HE HAS been dubbed one of the greatest wine professionals of his generation.

Hampshire hotelier Gerard Basset is a former world champion sommelier and the only person to hold three major titles simultaneously - Master of Wine, Master Sommelier and MBA (Wine).

Gerard, 60, co-founded the highly-successful Hotel du Vin group and now runs the award-winning Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest with his wife Nina.

But he is currently absent from the business after being diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.

His illness is another devastating blow to his wife, whose mother Jean, 69, is also battling an aggressive form of the disease.

Gerard is currently receiving treatment at Southampton General Hospital and the Spire hospital in the city and is faces a major operation early next year.

But the boutique hotel in Woodlands Road, Woodlands, is open as normal.

And Gerard has vowed to beat the disease, telling friends and wellwishers: "This is just another challenge I will fight head on - and win."

His illness became public after Nina wrote a blog to explain his absence from the establishment they have run since 2007.

In a series of upbeat forecasts for 2018 she wrote: "Gerard will win his battle, as will my mum, and we will come through this period of challenge.

"Gerard may be conspicuous by his absence in the short term.

"But he remains very much a vital part of TerraVina and whilst we will miss him being with us whilst he concentrates on his treatment, we will all be cheering him on."

The couple have received hundreds of messages of support since Gerard's illness was diagnosed at the end of last month.

Nina told the Daily Echo: "Gerard began to experience back pain and thought he'd pulled a muscle, but it didn't go away so he went to see a doctor.

"When he received the diagnosis he took it brilliantly and tried to remain as positive as he could.

"As a family we are very pragmatic and philosophical. We were very strong as a couple when we were told the news."

Gerard added: "I feel positive. Cancer care is much better than it was ten-20 years ago and will continue to improve. I'm in good hands."

Born and brought up in France he originally trained as a chef but embarked on a career as a sommelier after moving to the UK in the 1980s. He won a fistful of awards and in 2010 triumphed at the World Sommelier Championships in Chile.

The following year he was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to the hospitality industry.