I often write about the old and the new. It’s an appropriate theme in Bordeaux where wine makers try to honour tradition whilst embracing the latest technology – a fine line that many chateaux successfully tread.
Vineyards, Bordeaux or elsewhere, are not the only members of the wine trade to straddle different centuries: Berry Brothers and Rudd is a venerable London wine and spirits merchant. It is my go-to address for UK clients and others passing through, looking to improve their wine knowledge, stock their cellars or just have a really good tasting (and often food) experience and there has never been a better time to do so.
Founded in 1698 by ‘The Widow Bourne’, it seems fitting that there is once again a woman at the helm. Lizzy Rudd was named chairman at the end of 2017. Having a woman in the driving seat is not the only sign that they are moving with the times. Berry Brothers (or BBR, as their friends know them) is now a star of the silver screen, playing a major role in the latest Kingsman film, which has certainly engaged a younger generation if the numbers of people taking ‘selfies’ outside the entrance to the shop is anything to go by.
The whole of this historic building, on the corner of Saint James and Pall Mall, is dedicated to sharing the company’s passion for wine: a rabbit warren of interconnecting rooms, offices and private dinning rooms. It is a fitting location; this little corner of London is dedicated to hedonistic pleasures. Just across the road from the new retail store is the new 67 Pall Mall London, first members only wine club. James Fox Cigar shop is just up the road, boots and shoes can be custom made at neighbouring John Lobb or hats at Lock & Co. A little further afield is another of my favourite shops – Ormonde Jane whose perfumed candles are wonderful and good training for sensory perception. If you are gasping for a drink after all this wonderful shopping, the discreet Cocktail bar at Dukes Hotel makes the best Martinis – using BBR gin of course.
BBR has a history of innovation; in 1954 they created No 3, the first wine magazine – back on the shelves as of 2016 and were the first wine retailer to go on line as early as 1994. The Wine Knowledge pages of their site and their blog remain an excellent source of wine and spirits expertise: as is their new downloadable e book.
2017 saw the opening of the new modern retail shop. You can still enter No 3 St James, where the historic scales and Dickensian theme makes it feel as if you are stepping back in time, but it’s the new shop on Pall Mall where you should call in for the latest wine recommendations and advice the company is known for. Here you can choose from over 5,000 wines stored in an underground cellar the size of two football fields. Then there’s their spirits collection, as diverse as Whisky, Mauritian Rum, Kings Ginger and even a new Texas Bourbon – all iconic brands in their own right. Oh, and of course Gin. This month sees the re-launch of the original Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin.
BBR is not just about selling. Through their exceptional wine school, they are also there to help you learn and discover the wine and spirits world. School here does not mean just sitting behind desks – even if they do have wine glasses rather than inkpots. Learning is interactive and hands-on with events, food and wine lunches, dinners and even Champagne teas.
The opening of the magnificent new Sussex cellars in 2015 has brought these experiences to a greater audience. I finally visited last week and found it incredible that this is sitting underneath such a cornerstone of London tradition. The design, somewhere between a Spanish Bodega and an ancient cellar, allows you to enjoy your pre dinner tasting whilst peering down to the room below where dinner awaits, prepared in their very own, and very busy kitchens, under head Chef Stewart Turner. These new rooms have become such a success that over 1,000 events were held there last year.
BBR has six Masters of Wine on their staff, so plenty of wine brains there for the picking; fitting then that they champion the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), are silver Corporate Patrons of the educational organisation and were nominated for WSET Wine Educator of the year thanks to the tireless work of Rebecca Lamont.
Wine classes take place in the Pickering cellar, named after the smallest square in London, in turn named after the Widow Bourne’s son in law. It was the last place to see a duel in London and was also site of The Texas Legation from 1842-45, although they skipped town without paying the rent. No connection to the duel. The debt was paid in 1986, by a delegation in full Texan regalia, which might explain the inspiration behind one of their latest products, a Texan bourbon called Texas Legation! Another astute link to their rich history.