Focus on London Craft Week: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Photographs Thom Atkinson
Words Mark Hooper
Britain’s most noted wine and spirit merchants have – literally – built on their rich foundations, creating state of the art tasting rooms and cellars where kings once plotted…
One of our highlights of London Craft Week 2018 has been the fascinating tour of Berry Bros. & Rudd’s cellars, led by Wine Advisor Felipe Carvallo.
Founded by the mysterious Widow Bourne (of whom, Carvallo points out ‘little is known… other than she was a widow’), Berry Bros. & Rudd began life as a coffee house in 1698. They still operate out o the same premises on 3 St James’s Street, although they have extended significantly in this time: upwards, downwards and around the corner – having recently moved the shop side of the business to 63 Pall Mall.
The company soon extended its repertoire too – becoming wine and spirits merchants, changing their name to Berry Brothers in 1845 when George Jr and Henry Berry took over the business. They have been official wine suppliers to the British Royal Family since the reign of George III (having St James’s Palace across the road no doubt helped) and hold two Royal Warrants, the first granted by Edward VII in 1903.
Today, they still trade on their incredible history – a tour of the cellars takes in all manner of curiosities, from the ceramic caricature ‘tosspots’ (intended to be thrown into the gutter once empties – hence the origin of the word ‘tosser’) to the telegram announcing the firm’s losses on the Titanic (in times of cases of wine, not people). In what is today one of the many state of the art tasting rooms, the exiled Louis Napoleon, later to become Emperor Napoleon III, would plot his return to France (it is said he was so paranoid he would check each barrel for spies and would-be assassins).
The catacomb-like cellars have now been transformed to be more fit-for-purpose for their daily schedule of private and corporate events, tasting experiences – and offices from which to run a 21st century business boasting five Masters of Wine (more than any other company) with unrivalled knowledge of both the established and emerging markets (English and Chinese being recent specialities). But despite its grand history it avoids any stuffiness, with their affordable and brilliantly named ‘Good Ordinary Claret’ a bestseller without stinting on quality.