Behind the scenes at Britain’s best wine bar



Charlotte Sager-Wilde – one half of the duo behind Sager & Wilde, London’s most talked-about wine bar – gives her insights into the wine-bar revolution, what’s next for S&W and which, in her view, are the most exciting wines in the world at the moment.

What inspired Sager & Wilde and can you tell us a bit about the philosophy behind it?
We had the idea four years ago when we were both studying for our WSET exams. It was almost impossible to drink the fine wines we were reading about without buying a full bottle, which were always so extortionately priced. After going off to have adventures including living and working in California and working several wine harvests, we decided to come back to London, where we hosted a wine pop-up serving fine wine by the glass and hard-to-find rare bottles. With very little publicity and only a week to prepare, we were shocked when 250 people turned up on the first night. It was carnage (we had to turn people away!) but we had so much fun with it, and it was fascinating to watch how people responded to the offering. And six months later, Sager & Wilde was born.

You’ve had so much fantastic press – are you surprised about the reception the bar has had?
Hell yeah! The success has exceeded all expectations – it’s been a crazy nine months. It’s given us the freedom to have fun with wine, and we’re now fortunate enough to be opening another wine bar next month where we can highlight all the things we love most about our favourite wine.

There’s a feeling of revolution in the wine bar scene at the moment. What’s going on? Are they the next ‘speakeasy’?
Speakeasy/members’ clubs are dated and over. We believe in making wine accessible and taking away any pretentions or elitism that has been previously linked with wine. I’m hoping more great wine bars will continue to open in London (such as the recently opened Verden in Clapton). Wine can deliver great value if priced correctly and appropriately.

Are there any bars, in the UK or worldwide, that inspired what you’ve done with S&W?
Too many places to mention in California, but in San Francisco particularly, places that have a great respect for wine are Bar Tartine, Zuni Café and RN74. But also lots of places in Melbourne and Sydney. We also love the relaxed vibe of wine bars in Paris.

What’s the question people most commonly ask when they come in?
Where did you get this bartop from?

How would you describe your customers and their knowledge level?

They are curious. And engaging. And all sorts of ages, some into wine, some not, but mostly always people are receptive and encourage getting involved in the conversation. We have a great local crowd, combined with surrounding neighbourhood locals. We’ve had a very high number of industry visits, most of them regulars now.

Where do you see the next most exciting wine region as being?
New California.

Have you got any up-and-coming producers that you’re fans of at the moment?
We love what’s coming out of California at the moment: Rajat Parr of Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte (who is also making our house cuvée); Sashi Moorman of Piedrasassi; Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars; Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards. It’s world-class out there right now.

Any wines recently which have blown you away?
Vatan Sancerre is sublime – it’s sheer tension and complexity is mesmerizing.

And finally, what is it about wine that you love?
It’s a vast, ever-evolving and dynamic product. I love the language of wine and how it encourages conversation on all different levels including, art, design, science, history, technology, travel. It’s diverse, it’s intriguing, and continually blows our minds – how one grape from one area of the world can taste completely different to the same grape on the other side of the world.

Follow Sager & Wilde’s ever-changing wine list and forthcoming ventures and openings at


Category: Miscellaneous

A rewarding night for Berry Bros. & Rudd


Winning formula: team BBR collecting the Merchant of the Year award at last night's  ceremony

Winning formula: team BBR collecting the Merchant of the Year award at last night’s ceremony

Berry Bros. & Rudd stole the show last night at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) – the Oscars of the wine world – to pick up the most coveted title: Wine Merchant of the Year 2014.

We were fortunate enough to be nominated in four categories in total (finishing runners up in the Wine Club and Italy Specialist categories) and were delighted to pick up these prestigious prizes:
Large Independent Wine Merchant
Specialist Wine Merchant for En Primeur
Wine Merchant of the Year

Co-Chairman of the IWC, Charles Metcalfe, when presenting the Large Independent Merchant award, said: “Berry Bros. & Rudd has a sensational list of wines, which it combines with an impressive dedication to education, via its fabulous range of dinners and events. This is a very innovative company, which refuses to rest on its laurels. In fact, the judges found it very hard to find any weaknesses here.”

Our Buying Director, Mark Pardoe MW, said: “This is a great endorsement of every individual in this business, from the buyer to the delivery team, and all points in between.”

Fellow IWC Co-Chairman, Tim Atkin MW, adds when awarding Wine Merchant of the Year: “Berry Bros. & Rudd is all about excellence. This quintessential wine merchant excels in terms of buying, selling, strategy, execution, education and communication.”

