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James Suckling—The Early Years

Memories of working with Jim as Wine Spectator expanded to Europe
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 15, 2010 12:00pm ET

I had not been with Wine Spectator more than a year when editor and publisher Marvin Shanken decided that we ought to have a full-time European correspondent. He tapped James Suckling for the job. James quickly enrolled in a crash course in French before moving to Paris in 1985 to open our first European bureau.

At 25 years old, writing for Wine Spectator was James’ first real job in journalism. He was one third of our entire full-time writing staff, which was based in San Francisco at the time. James Laube and I were the others.

Not long after that, I went to visit him in Paris. He was loving it, but he was not living anything like a luxurious lifestyle at the time. He lived in a small flat and endured the sneers of Parisians. We walked around the corner to pick up some photographs he had processed. “Watch this,” he said, an impish grin on his face. The clerk could find no photos when he pronounced his name as he normally does in English, but discovered them quickly when he said Sook-laing. It’s not just a cute story; it reveals a fascination with the telling detail.

James had discovered a Vietnamese restaurant named Tan Dinh that had an astonishing cellar full of older Bordeaux that the owners had painstakingly collected. We went there, ate well and drank mature Pomerols—if memory serves, L'Église Clinet and Conseillante, at a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere in Paris. At that time only a few insiders knew about it, but his nose for news kicked in and he wrote about the place, allowing our readers to share in the bounty.

Over the years, Suckling and I butted heads on a number of topics. He could be dismissive of New World wines—“jam juice,” he called them. He could be prickly and sarcastic, but those were traits that may have helped him be a better reporter and writer. And like all of us who cut our teeth as news reporters, he loves to find out stuff and be the first to tell everyone else about it.

Now he’s the news, having left the company. He has not yet shared with me what his plans are, although he sounded upbeat when we spoke by phone yesterday. Whatever he chooses to do, I bet he will be in the thick of things. Always has.

Bob Golbahar
Los Angeles —  July 15, 2010 1:08pm ET
Harvey,

Very nice story! We all wish James the best.

Bob
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 15, 2010 1:13pm ET
Now that's the kind of sendoff I hoped to hear. What a nice way to memorialize the man's 30-year body of work! Good form Harvey! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall each year when you guys got together to pick the top 100 wines!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 15, 2010 1:16pm ET
Those Top 10 tastings are memorable. I'm always impressed with how consistent my fellow tasters are, and not shy about expressing it.
Jerry Rosenblatt
Montreal, Canada —  July 15, 2010 1:42pm ET
Harvey, ditto on a nicer send-off compared to what we all read last night. You're the man, and I look forward to continue reading your reports!

If you do have any "inside" information on what James will be doing, and where we can continue to read about his adventures in the Tuscan Hills and Chateaux of Bordeaux, please pass that info along to us all.

James, if you're reading this, it was always pleasure reading your stories and wine reviews - you will truly be missed...

Jerry
Paul Pashley
Middletown, CT —  July 15, 2010 3:00pm ET
Harvey, - Class act! no surprise there.
I also don't think that the statement made last night was
worthy of such a large part Wine Spectator and of the subscribers
for as long as James was there. Agree with him or not, he was very
passionate about his calling. His stories are among the most memorable
for me throughout the years.
He is missed!
And Thanks, Harvey
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel
Wine World —  July 15, 2010 6:24pm ET
Harvey:

Thank you so much for sharing these memories with us! It is really nice to hear and read from a fellow editor, colleague and -why not- friend this opinions! I truly respect you as wine critic, editor, wine lover and human being!

Simply AWESOME
Michael Schulman
Westlake Village, CA —  July 15, 2010 6:40pm ET
Harvey,
Ditto on the others' comments about your repectful and classy sendoff as well as WS's somewhat less than warm one. Folks interested in James can follow him on Twitter. Please pass along to "corporate management" the sentiments we onliners have. Maybe a more appreciative "thank you, Jim" from them would salve the wound felt by dissapointed longtime readers who appear more upset with his send-off than his leaving.
Mike

PS. Please keep looking for homemade ways to mitigate TCA funk after opening a bad bottle.
Matthew Raica
Newcastle, WA —  July 15, 2010 8:15pm ET
Awesome send-off Harvey! James will be missed!
David Strada
San Francisco, CA —  July 16, 2010 2:02am ET
Great piece Harvey, natch! In addition to what you had to say about James Suckling, it was also great to see mention of Tan Dihn. Whatever happened to Robert Vifian, the genius behind the list at TD?
Scott Oneil
Denver, CO —  July 16, 2010 3:02am ET
:thumbs-up:
Stephen Stewart
new mexico  —  July 16, 2010 1:57pm ET
Its nice that at least one of the editors have come forward and said something nice about james.Spot on harvey!
Cant understand why the magazine is not doing a special blog about him from all the editors and the magazine as a whole.Surly the next magazine edition will dedicate a few pages about james,and all the great work he has done in the last 30 years.He is going to be missed.
Thomas Matthews
New York City —  July 16, 2010 4:12pm ET
Stephen, and others who share your feelings:

Everyone on the staff shares Harvey's feelings about James, and there will be more to come from Wine Spectator in appreciation of his contributions. The announcement was just that -- an immediate response to surprising news, an attempt to be clear about the future. It was a news story -- not an obituary! We know James will continue to flourish; so will Wine Spectator; we respect each other and wish each other well.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Paul Pashley
Middletown, CT —  July 16, 2010 5:32pm ET
Thank you, Thomas!
Just a little help from staff is all we are really looking for -
It's kind of shocking news! He had a lot of faithful fans
over the many years! We just want to know that he wasn't kicked to the curb!!!
Jerry Rosenblatt
Montreal, Canada —  July 18, 2010 10:21pm ET
Thomas:

Thanks for your note. It is somewhat reassuring, if not a bit cryptic. As the Editor of WS, if you do a fairwell piece and honour James' 30 year history with the magazine, I'm sure readers will settle down and realize that certainly, life does go on, as will JS and WS.

I've met you on many occasions at the NY Wine Experience, and I have always been impressed with your writing, and integrity. I'm sure you will encourage the magazine to the end this relationship in a very respectful fashion.

Jerry
Bert Pinheiro
Baltimore Maryland —  July 24, 2010 1:56pm ET
Thank you Harvey for that story. It was a much better way of hearing it.

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