Sad passing of wine industry legend Dave Hughes

David Louis Hughes, a South African wine legend, 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 here to greet him!

South Africa celebrated its 364th birthday on 2 February 2023. 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 modesty 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, 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, an event that 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.

This was just one of 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 this honour since the formation of the guild in 1638. In 2002 he was also made a Freeman of the City of London, and in 2003 was named a Keeper of the Quaich by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Dave Hughes was a board member of the SA National Wine Show Association for many years and played a huge role in establishing the world class judging at the Veritas Awards since its inception in 1991. He was a regular judge at the SA Young Wine Show and Veritas over a period of more than 40 years.

Dave was also instrumental in the start up of the judging at the Pinotage association’s Top Ten Competition and was an honorary member of the association.   

The International Wine & Spirit Competition benefitted from both 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 ultra-marathons was testament to his dogged determination but he also completed the Two Oceans and a host of other marathon running events 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.

Sadly Hughes lost his wife and partner, Lorna in a car accident late last year. 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.