DAVID HUGHES 12.06.1938 – 06.02.2023

Even Van Riebeeck knew Dave Hughes, legend of Cape wine

Even Van Riebeeck knew Dave Hughes, legend of Cape wine
Dave Hughes in a particularly happy place, on a visit to Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay, Scotland. (Photo: Supplied)

Legendary wine personality Dave Hughes’s passing this week is grieved by the South African wine industry and the wider world. David Louis Hughes, South African wine icon, died peacefully in Stellenbosch on Monday, 6 February 2023 at the age of 84.

The late Duimpie Bayly used to often joke that when Jan van Riebeeck arrived in South Africa in 1652, Dave Hughes was already here to greet him. 

South Africa celebrated its wine industry’s 364th birthday on 2 February 2023 – the only wine industry in the world that knows precisely when it began because Van Riebeeck wrote in his diary on 2 February 1659: “Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from the Cape grapes.” A decade earlier, it was only the second year that this event was marked with great fanfare at what was to become an annual gathering at Groot Constantia. Honoured on 2 February 2013 as one of the icons of South African wine was Dave Hughes.

Hughes has left a tangible mark on the South African wine fraternity. He was known for his humility and kindness but was always modest about his impressive accomplishments. His career, which encompassed winemaking, distilling, journalism, consultancy and international wine and spirit judging, began in the land of his birth, the former Rhodesia, where he worked for African Distillers.

Hughes came to South Africa in 1968 when he was appointed operations manager at Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery. Before resigning in 1989 he headed up the company’s marketing and consumer relations. During his SFW career he was a driving force behind the establishment of the Nederburg Auction in 1975, which in its heyday was regarded as one of the most prestigious wine auctions in the world.

A firm believer in spreading the gospel of wine, Hughes was one of the founders of the Cape Wine Academy, a wine education organisation that is responsible for thousands of South Africans learning to love wine and deepening their knowledge of it. In recognition of the contribution he’d made to expanding wine education, Hughes was made an honorary member of the Institute of Cape Wine Masters.

A board member of the South African National Wine Show Association for many years, he played a huge role in establishing the world-class judging at the Veritas Awards since its inception in 1991. Over more than 40 years he also served as a regular judge at the South African Young Wine Show and Veritas awards.

Hughes was also instrumental in the start-up of the judging at the Pinotage Association’s Top 10 Competition and was an honorary member of the association.   

These were just some of the many honours bestowed upon him in his long and distinguished career. In 2001 he was invited to join the Worshipful Company of Distillers, the first non-resident of Britain to receive the honour since the formation of the guild in 1638. In 2002 he was made a Freeman of the City of London, and in 2003 was named a Keeper of the Quaich by the Scotch Whisky Association.

With whisky writer Dave Broom while visiting a distillery on Islay, Scotland. (Photo: Supplied)

The International Wine & Spirit Competition benefited from his wine and spirit expertise for nearly 30 years and Hughes came to know the great and the good of the international wine and spirits world through his decades heading up the judging panels.

But these achievements don’t provide an accurate measure of the man. In his younger days he represented Rhodesia in rugby, water polo, hockey and basketball. His interest in sport spanned generations and he keenly watched “the rugger” right until the end, but it was in the participation that he revelled. A keen runner, his permanent green number for completing 10 Comrades ultramarathons was testament to his dogged determination, but he also completed the Two Oceans and a host of other marathons in his lifetime.

Hughes was a devout Catholic and did a phenomenal amount of work for charity. One cause particularly close to his heart was hosting the annual wine auction for the Jan Kriel School. It was estimated that he helped to raise millions for the special-education school. Stellenbosch Hospice was another worthy cause close to his heart that he actively supported and for which he raised funds.

Sadly, Hughes lost his wife and partner, Lorna, in a car accident in late 2022. They were happily married, surrounded by an ever-growing pack of rescue dogs, for 21 years.

The South African wine fraternity is poorer for his passing but was richly blessed to have had him make such an abiding contribution. He will leave a void and be sorely missed by the thousands whose lives he touched in his inimitable, gentle way. DM/TGIFood


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Noel Deacon says:

    What a lovely tribute to a great wine person. You asked why I today subscribed to DM it because of Tony Jackman and the above article . Thank you Tony.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options