Denis Williams obituary

·3-min read

My father, Denis Williams, who has died aged 93 of cancer, was an expert on German wine and a great enthusiast. He firmly believed in drinking what you enjoy, eschewing the snobbery often associated with wine. For many years he was managing director of H Sichel and Sons, an importer of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, many people’s introduction to wine after the second world war.

Denis and his sister, Gwyneth, were born in Valparaíso, Chile. Their father, David, had left the family sheep farm in north Wales to travel to Chile in 1905, working as a broker in agriculture and minerals. He met his wife, Azile (nee Shipton), who was from Essex, when she arrived in Chile in 1917 to replace the young men working at a British bank who had been called up to fight in France during the first world war.

Following the 1929 financial crash, the family returned to north Wales and then settled in London. In 1939 Denis was evacuated back to Wales, attending Llanrwst grammar school, where he learned Welsh. His father died in 1941 and Denis insisted on returning to London, completing his education at the North London Emergency school for boys. In 1945 he enlisted in the Army Intelligence Corps based in Hamburg.

After the war, Denis turned for career advice to his economics teacher, who introduced him to banking, which he hated, then in 1948 to Walter Sichel, a wine merchant. Following training in wine-making and handling in Mainz and Bordeaux, he started in sales, travelling across southern England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland, where he made many lifelong friends.

He qualified as a master of wine in 1958 after doing a part-time course at the Institute of Masters of Wine in London, later becoming an examiner, serving as chair of the Institute in 1962, and celebrating 60 years’ membership in 2018.

He became managing director of Sichel’s in the mid 1970s and was known in that role for his down to earth approach. At one gathering of wine masters, during which an individual was pontificating rather too expansively about a particular wine on offer, he began shifting in his seat as the prose became purpler by the minute – and in the end could take it no longer. “For heavens sake,” he muttered, in an audible whisper, “it’s only a bloody drink.”

He retired from Sichel’s in 1992 after 46 years with the company. He loved his leisure time thereafter, dividing it between his family, battling bureaucracy to build a community hall for the parish of St Mary’s in Riverhead, Kent, editing the parish magazine, cricket, spy thrillers and taking his dogs for walks. Visitors never left without a couple of bottles. An avid Guardian reader and lifelong European, he was heartbroken by Brexit.

In 1974 he married Diane Seldon (nee Gardner). She survives him, along with their three daughters, Laura, Elizabeth and Harriet; David and me, the children from his first marriage, to Kay (nee Graham), which ended in divorce; and eight grandchildren.