Drinks industry legend honoured on 80th

Dave Hughes addressing dinner guests at his 80th birthday celebration at Neethlingshof Restaurant on Saturday evening, ably assisted by master of ceremonies, Aubrey Ngcungama.

Winemaker, distiller, journalist, author, consultant, judge. Add to that pedigree, leading light in the establishment of the Nederburg Auction (1974), founder of the Cape Wine Academy (1979), first non-British member of the Worshipful Company of Distillers (2001), Freeman of the City of London (2002) and Keeper of the Quaich (2003, Scotch Whisky Association) and all-round wonderful human being, and you have a legend in his own time, Dave Hughes.

Neethlingshof Restaurant outside Stellenbosch played host to a celebration dinner for Dave’s 80th birthday on Saturday evening, attended by friends and family, and colleagues who have known and worked with Dave since he moved to South Africa from then Rhodesia in 1968, to take up the position of operations manager at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery.

I’d known of Dave by reputation for a number of years, having met and engaged with him at events like the Nederburg Wine Auction pre-auction tasting over the years.

In 2012, I was doing research about Lieberstein, the semi-sweet white wine that irrevocably changed the shape of the South African wine industry – sales peaked in 1964 at 31 million litres domestically – I asked Dave if he would share his part of the story of Lieberstein with me.

Generous to a fault with his time and knowledge, Dave invited me to visit him at his home in Devon Valley, where I met his wife, Lorna, for the first time, and their veritable tribe of pets.

Aside from being a crack winemaker in her own right, Lorna has a heart that is big enough to love every animal in the world, and legend has it that a good proportion of those animals have at some time or other, resided at Chez Hughes.

Inimitable raconteur that he is, Dave held me spellbound for a good part of the afternoon, as he regaled me with tales not only of Lieberstein, but also the rich history of the South African wine industry in the days when it was dominated by the likes of the KWV, Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and Gilbey Santhagens, among others.

Speaker after speaker’s reminiscences on Saturday night about their engagements over the years with Dave, told of his innate generosity of spirit, his encyclopaedic knowledge of the liquor industry worldwide, his self-deprecating wry sense of humour, and above all else, his humility.

Dave’s sporting achievements are equally legendary. He played rugby, water polo, hockey and basketball for Rhodesia and has run the Comrades Marathon 10 times.

He has hiked the Fish River Canyon, the Camino Santiago in Spain and the entire length of the River Spey in Scotland.

Despite facing some health challenges of late, Dave is still hale and hearty, as he approaches the next decade in his journey in the world of drinks.

Cheers, Dave!