The Vintage Magazine wrote about the Hotel du Vin Group and Robin Hutson in a previous article, called ‘The Revolutionary of the British Hotel Industry’, click here, and this article is about his partner, Gérard Basset, OBE and the hotel which he built, called ‘Hotel TerraVina, but first ‘a brief history’.
The relationship started over twenty years ago when Robin Hutson was the general manager, and Gérard Basset, the head sommelier at Chewton Glen at New Milton in the New Forest Hampshire. This famously successful country house hotel was owned by Martin Skan who also employed a young chef called James Martin.
Robin and Gérard had formulated a plan to launch a ‘new breed’ of hotel in Britain, to be called Hotel du Vin, based around a ‘Bistro’ with the well-trained staff dressed like waiters in a French bistro, with long aprons, white shirts and dark ties and black waist jackets.
The bedrooms would all be completely different, with furniture bought at auction or from local antique dealers, so each item was individually chosen for that bedroom. The bathrooms would have ‘walk-in’ showers with massive shower heads, and often had ‘stand-alone’, cast-iron, white enamelled ‘roll-top’ baths, which could be filled in seconds with gushing hot water and the towels would be large and fluffy and the beds would have the finest cotton sheets. This formula may seem obvious now, but back in 1993 hotels had hardly progressed from the era of Conrad Hilton, when they were all designed to look exactly the same, so that guests knew precisely what to expect, and they were very boring.
Robin Hutson, and Gérard Basset were determined not to be boring, and they succeeded in spades, with Hotel du Vin having real charm, and well-trained, well-dressed, knowledgeable staff.
James Martin subscribed to this philosophy, and followed Robin and Gérard to the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester, and it proved to be a ‘dream team’ with Robin and Gérard training the staff, who included quite a few French students, many of whom stayed on and made a career out of it. In addition, Gérard designed an impressive, but affordable wine list, and James Martin created an innovative Bistro menu. It seemed they could not fail, and so it proved to be the case, and the rest, as they say, is history, with all three of them individually going on to further and greater successes.
James Martin has also featured in The Vintage Magazine where we interviewed him about his passion for fast cars, click here, and photographed him at home with his classic car collection.
The Hotel du Vin group was an instant success with its friendly but efficient service, laid back ambience and individually designed rooms, each sponsored by a famous Chateau, and the main Bar sponsored by the locally produced ‘Ashe Park mineral water.
Robin, Gérard and the other shareholders who included Ashley Levett of Winchester Commodities fame, and Gordon and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop fell in love with the Hotel du Vin concept, and backed their judgement. These backers enabled Robin Hutson and Gérard Basset to ‘roll-out’ the business model and within a few years they had hotels in Tunbridge Wells, Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham, Harrogate and their last in Henley, in the old Brakespeare’s Brewery.
In 2004, exactly ten years after starting Hotel du Vin, the shareholders decided to sell to the Malmaison Group of city centre boutique hotels in the north of England and they paid an eye-watering £66 million. At the time of the sale there were six completed and one half finished hotel, (Henley) so this offer valued them at £9,428,571 million for each hotel. Not that Robin and Gérard banked quite so much, as of course the bank loan and other debts had to be paid back- but still they all did very well from the Group’s sale.
This might have tempted many people to retire somewhere warm and live on the interest on their payout, but neither Robin nor Gérard were quite ready to say goodbye to running Hotels and catering generally.
However, as part of the terms of the deal they had to commit to complete the unfinished hotel at Henley and, in Gérard’s case he stayed on for a while to train the next generation of sommeliers for the entire Hotel du Vin/Malmaison group.
Whilst Gérard Basset was consolidating his position as the top sommelier in the UK and ultimately, in 2010, the World and competing in various international competitions, he and Nina had found a large Victorian villa on the outskirts of Southampton and set about turning this unpromising property into a functioning hotel by improving the existing extensions on both sides, incorporating bathrooms into every bedroom and creating a restaurant with an open kitchen and display wine cellar at the other end.
The restaurant looks over what remains of the original garden and the original, heated, outdoor swimming pool – a real hit for use in the summer months.
Hotel TerraVina was an instant success with many of Gérard and Nina’s Hotel du Vin fans flocking to their new establishment and a number of corporate clients from Southampton made the most of the facilities which include a conference room, filled with natural light and its own outdoor terrace.
Hotel TerraVina is first and foremost a small, quirky, boutique hotel, with a great restaurant, rather than a five star hotel and as with Hotel du Vin its main focus is on the wine with Gérard training his pupils and protégés in the sommelier’s art, and with the food definitely living up to the quality of the wines. In fact the hotel was recently noted as being one of the Top 100 British Hotels in the UK and also Top 10 for foodie hotels in the same listing from the Sunday Times.
