Our very Own Selection

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Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

As we launch our newly extended and re-designed Own Selection range, Geordie Willis – eighth-generation family member and our Creative Director – considers what it means for a wine to be bottled under our own label.

House wines have earned a reputation over the years of being somewhat bog-standard; uninspiring, nameless bottles languishing on a restaurant’s list, offering the more frugal customer the chance to wash down their meal with some well-meaning plonk that will neither disappoint or delight. At best these vinous offerings might be considered functional, at worst a distraction from the quality of the food: this notoriety is, however, often wholly unjust. A good restaurant or wine bar will stake their reputation on the quality of their cheapest bottles, which are, in fact, a standard-bearer for the establishment’s buying acumen.

The bottling and labelling of fine wines is very much part of our history at Berry Bros. & Rudd. In fact, our Warehouse Shop in Basingstoke started its life as a bottling hall. Until the early 20th century, the vast majority of wine was shipped in bulk and bottled by the merchant who bought it, regardless of whether the wine was a venerable Premier Cru or a humble table wine: first Growth Ch. Margaux, for example, was still being transported in barrel up to the 1948 vintage; and the last wines were bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd as late as 1991 (the 1989 vintage from the Rhône). A merchant’s bottlings represented reliability and an assurance of quality: today we still believe that when we attach a label to a bottle of wine we are putting our reputation on the line.

Our Own Selection range was the catalyst for the branding project which we undertook three years ago. It had become apparent that the labels within the range were not communicating the quality of the liquid within. On working through back issues of Number Three magazine (our self-published missive that went out to customers twice a year from 1954 to 1994), I came across an article which features a quote that perhaps best describes the reaction that we hope to elicit from our eponymous range:

Nothing cheers me up more,” a customer said to us recently “than going to a dinner party and seeing a Berrys’ label on the bottles on the sideboard. I can then stop worrying whether the wine will be drinkable and begin to enjoy myself.” – Number Three, Spring 1990

For this is what the range should represent; a guarantee of quality and a short-cut to decision making. We’ve had the opportunity to re-imagine the range whilst looking at the design of the labels (more on the design will follow in a post from Pentagram’s Harry Pearce).

The ranging strategy creates three distinct tiers (in typical Berry Bros. & Rudd fashion there are some idiosyncrasies to contend with – but I won’t go into detail here). The entry point in the range finds its foundation in the classic grape varieties, from the perennial favourites such as Pinot Grigio, to the less well-known but equally rewarding Nero d’Avola. Each of these wines do what they say on the tin: they should be truly representative of the type and style proffered by the grape. These are wines designed to delight rather than surprise. The mid-range finds its home in the classic wine regions of the world; it is here that you’ll find Sancerre, Margaux and Meursault. In each case we’ve worked with producers that we know and love, collaborating with the sole purpose of producing something truly exceptional for our customers. And then there’s the top range, where the producer comes even more to the fore. These are wines which best represent the relationships we have with our producers, where we are granted unparalleled access to small parcels of unique wines that won’t be found elsewhere on the market.

We’re extremely proud of these wines and it won’t surprise you to hear that you might find them on the dining room tables of many of our colleagues. If you haven’t yet tried them, you are in for a treat. We hope that you enjoy them as much as we do.

Browse our new Own Selection range on bbr.com.

Category: Miscellaneous

The Golden Ticket

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Golden-Ticket-011

To celebrate the re-launch of our new, beautifully designed own-label range, we are giving customers the chance to win a golden ticket to an exclusive event with our Chairman Simon Berry.

This September we are channelling the spirit of Willy Wonka, hiding golden tickets in unmixed cases of our new-look Own Selection range. While only five tickets were hidden in Mr Wonka’s chocolate bars, we have snuck 20 tickets into cases of our most popular, dependable and utterly delicious wines.

Those who find a golden ticket will be invited behind the scenes at No.3 St James’s Street and treated to a sumptuous meal in our Sussex Cellar, hosted by none other than our Chairman Simon Berry. While we won’t be providing guests with a three-course meal in a stick of chewing gum, our Head Chef Stewart Turner will delight with a slightly more conventional menu, paired with a series of enchanting wines from our cellars.

