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Buyer profile - Marcel Orford Williams

Marcel Orford-Williams has been with The Society since 1986. He buys The Society's Rhône, Southern and regional French wines and Germany.

Marcel Orford-Williams, Wine Society Buyer

Did you always want to be a wine buyer?

The rest of my family were in teaching, but I didn't want to do that. I'm mad keen on history. History is about dates, and it always fascinated me that there was this thing called wine which had all these vintages. You give me a date, and I'd give you a list of battles and a list of vintages!

Where was your first job?

At Europa Foods in 1980, I was stacking shelves, as a temporary job to earn some money before travelling. The wine buyer was Liz Berry, and she had just passed her Master of Wine exams. My next job was at Augustus Barnet, an off-licence, and then I went to a independent wine company, Freddie Barrett in Shepherd's Bush, west London, as manager.

How did you come to work at The Society?

In 1986, I saw an advert for the role of assistant to the buyer. Sebastian (Payne MW) had only just been made buyer when I came along. My job involved setting up tastings for him, going round cellars, lots of things. We used to bring wine over in bulk in those days, so once or twice I had to climb on top of a tanker with my glass to taste the wine, with all these cars going past hooting their horns. And I spoke French fluently, which helped: Sebastian would ask me to ring up a particular grower and bully him on price!

You've bought Rhône for a long time - how has the region changed?

I've been putting Rhône offers together for 20 years, and the wines have changed completely in that time. Quality has soared. There was a time when Rhône wines were accused of rusticity. Take Cornas, for example. Twenty years ago, you defined a Cornas by being able to stand a spoon up in the wine, and you couldn't drink it for 10 years! But nowadays, it's become a very fine wine.

Your other love, the Languedoc, doesn't seem to get the credit that other regions do. Why is that?

I think, to my parents' generation, the Languedoc is associated with plastic bottles and plastic caps. And don't forget that 16 million hectolitres are made there each year - a lot of that remains garbage. There are two sorts of winemakers in the Languedoc: the ones who go off to watch bullfighting all the time, and leave their grapes to rot; then there are the others, who never stop working.

Which wines do you enjoy other than from regions you look after?

I like Italian wine, and from the New World I enjoy Australian shiraz, because it's a taste you cannot find anywhere else - and that's the same with zinfandel in the US.

You do a fair bit of blending for The Society - how do you approach this?

I really enjoy this aspect of my job and never cease to be amazed at how even just a tiny percentage of a particular grape of wine from a slightly different terroir can really lift the final blend. I go out to France in early January each year to assess and taste the young wines and make sure we buy up the best lots for our members. The new Vin de France category has opened up possibilities for cross-regional blends which can be highly successful. It is important to keep your ear to the ground for potential good new sources for these types of wines.

> Read more about blending The Society's French Full Red here

And your favourite all-time wine?

One of them would have to be 1955 Alfred Gratien Champagne. On my first-ever trip to Champagne in 1987, I went to Gratien with Sebastian. They opened two bottles: a 1947, which is Sebastian's birthyear, and a 1955, mine. The 1947 wasn't tasting particularly well, but the 1955 was as fresh as a daisy!

> Read more buyer profiles

Members' Comments (21)

"Marcel Orford-Williams. Been to the region recently and come across this vineyard. Just been going a few years but I was very impressed by the set up and plans for the future and the wines on offer. Worth a visit, if you have not already been there, and one to watch for the future. http://le-mas-sylvia.fr/en/home.html"

Mr Wesley Keys (20-May-2015)

"Many thanks for the tip off. I have not visited the Baronnies for years and at the time was of no interest. Today, that has changed and there are a number of up and coming estates that are worth looking at, particularly for whites. So watch this space…"

Mr Marcel Orford-Williams (21-May-2015)

"I live in Rasteau - I believe that you have an excellent range of Rhone wines. However, I wonder if you know the domaine "Gourt de Mautens", Jerome Bressy. He was in the Rasteau appelation until 2009 but pulled out in 2010 so that he could continue to use the old indigenous varieties (as used in Chateauneuf). Now IGP Vaucluse. Spectacular wines, both red and white (and rose, when he makes them) - expensive though."

Mr Stephen M Gillinson (13-Aug-2015)

"Thanks for your comments. I know the domaine well and I too like the wines. My main reservation about the property and the reason I haven’t selected any of the wines for members is that I have noticed an inconsistency in the style of the wines. The other drawback is that they are only produced in limited quantity and are highly sought after too."

Mr Marcel Orford-Williams (13-Aug-2015)

"Dear Marcel, Thank you for what you do sourcing great wines from the Languedoc. The Society's Corbieres 2013 is superb. We have a house near Mailhac, between Carcassonne and Beziers, and there is a superb vigneron in Mailhac called Pierre Fil. If you have time you may enjoy checking the wines out. I believe they are excellent value/quality and I like their philosophy (largely hand-picked) and attitude (very friendly). Heledus is my favourite but... Read more > all the wines are good including the 'bag in box' which is astonishing for the price. http://www.domaine-pierre-fil.fr/Home.M.htm#Home. Keep up the great work. Best wishes"

Mr R I H B Dyer (17-Aug-2015)

"Dear Mr Dyer thanks for your comments and recommendation which we will pass on to Marcel on his return to the office. So pleased you are enjoying The Society’s Corbières."

Joanna Goodman – News editor (19-Aug-2015)

"Dear Joanna. Has Marcel had a chance to consider the recommendation that I made last summer? Many thanks."

