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A tribute to Michael Jarzebowski

Published:  05 January, 2012

Andrew Gordon and Bill Page pay tribute to wine trade stalwart Michael William Jarzebowski (known to many in the trade as Michael Hutton-Black), who passed away on October 7, 2011.

Andrew Gordon and Bill Page pay tribute to wine trade stalwart Michael William Jarzebowski (known to many in the trade as Michael Hutton-Black), who passed away on October 7, 2011.

He was born in March 1944 and was educated at Ampleforth College, where he first discovered his fascination for marketing.  After leaving school he developed a passion for wine whilst serving with the British Army in Germany and after being demobbed spent six months studying wine chemistry at the world famous Geisenheim College in Germany.

In 1966 he joined Brown & Pank in London. Starting as an apprentice, he worked in many areas of the business, and was such a success that after a year he was promoted to PA to the group marketing and advertising manager. Shortly after his promotion Brown & Pank merged with IDV and he moved on to the corporate HQ at York Gate in London. During this period he also found time to be an active volunteer member of the HAC (The Honourable Artillery Company), the oldest regiment in the British Army.

He grew within the expanding business, passed his WSET Diploma examination, and also gained some experience selling to the grocery trade. In 1971 he became a product group manager, responsible for Smirnoff Vodka and Gilbeys Gin. It was at this time at IDV that he made many of his close friends. The trade was a very social business to be in and Michael, like many of us, made the most of it.

He left IDV in 1972 and worked as a marketing executive with Courtenay Wines and then moved on to Sherry House where he was responsible for brands including Dow's Port, Piper Heidsieck Champagne, Benedictine, Calvet and Jack Daniels.

His big breakthrough came when he joined Spar in 1975 to become their Wines & Spirits executive. He was responsible for developing their range of own label and proprietary wines and spirits. Over a four year period he more than doubled the department's sales.

He left Spar in 1979 and joined Joe Crick and Bill Page at Booker Wine Agencies (Italvini) to set up their specialist German wine subsidiary - BWA Deutschwein Ltd. Michael took his close connections with FW Langguth Erben, the specialist German wine producer, into this business and developed their sales substantially in the UK market.

In 1983 Michael joined up with Andrew Gordon, helping to develop an ex cellars and agency French wines business. In 1985 Michael and Andrew formed Cellars Direct together, a company specialising in selling wines on an ex-cellar basis to the multiples and regional wholesalers. Michael bought out Andrew in the late 1980s and later sold the company to Peter Thompson of Perth. He worked with them as sales director for several years until it was bought out by Waverley Vintners.  Michael then became the Waverley off-trade sales director.

In 1994 he joined Ehrmanns in London to link up with Peter Dauthieu and Bill Page. He had senior sales responsibilities - particularly for the German wines of Langguth Erben and their Blue Nun brand agency which Ehrmanns had taken on from IDV  During his latter years he worked on the export market for them as director of Ehrmanns International.

After the England victory in the Rugby World Cup of 2003, his Ehrmanns and Langguth colleagues maintain that they will never forget his rendition of "We are the Champions", standing on a chair at the Hotel Bellevue in Traben-Trarbach!

In 2009 Michael left Ehrmanns and formed his own agency company, Root Stock & Barrel. In recent months he had been successfully focusing on Crystal Head Vodka, the premium spirit brand owned by Dan Aykroyd, the Canadian actor, comedian, writer and musician.

As his close friends and colleagues know, Michael fought a long, hard and brave battle against cancer and died peacefully at his home in Prestwood, Buckinghamshire, surrounded by his closest family. He leaves his wife, Dee Blackstock MW, daughter Alexa and twin sister Voosie.

Michael was one of the great characters of the wine and spirit trade and will be sorely missed by his many friends in the UK and around the world.

A memorial service to celebrate Michael's life will be held in 2012.