues began to intercede.

Our condolences go out to his many friends in the Cellar Club.

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Obituary – Barbara Voisey

barbara-voiseyThe Cellar Club would like to extend our sincerest condolences to one of our life members, Ron Thomson, on the death of his partner Barbara Voisey on the 15th May. Ron and Barbara were frequent attendees at our dinners and Barbara’s presence will be sorely missed her many friends.

 

VOISEY, Barbara Louise Emma:

Of Waikanae Beach. On Friday 15 May 2015, peacefully at Waikanae Country Lodge. Aged 77 years. Loved partner of Ron Thomson, mother and mother-in-law of Judy (London) and Anita & Donald (Hamilton), grandmother of Martin, Peter and David. Our sincere thanks to the Mary Potter Hospice, district nurses and staff at the Country Lodge. A service celebrating Barbara’s life will be held in the Kapiti Coast Funeral Home Chapel, 9-11 Hinemoa Street, Paraparaumu on Wednesday 20 May 2015 at 11am, followed by private cremation. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Mary Potter Hospice would be appreciated and may be left at the service.

Kapiti Coast Funeral Home

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Obituary – ANGUS, John Hall. MNZM, PhD, former Children’s Commissioner 2009-2011

It is with sadness that your committee note the passing of John Angus in Dunstan Hospital late Saturday, 10th January 2015 after a short illness.

John and his wife were members of the club for many many years until they moved to Cromwell a decade ago.

The Club has sent a condolence message to Sally on behalf of their many acquaintances in the club, some of whom still have contact with the Angus family.

There will be a Wellington memorial service for John next week – 12:30 pm, Tuesday 17 February, Old St Paul’s.

Fay Julian has sent the details and asked if we could pass them on to club members.

I am sure many of our longer term members will want to attend.

Robin

 

Dr John Angus (left) being awarded his New Zealand Order of Merit by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae. Photo: The Governor-General’s office

Notices – Published in The New Zealand Herald on Jan. 13, 2015

ANGUS, John Hall. MNZM, PhD, former Children’s Commissioner 2009-2011 of Lowburn (formerly of Wellington and Dunedin) On Saturday January 10 2015 peacefully, after a short illness, at Dunstan Hospital, Clyde; aged 66 years.

Dearly loved husband of Sally, much loved father and father in law of Jamie and Jen, Matthew and Hannah, and cherished Grandfather of Finnley, and Rowyn; Isla, and Stella. Loved brother and brother in law of Hugh and Sallie, Cathryn and Murray, Tim and Frances. Loved brother in law of Sue and Roy, Willi and the late Nic, Tony and Sarah, and much loved Uncle of his nieces and nephews.

“Champion of all New Zealand’s children” A memorial service for John will be held in the Lowburn Community Hall, Lowburn at 12noon on Friday January 16 2015.

Messages to Angus Family, 183 Lowburn Valley Road, R.D. Cromwell 9384 Harborow & Co Ltd Central Otago and Lakes District

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From the Editor: May 2013

2015-06-17-5580e266d7229Obituaries

At the March meeting Anne raised the point that a long time member, although not recent, Victor Stagpoole had passed away. The sympathies of the Club go to Victor’s family.

It was also mentioned that one of the presenters from last month’s meeting, Lansdowne’s Derek Hagar Jnr, passed away on Easter weekend. Derek junior was only 48 years old, an untimely death. The Club passed on it’s heartfelt sympathy to Derek Senior and Margaret.

agmAGM

And of course another important meeting this month with the AGM. We are happy to get feedback from members about the way the club is being run, about future ideas for events, and of course, indications of any potential new committee members. One committee member at least will be standing down.

Come along, have your say, and enjoy a snack and some nice wines. The agenda is included on page one, and last year’s minutes are attached. Please print these and bring them with you. A few copies will be available on the night but we are trying to cut down on costs to committee members.

Special General Meeting

The minutes from the Special General meeting held at the start of the March meeting are being progressed and I will forward these under separate cover shortly.

Cheers
Robin Semmens, Editor