Mr R I H B Dyer (11-Jan-2016)

"Dear Marcel and Joanna

Sorry to be persistent. I really do recommend this superb vigneron. The recent vendange is very good again and their new wine 'M' is outstanding. All their wines good value and high quality. Website - http://www.domaine-pierre-fil.fr/#accueil.A
Keep up the good work.
Best
Robin"

Mr R I H B Dyer (29-Oct-2017)

"I was recently tasting at Domaine de l'Arjolle in the Cotes de Thongue. The Society regularly source a Cabernet Merlot blend from there and a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Merlot. I've never been able to get from The Society their wine "Paradoxe", which is in my view the best red wine in the Cotes de Thongue. I asked why and M.Tesserenc told me to 'ask Marcel'. So that's what I'm doing. If you get some, I'll guarantee I'll buy a case every... Read more > year as it's fantastic. Currently, I just have to buy from the vineyard when I'm in the area and drive it home."

Rev Robert Stanier (09-Sep-2015)

"Thank you for your comments and glad you were able to taste chez the Teisserencs. Absolutely nothing wrong with the Paradoxe wine which is very well made, though I have always found it a little bit too heavy and prefer the cabernet which in my view is the better wine. I will bear your comments in mind when I visit the property next time, but can’t make any promises!"

Mr Marcel Orford-Williams (Society Buyer) (14-Sep-2015)

"It seems like the end of an era, that you're no longer buying the wines of Alsace. All I can say is thank you so much for providing such a consistently wonderful range of wines from the region, which have given us great pleasure over many years - ever since I became a member in 1993 if I recall correctly. It's a dynamic wine region at present and much as I look forward to seeing what Jo Locke unearths from the up-and-coming growers, I also hope... Read more > that the old favourites comprising your own selections continue to be listed: never a disappointing wine, from excellent producers in a wide range of styles."

Mr Colin P Bradley (07-Apr-2016)

"I have just read your note on the death of Etienne Hugel. Such sad news. Some years ago we met him in Riquewihr at his office and spent an hour talking about his wine over a glass or two. We have become regular buyers of Hugel wines in no small part thanks to his enthusiasm and courtesy for two strangers off the street."

Mr Julian D Knott (13-Apr-2016)

"I see that Domaine Houchart has recently won a gold medal for its rosé in the Mondial du Rosé competition. Sad, then that the Society has decided to no longer stock it after many years. Do you know of any other stockists where I might continue to purchase?"

Mr John Holland (27-Apr-2016)

"Dear Marcel Orford Williams
I have recently returned from a stay near Albi and was delighted to discover a Gaillac wine from La Bastide. I know that the Wine Society carries one of therwines already. Their AOC Gaillac 2014 - HOMMAGE A LA TRUFFE BLANCHE it is a beautiful, smooth white wine,with great depth and I would think a 2 of 9 as regards dryness. The cepages are Loin de l'oeil, ( a Gaillac speciality) Mauzac and Sauvignon. It was... Read more > selling for 11€ and I think it would
be a great addition to the Society's list. I do hope that you have the chance to try it.
Your sincerely
Nicky Cooney (Ms)
"

Ms Nicky Cooney (24-Jun-2016)

"Dear Marcel, Are there any plans to reintroduce wines from Domaine Baillat ? The 2012 Rouge was splendid ,his rosé,sampled October 2015, was sensational, deep Syrah and very tasty."

Mr Timothy Appelbee (05-Sep-2016)

"We quite agree and shall be there in January to taste 2015 and 2016."

Mr Drew Slowe (Member Services Adviser) (06-Sep-2016)

"That is excellent news. May I draw your attention to the Cuvee Emilien Baillat, the 2012 which you listed is drinking very well. I look forward to the opportunity to purchase Christian's wines."

Mr Timothy Appelbee (20-Oct-2017)

"Dear Marcel
I have been researching the oxidative style wines of the Roussillon before my holiday there and for a tasting I am hosting in November. Of the few producers, who give details of their élevage, I could only find one, Mas Amiel, who used demijohns. There is much writing about these wines that mentions the use of demijohns placed outside. Has the use of demijohns largely died out these days and the frequent mention of them more to do... Read more > with the romantic history of Roussillon?
I did notice that Maccabeu, Rancio Sec, Domaine de Rancy listed by the Wine Society is described as “made from 100-year-old maccabeu vines and aged in cask in the cellars and out in the open in demijohns.” However this is at variance with the Domaine de Rancy website which states, “élevage sur lies fines en cuves béton pendant 8 mois puis élevage en fûts de chêne centenaires pendant 10 ans”
I would be grateful for your opinion on the two points above.
"

Mr John C Langham (02-Aug-2017)

"Dear Mr Langham,
Thank you for your comments. Demijohns are still used but now less so than oak. I had thought that both were used at Domaine Rancy but I may be mistaken. The rancio sec is stunning and well worth including in his tasting as is the Rivesaltes from Parcé frères.
"

Mr Drew Slowe (14-Aug-2017)

"Cote Rotie 2010 Bernard Burgaud.
I have just reviewed this wine. ‘Having opened a bottle this weekend, February 2018, decanted it and been initially so disappointed that I contemplated throwing it away, I allowed it to stand in the decanter overnight and it was immensely improved. Clearly 2018 is early in the drinking window, but I post this as as an advisory to anyone who has purchased this wine en primeur.’ Any thoughts Marcel?"

Mr Timothy Appelbee (25-Feb-2018)

"I don't notice a reply to Mr Dyer's suggestion of Pierre Fil. I'm glad that you've ignored it, Marcel, though it appears somewhat rude of you. Nevertheless, this is by far the best of the Minervois winemakers and he seems to be able to sell locally all that he can produce, so please leave it to us to enjoy. 'M' by the way is pricey at about 25 euros, and not a patch on Dolium."

Mr Andrew Northfield (20-Oct-2018)

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