Other big winners on the night were Liberty Wines who won On Trade Wine Merchant of the Year and Marks & Spencer for Supermarket of the Year.


Category: Miscellaneous

Your last chance to win! The final part of our summer wine competition


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

The long months of summer may still be stretched out before us, but the time has come for the final part of our Summer Brochure competition. Simply identify this image – one of the selection taken by photographer Jason Lowe for our 2014 campaign – for your chance to win a delicious bottle of white.

Our summer wine collection spans the globe, encompassing bottles from regions both old and new. The region photographed by Jason Lowe, above, has been producing wine for longer than Berry Bros. & Rudd has been selling it at No.3 St James’s (ie quite some time).

Tell us which famous wine region is pictured for the chance to win a delicious bottle from one of the area’s leading producers. Email your answer to before 5pm on 23 July. Our standard competition T&Cs apply.

Category: Miscellaneous

Weathering the storm: hail in Burgundy


Photograph: Stephen Barber

Photograph: Stephen Barber

As, once again, Burgundian producers are left to assess the damage wreaked by a short-but-sharp hail strike, Jasper Morris MW – our buyer who lives in the region for much of the year – weighs up the vignerons’ options for protecting their precious crop.

Which job could be more wonderful than the life of a vigneron in Volnay? It’s hard to imagine a better outdoor existence than this. Except… at least six times since the millennium the unfortunate growers have been struck by hail: 2001, 2004, 2008 were bad enough but now the vineyards have been hit for three years in a row, on June 30th in 2012, July 23rd 2013 and once again on Saturday 28th June this year. Storms were forecast after a long dry period and sure enough, from early afternoon onwards the black clouds rolled in and deposited their vicious hail.

It is not just Volnay either: these recent storms have affected Beaune and Pommard severely and depending on the vintage, Puligny, St Aubin, Meursault, Savigny-lès-Beaune and the hill of Corton as well.

Hail varies in nature and intensity as well. Hailstones without rain are especially destructive. Those that fall within a deluge of rain appear to have less damaging effect. Hail not only damages the berries but also the leaves, which inhibits photosynthesis and the ripening process.

Photograph: Stephen Barber

Photograph: Stephen Barber

Estimates for 2013 suggested damage of between 40 percent and 90 percent. I walked through the stricken vineyards exactly a week after the storm and, for the most part, felt that the damage was nearer the lower figure with occasional small patches of complete wipe-out. A saving grace in 2014 was that a decent crop had set (unlike 2012 and 2013) so there is still something to be salvaged. But it is by no means clear whether the unfortunate vignerons in these villages will be able to pull through after this third catastrophe in a row.

Arming against attack
Old postcards from the early 1900s showing vignerons sending rockets up into the clouds to try to disperse the potential hail. Various local syndicats were formed around 1900 for mutual defence against hail. There were six in the Côte d’Or in 1902, and 25 by 1904. The main weapon was for all the inhabitants to go out and fire their shotguns. Indeed, the President of the Syndicat Grélifuge de St-Aubin, when recommending this course to his villagers, noted that it always poured with rain after a battle.

Modern cannons were put in this place this year, the plan being to seed the clouds with silver iodide which should cause the hail to fall instead as a deluge of rain. For whatever reason (and some suggest the cannons were in the wrong place, expecting the storm clouds to appear from the west, though that seems contrary to experience) they failed to work, or at least failed to work adequately. Possibly the story could have been even worse without them.

Net benefits
In Argentina, where hail is a major problem as well, the vineyards are netted for protection. This is currently against Appellation Contrôlée regulations in France (though perhaps this will now be reviewed). However, while it is one thing to festoon wide-spread vine rows in an arid climate with nets, it is quite another to manage the same operation in the closely planted and much more humid vineyards of Burgundy.

How would it work? Would one net the vines for the whole of the danger period (several months), which might well have an adverse effect on the micro-climate? Or would one rush out to put a net on a prized patch every time the weather forecast threatened which would be impractical if not impossible from the labour perspective?

One grower in Gevrey-Chambertin is trying an experiment on half a dozen short rows (he has let the INAO know about the ploy so that they don’t strip him of the appellation). The nets will stay there in permanence but they are open at the top to let the canopy through, protecting only the fruiting zone, and they can easily be rolled upwards when work needs to be done. We await the results with interest.


Category: Burgundy Wines