JON Hurley, the noted Wye Valley wine expert and writer known for his irreverent and witty tasting sessions, died on January 31 at the age of 84.
A long-term Herefordshire resident, who lived near Ross-on-Wye, Jon was born in Rathfarnham, County Dublin in 1939 and moved alone to England while still in his teens in search of opportunity and adventure.
He eventually found his way into the wine trade when he was hired to work in the wine department of the Bentalls department store in Kingston-upon-Thames in the early 1960s.
He and his wife Heather moved to Herefordshire in 1973 to set up a bed-and-breakfast with a twist: guests could pay extra for a two-day wine tasting mini-break in which Jon would colourfully introduce various wines while Heather would cook hearty roast dinners and lead walks during the day.
The “Wineweekends” venture, somewhat novel at the time when wine was still a mystery to many in Britain, was so successful that the business lasted for decades.
Within a few years, the Hurleys moved from their small home in Bridstow to Upper Orchard, a larger property in Hoarwithy, which became not just the business headquarters but also the cherished family home.
“A love affair with wine has blessed Jon with a nose and palate more subtle than a leg-spinners wrist. He has the wit to transmit his enthusiasm without wine snobbery, a rare accomplishment” journalist Christopher Somerville wrote in the Telegraph.
Jon had long held a desire to be a writer and, although he dreamed of being a novelist, he found his niche by publishing books on wine and another fascination of his: bare-knuckle boxing.
One of his greatest achievements was A Matter of Taste, his entertaining book on the history of wine drinking in Britain published in 2005.
“Jon Hurley has persuaded me that taste in wine is as significant in the evolution of society as taste in art,” Roger Scruton wrote in the New Statesman.
Jon’s books on boxing legends Tom Cribb and Herefordshire’s own Tom Spring were likewise well-received.
He also co-wrote several walking books with Heather and, like her, delved into local history, including a book on John Kyrle, “the Man of Ross.”
A man of many interests, Jon was an avid golfer for many years with his home base at Ross-on-Wye Golf Club. At various points he was also a member of the Rotary Club, Probus Club and Ross-on-Wye Civic Society.
He was a founder member and past president of the Herefordshire Fine Wine Society, a group that was formed in the 1980s in large part because of a wine tasting course he presented.
Over the years Jon made regular television and radio appearances.
In the 1980s, a BBC journalist participated in a wine weekend, resulting in a lengthy dispatch broadcast on Radio 4. Jon’s book on Tom Spring also attracted media attention, including another appearance on Radio 4 with his friend, Herefordshire- based sports journalist Frank Keating.
Jon is survived by his wife Heather; children Russell, Lawrence and Alice; and grandson Nicholas.
A celebration of his life will be held in April.