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- Thursday, 22 January 2015 11:42 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
1. Tesi: Dear Francis, you are the shop manager of Berry Bros & Rudd, the oldest wine shop in London. Can you please tell me more about you and about the shop?
Francis: Let me start by telling you a little about the history of Berry Bros & Rudd. It all began in 1698 when the Widow Bourne opened the shop, trading coffee and tobacco, both luxury products at that time. At that time, following the great fire of London in 1666, London was dominated by massive construction work and substantial change.
The business passed through families Pickering and Clarke, and in the mid-18th Century the Berry family joined the company through marriage. The company started to supply champagne, port and wine to the coffee houses of London. Many of these coffee houses are still around today and have become private member clubs.
From 1920, the main revenue of the business was fine and rare whisky, spirits and, what some people may not be aware of, real estate. The famous Cutty Sark whisky was created at 3. St. James’s Street in 1923 – the first light coloured whisky of its kind.
Today we sell more vintage wine than fine spirits. We stock wine from all over the world including Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, China and more. The business is still a family run and owned one and our Chairman is Simon Berry who represents the seventh generation.
When it comes to me there is far less history to talk about (Francis is smiling). Coming from Burgundy, I started to work for Berry Bros. & Rudd in 2005 and was made shop manager in 2011. It really is a dream come true for me as my passion for good wine started when I was a teenager. It’s always been clear to me that I wanted a career in the wine business.
When it comes to drinking wine, the notion of sharing and company is an important one. When I cook for my family or friends I will always try to cook a dish to match the wine but also to see my guests enjoying the dinner, the wines, the moment. I do the same when I consult people on wine. I try to recommend the wine I believe the customer will enjoy the most. That way you start thinking deeply about people which is again an inspiration for me.
2. Tesi: I’m sure these walls have seen a lot of interesting moments and many personalities through-out the shop’s history. What have been the most memorable ones?
Francis: (is laughing) Oh yes – we’ve had many customers over the last centuries. We are sitting in the Parlour which is used for meetings, interviews and also sharing a bottle with staff at the end of a long day. This is in this same room that the Cutty Sark was created in the 1920s'. Originally the company was known as the Coffee Mill and today we still have the large scale hanging in the main shop. At the time, it was fashionable to know your weight, but not many people owned scales. This is why the original scale was kept, a seat was inserted and from 1765 the company was offering the service of weight and measure to its customers. Louis Philippe the Duke of Orleans visited the shop a few times (Francis takes an old book out of the safe and shows me the original record of the weight of Louis Philippe of France). The pictures on the wall show many other customers, including the Aga Kahn, who have been weighed here.
Another story of our shop’s history is that we were commissioned in 1903 to create a drink to keep His Royal Highness the King Edward 7th warm when he was driving around London in his “horseless carriages”. This also happened in the same year the first Royal Warrant was awarded to the company. A ginger and spirit based liqueur was created. The “King’s Ginger” still exists today and is one of our best selling products.
3. Tesi: Everybody knows the big wine regions but what are the upcoming wine regions? Do you have any favourite region you would recommend to discover?
Francis: There are many outstanding wines and regions that still need to be discovered. Greece is a wonderful wine producing country. I would especially recommend keeping an eye on wines from Crete, Santorini and Croatia, which have the particularity to grow their own indigenous grapes. At another level, China needs to be mentioned as an upcoming wine producing country. This is a huge country and therefore the climatology differs a lot. From the north where some very interesting Ice Wines are produced, to the centre where more classics and often Bordeaux varietals blends are produced. These are wines really worth discovering.
4. Tesi: What does good food and wine mean to you?
Francis: Good food and wine is everything to me. What I always look for is an experience. Like with a very good wine I want a dish to transport me throughout its presentation, its smell and its taste. To be transported is like a spiritual travel back in time and sometimes you discover a culture you haven’t known in that depth beforehand. Good wine always carries a message about the region and the people who have produced it, you just have to take the time to appreciate it and to understand it through tasting and matching it with the right food. This is a very subjective thing but this message sometimes comes through the smell of food or how the taste of wine changes over time. Sometimes it a long forgotten memory that comes back from my youth and sometimes you experience something new, a new taste, a new partnership, a new experience. This is what is great with good food, good wine as it always creates an emotion and sharing this emotion with others is something very special. Enjoying a moment.
Matthias Tesi Baur
For more information please visit: http://www.bbr.com