The Man Behind the Oscars of Wine


We talk to Lewis Chester about his life in wine and the founding of the high-profile Golden Vines Awards.

Lewis Chester (L) and Gérard Basset at work in the wine cellar.

© Liquid Icons
| Lewis Chester (L) and Gérard Basset at work in the wine cellar.

Lewis Chester, a London-based wine collector, is the honorary president and head of fundraising at the Gérard Basset Foundation.

Chester is an outgoing, energetic personality who, with the assistance and support of Sasha Lushnikov, the Basset family and other trade contacts, has rapidly built the Foundation into a significant force for positive change in the wine world. Chester’s outgoing approach and the high-profile of the Golden Vines Awards contrasts with the underlying humility and modesty of the Gérard Basset I knew as a fellow Master of Wine, but the splendid events are a fitting tribute to a man who achieved the undisputed pinnacle of his profession.

Chester’s drive and determination clearly makes him a fitting steward for these awards and his friend’s legacy. Wine-Searcher asked Lewis to tell us about the Golden Vines and how they have become recognized as the “Oscars of Fine Wine”. What follows is his response.

Chester’s love of wine began at Oxford University. Having graduated Harvard Business School, he founded a wine, whiskey and cigar club. This was where he started appreciating and began collecting fine wines and rare whiskeys. First focusing on Bordeaux’s First Growths, his passion inevitably drew him to Burgundy.

Around 2009, having read an article about Gérard Basset OBE MW MS, he contacted him on a whim. Basset, co-founder of the Hotel du Vin group, had just become world champion sommelier (at his sixth attempt) and was the only person to combine this title with those of Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. Chester and Basset became close friends. Soon these two high-achievers were traveling together, visiting wine regions and events, and sharing treasured bottles.  

Gérard encouraged Chester to study, saying: “You can’t be a great collector, unless you study wine – your knowledge will be superficial otherwise.” Four years later having completed all the WSET’s wine qualifications, Chester received his Level 4 Diploma certificate from WSET’s honorary president – his friend Gérard Basset.

Having won scholarships from Hardy’s and the Champagne Academy for his studies, Basset encouraged Chester to apply to study to become a Master of Wine. At this stage, Chester’s wife, Natalie, stepped in, concerned that his wine obsession was taking over their family and professional lives. Basset was disappointed, but instead, suggested they form a company together to “do stuff in the wine world”. Hence, Liquid Icons was born.

This new venture’s launch coincided with Basset’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer, a particularly aggressive cancer with low survival rates. Chester spent time with him, frequently making the 2.5-hour drive to his home in the New Forest (near Southampton), even accompanying him to Paris to undertake alternative therapies. He saw Basset’s determination to finish writing his autobiography, Tasting Victory, which was published in 2020, a year after his death. 

In 2019, Chester and Sasha Lushnikov, with Gérard’s blessing, compiled and published the first Liquid Icons’ Global Fine Wine Report. The Report was designed to resemble a Goldman Sachs-quality industry report, based on data collected from fine wine experts around the world: Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, merchants, distributors, sommeliers and the wine media. This expert survey comprised the basis of the report. Following Basset’s death in January 2019, they renamed it the Gérard Basset Global Fine Wine Report.

For the 2022 Report, approximately 950 fine wine professionals completed surveys – Chester believes this is the largest global fine wine survey ever undertaken, making it truly definitive. The 2022 Report will be published and available for free download on the website after October 17.

The idea for the Golden Vines came from Chester and Lushnikov brainstorming the report’s direction. Having already asked their fine wine experts to nominate who was making the best fine wines in different regions, it was an obvious next step to celebrate the “winners” in an awards ceremony.  

Although the wine world presents many awards, Chester believed the fine wine sector was overlooked for a variety of reasons.  First, most accolades are awarded by wine magazines aimed at a general audience who tend to drink “affordable” wines. Second, the awards focus on individual wines, rather than estates, and are judged by small panels of experts’ blind-tasting individual wines. As a diehard Arsenal soccer supporter, Chester sees these awards as like “Man of the Match” awards’ for a game. “Interesting at the time, but nobody remembers the winner after a week or two.” 

Chester wanted these awards to resemble the Ballon d’Or, a soccer trophy that the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are remembered as having won. Focusing on estates, rather than individual wines, he sees the Golden Vines Awards as wine’s Ballon d’Or. 

Glitz and glamor

However, Chester and Lushnikov wanted to create something more glamorous and fun – an Oscars of Fine Wine – a world-class event where the best wines were served, food was cooked by the best chefs, there was top-class entertainment, in an amazing venue and with a cool crowd, balanced between men and women; a really fitting memorial to one of the greatest sommeliers who ever walked the earth. With the approval and co-operation of Basset’s widow Nina and son Romané, and the assistance of Ian Harris (former WSET CEO) and Jancis Robinson, a charity was formed – the Gérard Basset Foundation. 

The Golden Vines Awards are reminiscent of soccer's Ballon d'Or.

© Liquid Icons
| The Golden Vines Awards are reminiscent of soccer’s Ballon d’Or.

