Belfast Telegraph

Wine merchant in tribute to brave wife after as she lost limbs to meningitis

By Margaret Canning and John Mulgrew

Wine merchant James Nicholson has said his wife has been an "inspiration" in how she dealt with losing her limbs after suffering from meningitis.

The 61-year-old businessman - who owns JN Wine in Crossgar - spoke to the Belfast Telegraph about his wife Elspeth's illness, which happened eight years ago.

The pair met when Elspeth worked at The Villager, where Mr Nicholson first got into wine.

The fine dining restaurant in Crossgar was owned by Mr Nicholson's late brother Michael and was a favourite spot of high-rollers such as George and Angie Best in the 1970s.

"She came to work in The Villager and my command and control lasted for about three weeks before it moved to her," he said.

"Eight years ago she got meningitis and lost her limbs. She's an inspiration in terms of how she handled it. She said to someone: 'James doesn't seem to realise I'm disabled'. But, of course, I treat her the same. She's just terrific how she handles it. She's in Portugal at the moment. She's in good form."

The Co Down wine merchant says while he's fortunate to be doing what he loves, he's faced plenty of adversity in life.

Mr Nicholson grew up in the Saintfield area with his parents Ellen and Neil and only sibling Michael. Ellen was a full-time mother while Neil worked in the Spalding tennis racquet factory in Whiteabbey.

But the family was dealt a blow when James was just 11 after Ellen died of cancer.

Then, four years later, Mr Nicholson moved to Belfast to share a flat in Stranmillis with Michael, aged just 15.

"I was quite young and certainly it was either a sink-or-swim situation. And it made me quite resilient. It's just the way you deal with the cards you are dealt - you deal with them or you don't. I can probably deal with a lot of adversity."

And he says he counts himself blessed in life and has no plans to slow down.

After 37 years in the business, he's still continuing to take trips to vineyards and producers.

Mr Nicholson started out as a pupil at Down High before transferring to Methody, and initially had plans to study law.

"I finished my education at A-level in a photo finish, but my grades weren't good enough. I studied history, English and British constitution, which we'd now know as politics," he said.

But he added his "grades weren't up to it".

"So I decided to opt out and go into pubs and the restaurants," he said.

After a couple of years working in his brother's business, he saw the potential in the wine trade - kicking off his grape-related career aged 23.

"I didn't really think too much - it was only the blind faith and when you are doing something you enjoy, it's a lot easier," he said.

And before he worked is way up to owning JN Wine in Crossgar, he began selling his produce from his Ford Cortina. He borrowed £12,000 from Ulster Bank and souped up the big green car, adding springs so that the boot could carry 60 units of wine.

Mr Nicholson said he would spend four days a week selling and two days a week delivering.

JN Wine has grown into a major force, selling wine across the UK and Ireland. But a foray into China selling crates of £14,000 Chateau Lafite was not to last.

"The Chinese economy certainly isn't where it was," he said. "There was a while where we were selling cases of Chateau Lafite. But it was good while it lasted."

Belfast Telegraph