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.

Related news

Joelle Thomson – April tasting

Joelle hardly needs an introduction. She is well known through her significant contribution to wine literature in New Zealand. She has featured in many news and other publications as well as being a regular contributor on Radio NZ. Among her other activities, she is the Wine Programme Director and teaches wine courses at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. She also does courses at the New Zealand School of Food & Wine in Auckland.

The theme for the evening will be “Top Drops under $25” Having such a well-established expert introducing good wines in the more affordable range will be welcomed by members. More next month, in the meantime, put in your diary.

Related news

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.