King's uncorked: wine in the college

December 2011

Letterhead for college wine supplier Simon the Cellarer Ltd. (1956)

Letterhead for college wine supplier Simon the Cellarer Ltd. (1956)
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For many outside Cambridge the image of sherry-soaked fellows and champagne guzzling graduates is synonymous with college life. And it is true that wine, its sale, and consumption have played (and continue to play) a large role in college life and activities. This month we look at documents relating to wine at King's.

From Henry VI to Victoria

Unlike beer there was no allowance for wine in the Founder's Statutes but that did not mean Henry VI was not keen on its consumption. In 1446, he granted the college an annuity of one tun or 256 gallons of Gascon wine. A few years later this annuity was increased to two tuns. The annuity continued right up to the seventeenth century and the Protectorate - with Cromwell paying the college a sum of £10 in lieu of wine. 

Since the nineteenth century both the Senior and Junior Combination (Common) Rooms have had 'cellars' and members are permitted to purchase wine for their own consumption. The Senior Combination Room cellar was originally financed by private contributions from Fellows and not by the college.

Modern cellar

Today King's has its own Wine Steward. He travels to wine tastings and buys some of the best wines and ports available for the college's cellar. The college purchases and stores wine for feasts, special occasions, normal High Table and for the Wine Room. It also maintains a sales point in the pantry where wines and spirits can be bought by Fellows, students and staff.

A high point at the start of each academic year is the Freshers' Wine Tasting, hosted by the Wine Steward and the Butler. This event gives new students an opportunity to sample a selection of wines from the college's well-stocked pantry. The Butler and the Wine Steward provide guidance on how to 'taste' wine and tips on what to look for in a wine.

The gallery below offers a selection of documents tracing the history of wine at King's.

Click on an image to enlarge it:

 

Enquiries

If you have any queries about the information in this page please contact the Archivist (archivist@kings.cam.ac.uk).

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