Introducing - Humble Grape and James Dawson

Fortunately, from time to time, along comes a person in the wine industry like James Dawson, owner and managing director of Humble Grape, who is himself, a striking example of someone you instantly feel comfortable in the presence of.

The joy of being humble doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with the wine scene – we’ve probably all experienced unattractive shows of wine-snobbery. As his story to me unfolded, it was clear that he brings a delightful humility as well as enthusiasm and a depth of knowledge that is a gift to be part of. 

James recalled an early experience of being slightly ridiculed for not knowing that Chardonnay and Chablis are the same grape; this gave James a firm faith that he never wanted to feel like that or to put others in this position. This ethos has stayed with him. He clearly wants to take his clients on a journey of discovery of wine, from wherever they are currently with their knowledge.

After long term work and success in the technology start-up and business world, James finally decided to put his energy into what had been a passion for many years – wine.  His wine and food connection was piqued when living in Paris in the late 1990s.  He learned the subtleties and pleasures of matching wine with food from a top French chef and was totally enthralled from then on.

Some years later, while on his honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, he came up with the idea for Humble Grape – a concept that has proved it has legs and is now going from strength to strength.  The idea was to develop a business that supplied top quality, hand selected wine to discerning clients – clients that James wanted to build relationships with by letting them taste the wine, enjoy food pairings, discuss, socialize and then decide what they would like to buy and collect.  It started small mind you, with the first tasting being at home and the subsequent orders delivered by James on his motorcycle. The concept however has remained true and is a triumph. There are popular tasting nights held once a month that can be found on their website as well as corporate events and hosted dinners. Humble Grape does everything with a great sense of integrity and enjoyment.

Humble Grape now partners with 55 vineyards worldwide in countries including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Australia with South Africa soon to be featuring. Every single one of the vineyards have been personally selected based on the criteria of being either organic, bio-dynamic or lutte raisonne, meaning “reason to struggle” – this refers to the vines not receiving added help to produce a crop. All 55 are small, boutique, family-owned vineyards with a small volume of extraordinary quality wine. They are all exclusive to Humble Grape so wine from them is indeed unique and highly collectable.

James takes his relationship with the growers as seriously as he does with his clients. He pays well for the wine and is understanding of such calamities as a bad harvest in a year for example. He would never drop a vineyard because of this and the relationships are therefore trusting and strong.

As the business grows, Australian wine maker, Cameron Gordon, Head of Operations, now joins James.

“Cameron has brought an enormous amount to the company with his ease in working with people and his excellent knowledge of wine making, vineyards and wine”, says James.

Also on board is a bright young rising star of the wine world, Italian born Sofia Sagripanti. She is in a marketing and social media role – see her blogs and updates on events on the site. Sofia is studying to be a sommelier and has the perfect passion to complement Humble Grape. 

Meet the team at the events hosted at wonderful restaurants and venues around London.

James’ own interest in wine collecting began over a decade ago when he got a bonus in the first big start-up company he was involved with. The CEO, a keen wine collector himself, suggested James buy a case of Chateau Margeaux, as an investment. He wisely did, for five hundred pounds. It’s now worth over seven thousand pounds. The main focus for James however, is also enjoying the wine he collects and the process around it.  This is the direction Humble Grape takes with collectors who they assist with building up their cellar. It’s all about growing a portfolio of wine that pushes the boundaries a bit but is also very sound as an investment, and for the pleasure of drinking in the years to come. James wisely points out that people’s tastes change over time and cases of what someone might like to drink now, may not be their choice in the future – or it may still be, so making a cellar with layers is indeed sound advice.

In terms of building up a cellar for a private home, James is on hand to assist.  They take on 2-4 major new clients per year for a highly bespoke cellar selection that involves regular and ongoing meetings for 6 months to 2-3 years and tastings to build and review the collection.  As well as this, clients can seek advice and come to the events to try and discuss what is the best for them both budget wise and for personal taste.  To James, building a cellar is very much an education process, a cellar tells a story and has layers and complexity that cannot be gained ordinarily. Record keeping for the cellar is also kept by Humble Grape, as well as the client’s own records, to ensure that this is safe and accurate.

“Curating a cellar is a highly bespoke personalized process. It is balanced so that it benefits and protects the clients in the future. We take a very different strategy, to gain an understanding of what the client likes, and then push the boundaries a bit too. We help create a portfolio and like to add something special, like a super top-end cuvée, which in 10 years will be amazing for drinking and as an investment. It’s a highly exclusive result”, says James.

Cellar Maison highly recommend talking to James or Cameron about a wine collection. We can arrange a direct introduction at the time we are planning, designing and constructing your bespoke home cellar to ensure it all works together perfectly for you.

Call us to talk about the space you have available in your home and we can tailor the ideal solution that is stylish and beautiful.