For your chance to win, simply purchase an unmixed case of wine from our Own Selection range during September.

Category: Miscellaneous

Kill or cure?

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Considering the effects of alcohol consumption on one’s health is not merely a modern preoccupation: in the autumn of 1957 we printed a brief discussion on the topic in our Number Three magazine which we have republished here.

1957-Autumn---Kill-or-Cure

Category: Miscellaneous

Will there ever be another ‘bad’ vintage? Nay

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Posturing that modern viticulture and vinification render it impossible to produce a truly bad wine in any vintage, Chris Lamb – Private Account Manager in our Fine Wine team – offers a retort to yesterday’s post.

The term ‘vintage’, derived through the French word vin, literally translates to the year the grapes were harvested, relating to the vegetative cycle of the vine, and is one of the most important aspects of oenology. Subject to the whims of Mother Nature, it is near impossible to declare that there will never be a bad vintage again; however, depending upon one’s perception of what constitutes a bad vintage, good wines can still be produced.

Weather during the growing season is key in determining the quality of a vintage. A bad year may constitute excess rain, leading to rot; severe frosts or hail, destroying grapes, canopies, or entire vineyards.

Viticulturists closely monitor climate, pests and diseases, using this knowledge to decide whether or not to implement respective practises such as canopy management, irrigation, green harvesting or vine training, all of which help alleviate the effects of bad weather. Picking earlier in warmer weather will help retain acidity and reduce potential alcohol, while picking later in cooler vintages will increase ripeness levels and aid fermentation.

Thanks to the modernisation of technology in the winery, winemakers are now able to produce their desired style of wine with almost any quality of must. For instance, in warm climates, where excess heat is a problem, grapes may be over-ripe, with potential alcohol exceeding 15 percent: a process called reverse osmosis can be employed to reduce alcohol content, without harming other attributes of the wine. In cooler climates, this technique can also be used to reduce water content, concentrating the must and increasing potential alcohol.

In difficult vintages such as Bordeaux’s 1988, 1994, 2002 and 2004s, where the combination of excess rain and not enough sunshine hours resulted in wines with lower alcohol and a greener character, maturation in bottle can help redistribute the wine’s components; allowing for a more balanced style which will provide enjoyment at a later stage. I was fortunate to visit Ch. du Terte last June, and while there, Alexander van Beek, General Manager of the estate, served us a bottle of 1988 Ch. du Tertre blind. Its age was evident, but the wine held up very well and displayed a lovely elegance: even Alexander himself was impressed by how it had evolved in bottle.

In regions such as Burgundy and Beaujolais, some producers include whole bunches and stems in the fermentation, which is said to add body in cooler, more acidic vintages, and offer a degree of freshness in warmer, riper years. The 2007 vintage was notably difficult for red Burgundy, with an incredibly early harvest for many. That said, the wines produced are good for drinking now, possessing a lovely purity of fruit, velvety tannins and a medium weight. While Burgundy’s weather can prove temperamental, there are producers who never fail to impress, regardless of the vintage conditions – one such producer is Domaine Michel Lafarge, a small family-run domaine in Volnay, for whom I have the utmost respect.

Vintage variation is common throughout most of the winemaking world; yet, generally speaking, there have been more good vintages than bad in recent years.

This is thanks in part to favourable weather: global warming has been good for the cooler wine regions, such as Germany, England and Champagne. Warmer parts of the Old World, like southern Italy, and much of the New World enjoy consistent weather; although hail can occasionally take its toll (for example in the Malbec-dominated Mendoza), in which case producers cover their vineyards with nets to reduce the damage.

Many producers refer back to the old maxim that ‘you need good grapes to make good wine’, or, ‘great wine is made in the vineyard’. Enjoy is a strong word, but perhaps winemakers like the challenge of making wines in lesser vintages, as it gives them the opportunity to flex their vinification skills. If every vintage were perfect, I’m sure winemakers would find it rather tiresome.

Depending upon your point of view, there may be poor vintages to come, with considerably reduced yields, yet the quality of wines produced in these years is constantly improving, and exceeding expectations: let us praise those talented vignerons.

Category: Miscellaneous