The bedrooms at Hotel TerraVina are well designed and offer guests good size bathrooms and ample living space, being homely and comfortable, rather than overtly luxurious.
On the night we dined we chose our various courses for dinner, and were more than confident, in fact relieved, to leave the choice of the wines to the Sommelier, Ana Martinez.
As usual it was a difficult decision as to what to order from the many delicious sounding dishes, but I finally settled on scallops grilled with garlic, chilli and coriander butter and toasted pine nuts and my wife chose a seasonal terrine of confit guinea fowl and goose liver, miso, pickled radish and toasted sesame.
Ana proposed an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Von Den Terrasen, Sepp moser, kremstal 2012 to accompany the scallops and a red from Uruguay, Marselan, Reserve, Bodegones del Sur Juanico, 2010 for the guinea fowl.
For my main course, I chose roasted breast and confit leg of Hampshire partridge with pancetta, Pomme Anna, crushed celeriac and pear and Chrissy chose pan fried mullet, mixed shellfish, saffron potatoes and a smooth French bisque.
Ana suggested that the Marselan from Uruguay which had accompanied the guinea fowl would be equally good with the partridge and recommended a Chilean Chardonnay, Cuvée Alexandre, Lapostolle Atalayas Vineyard, Casablanca Valley, 2010 for the Bouillabaisse.
Our final decision was unanimous; who could resist a rhubarb soufflé with stem ginger ice-cream which was definitely worth the fifteen minute cooking time?
We both agreed that the delicious meal had been greatly enhanced by the Sommelier’s art and that Gérard had chosen and trained one of his protégés to an exceptional standard.
In the words of the late Michael Winner our dining experience had been truly ‘epic’.
Hotel TerraVina is the realisation of Gérard and Nina’s ambitions and they have created it together, side by side although there is a saying between the couple that Gérard looks after the wine and Nina looks after everything else, so it is a balanced and fair partnership!
Nina, still the youngest ever Hotel Inspector, (she became a Hotel and Restaurant inspector for the AA at the tender age of 21 years old), runs the hotel with a fantastic management team, headed up by recently promoted, General Manager, Chris Harvey, following original and long standing GM, Suzi Glaus’s decision to work only part time for the couple after starting the hotel with them way back in 2007.
Gérard is often away, travelling the world in connection with his other great achievement which he won in 2010, namely being voted, ‘The Best Sommelier in the World’ against very strong international competition, and this is quite a title to live up to!
As if this was not enough, in 2011 Gérard received an OBE for his services to the Hospitality Industry. Also in 2011, he won a Special Catey (the equivalent of an industry Oscar), as well as the Industry Legend award and ‘Wine Personality of the Year’ too. Awards have continued and in 2013 he was named, ‘Decanter Man of the Year’ and just last week he won the Harpers Award as, ‘Best Ambassador for French Wines’.
So his long and successful career has been crowned with many well deserved honours, but he is now busier than ever.
On the night we were there, he had been asked by Ron Denis, the boss of the Maclaren F1 Racing team, to host a wine tasting for a Chinese delegation, and then he flew straight to Geneva to a presentation hosted by Nespresso, such is his life nowadays.
Returning to the hotel, we were only too grateful that we were spending the night at Hotel TerraVina after our wonderful dinner, as we would not have been able to experience the fine wines and drive home. We also had to factor into the equation the fact that we were road testing a Ferrari FF for the weekend, worth around £200,000, the reason why we had chosen an equally impressive hotel to show off its beautiful lines.
Unfortunately, the Gods had conspired against us that afternoon, for a photo shoot and, our hard-working photographer, Doug Garvie, had to battle in a torrential downpour to photograph the Ferrari with us and Nina Basset. However, not even this dreadful weather could dampen our enthusiasm for this exceptional hotel, and its superb restaurant.
Hotel TerraVina is a testament to the passion which Gérard and Nina have for their chosen career, and their insistence on quality, and they are the best examples I can imagine of the maxim that if you do what you love, you will do it well, and everything will follow from that.
It reminds of these line from ‘Desiderata’:
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Gérard and Nina Basset have prospered because of sheer hard work, and have been driven by their passions for Wine, Food and making people happy. Not a bad way to earn a living!
So, if you want to experience the fruits of their labours, then go and stay at Hotel TerraVina, and find out why it was voted one of the Best Foodie Hotels in the UK, by The Sunday Times ‘ Ultimate British Hotels’ supplement on 29th September 2013, and please tell them who sent you!
Hotel TerraVina, 174 Woodlands Road, Woodlands, Netley Marsh, New Forest, Southampton SO40 7GL
T: +44 (0)23 8029 3784
By Robert Jarman, editor and founder of The Vintage Magazine