Steven Spurrier, the legendary wine merchant, educator, and writer who changed the course of the international wine industry, has passed away at the age of 79. Spurrier died just after midnight on Tuesday at his home in Dorset, England, according to his friend and fellow wine writer, Jancis Robinson.

Born in 1941, Spurrier will best be remembered for organizing the 1976 Judgement of Paris blind tasting, which pitted bottles from California against wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux. The unexpected results, which saw California whites and reds best their French counterparts, had a profound positive impact on the reputation of American wine worldwide, and changed the face of viticulture in Napa.

In a tribute published Tuesday, Robinson described Spurrier as a “champion” of lesser-known wines, and recounted his “youthful enthusiasm” that was ever present during their professional tastings together.

Past the historical French tasting, Robinson says he should be remembered for his work as an educator, and his Academie du Vin wine schools; his various business ventures as a merchant, bar owner, and wine consultant; and his work as a vigneron.

“Arguably the most permanent of Steven’s many enthusiasms is Bride Valley, the vineyard he planted on the Dorset hillside opposite his and Bella’s house in the winter of 2008–2009,” Robinson notes, adding that a little over a decade later, Bride Valley is now “firmly established as a superior English sparkling wine.”

Others in the industry took to Twitter to mourn Spurrier’s passing. Author Tom Stevenson described him as “one of the true gentlemen of wine.” Wine critic turned industry analyst Robert Joseph shared a similar sentiment, and wrote that Spurrier was “one of the people who can undeniably be said to have helped to change the wine world for the better.”

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