The inaugural Golden Vines Awards took place in October 2021 at Annabel’s Private Members Club in Mayfair, London. Lewis used his contacts to secure the use of the club pro-bono for the Foundation. He persuaded his industry contacts to donate an array of outstanding wines and spirits: attendees drank Dom Pérignon P2, Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett, Baron Thénard Montrachet, Domaine de la Romanée Conti Grands-Echézeaux, Château d’Yquem and a single-barrel, Macallan Limited Edition malt-whisky.

The vision was to have the best of everything. Thanks to sponsor S. Pellegrino, Mauro Colagreco and his team from three-Michelin star restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France, cooked. Colagreco, had recently won the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Top 50 Restaurants Award. Kylie Minogue performed alongside the Kingdom Choir (an all-Black gospel choir that sang at Prince Harry & Meghan’s wedding). Lewis ensured the crowd was fun and diverse, by selling tables to world-class sponsors including Rolls-Royce, VistaJet, Gucci, Virgin Galactic, Macallan, SGC, Taylor’s Port, Julius Baer and Moet Hennessy.

Winners received specially designed Golden Vines trophies – a collaboration between Amorim Cork, silversmiths Grant MacDonald and famed,  London-born, American-based artist Shantell Martin. Winning wineries included: Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Egon Müller, Ridge Vineyards, Penfolds, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux. Coravin won the innovation award, Steven Spurrier received an honorary award, while Aubert de Villaine was inducted into a Hall of Fame. Kylie Minogue also received a special award for wine entrepreneurialism for her achievement of selling 5 million bottles of Kylie Minogue Wines less than two years from launching. 

The Foundation focuses on solving what Chester believes is the wine world’s biggest problem, its lack of diversity. One of Gérard Basset’s greatest skills was recognizing and cultivating talent, helping people with ability and passion progress within the wine industry. The Foundation aims to help persons of color overcome the disadvantages that make it either too difficult or make them feel unwelcome in the wine industry. In certain countries, sexism on institutional levels ensures there are hardly any women in the industry. Therefore, as long as these problems persist, the Gérard Basset Foundation will raise money to increase diversity and inclusivity in the wine world, (and from 2022, spirits and hospitality) by funding wine education, internships and work-experience programs.  This is a fitting, enduring legacy for such a man.

The Gérard Basset Foundation raised more than £1,200,000 ($1,467,000) through two auctions in 2021. The principal auction, the Golden Vines Fine Wine, Rare Spirit & Experience Auction, was offered globally online, for anyone to bid. Lots included large formats or rarities from top estates (or distillers) with an experience, such as VIP tours, tastings, lunch or dinner with the owner, stays at the château or nearby luxury hotel, for between two and 10 guests. These are unique opportunities for bidders to access iconic estates in the great wine regions, with groups of friends or colleagues. Christie’s also ran a Live Auction featuring lots donated by sponsors.  

The Golden Vines Foundation offers a number of scholarship programs, offering incredible opportunities to recipients from a diversity and inclusivity background to work in the wine industry. These include the Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships, worth £55,000 ($67,000) each, to study for the Master of Wine or Master Sommelier program and 12-month internships at leading fine wine estates. Other scholarships include the Dom Pérignon Golden Vines MW & MS Scholarships. The Golden Vines Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships. The Hennessy Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship in Spirits. The Artémis Domaines Golden Vines Victims of Conflict Scholarships to help those displaced by war and geopolitical conflict, such as we are witnessing in Ukraine.  

 The Foundation has also awarded grants to 14 institutional and community partners globally. These grants have funded wine education programs with the University of Adelaide for indigenous people; Okanagan College for Inuit Indians; Black winemakers in South Africa through the Pinotage Youth Development Program; West Africans through Africa Wine Club; disability students through Wine on Wheels in New York; a program with Kedge Business School in Bordeaux; and a number of programs in the US promoting diversity. These programs could change the face of the wine world, making Gérard Basset’s name better known today than when he was alive. 

The 2022 Golden Vines events take place in Florence October 14-17, recognizing the world’s best fine wine estates. Events include two gala dinners, a series of master classes (from the likes of Dom Pérignon, Hennessy, Arnoux-Lachaux, István Szepsy and top Brunello producers) and a series of lunches including an SGC-sponsored Concert in the Sky.  Wines to be served include Dom Pérignon P2, Krug Vintage, Trimbach Clos Ste Hune, Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Cheval Blanc, Solaia, Taylor’s Port and Yquem. Richard Hennessy and The Macallan will also be served. Italy’s most famous chef, Massimo Bottura of three-Michelin starred Osteria Francescana in Moderna will be cooking. World-class entertainment is assured, the identity of which will remain a surprise for guests. Wine-Searcher is delighted to have been nominated for an award in the Innovation category.

Hennessy, Dom Pérignon, Artémis Domaines, Casa Ferreirinha and Marchesi Antinori are all new sponsors in 2022. Chester is the Fine Wine & Rare Spirits Columnist for The Robb Report, who are the official media partner and an event sponsor. There is also a long and star-studded, worldwide, list of Golden Vines ambassadors who ably assist (pro-bono) the Foundation’s work.

To register interest in the limited number of seats available, visit:

To receive the eCatalogue for the Golden Vines Fine Wine, Rare Spirit & Experience Auction, visit:

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