Number Three – a publication past

Author:

Share this post


Number-Three-panelled

Our Chairman Simon Berry examines the origins of an extraordinary in-house publication, the Number Three magazine, whose articles today offer a portal to the wine trade of the past.

Had he not joined the wine trade, I suspect my father Anthony Berry might have been a publisher. There was a possibility – as a younger son, with the family business having strict rules favouring primogeniture, he was encouraged by his father to consider other options. One of my grandfather’s great friends was Sir Edwin Lutyens, and in a classic piece of what the psychologists call ‘projection’, an architect’s desk was purchased in order to encourage my father (then aged no more than eight or nine) to follow in the footsteps of the designer of the Cenotaph and New Delhi. The desk still stands in the shop in St James’s Street – no building, great or humble, was ever designed on it. My father, in a classic piece of what the psychologists call ‘individuation’, decided to pursue the route apparently denied to him, and joined the wine trade in any case.

But if not an architect (and he would have made a terrible architect) then, perhaps, a publisher. He loved books, and authors, and actually wrote well himself. He was a natural editor, though, and instinctively knew what people wanted to read. His chance came in 1954, when he met Herbert Hunter.

Hunter was a pioneer in producing ‘in-house magazines’. I have no idea how they met – possibly through cricket, which was a shared love – but by 1954 Hunter had persuaded my father that Berry Bros. & Rudd needed a magazine to distribute to its growing number of customers. Post-war wine restrictions were beginning to be lifted, post-war vintages were beginning to become available, and there was no longer the need to ration customers as there had been for the past 15 years. In this climate ‘Number Three’ magazine was born.

The new magazine marked a new beginning. My father was 39 in 1954, John Rudd 11 years younger. They were the young Turks of the wine trade, taking over from a previous generation who had either died during the war or whose health had been wrecked by the strain of it. The introduction paid tribute to these tyros: ‘They are young enough to be full of enterprise and old enough to be past graduates in wine wisdom.’

Despite its appearance (to modern eyes it is closer to a parish magazine than a ‘glossy’), Number Three was a pioneer in many ways. André Simon’s ‘Food and Wine Magazine’ had been available, through a closed subscription, for 20 years, but this was the first magazine dedicated entirely to wine – 10 years before another wine merchant, the long-lost Peter Dominic, came up with their version: ‘Wine Mine’, and fully 20 to 25 years before Decanter, Wine Spectator or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Our Price List was then, as it is now, a simple affair, without long descriptions of tastes, pretty pictures of producers, lists of grape varieties or vintages. The ‘laundry list’ (as Edmund Penning-Rowsell was to dub it) gloried in being a simple ‘list of wines and their prices’ – small enough to fit inside a gentleman’s waistcoat pocket (so sure we were of our audience!). The magazine was a supplement to the simple list. It was also an antidote to our physical appearance – then, as now, old-fashioned and perhaps even off-putting. The opening paragraph spoke of the magazine helping the firm become ‘better known to our customers, taking them beyond the somewhat sombre view of our shop… and showing them that the atmosphere inside Number Three is very far from forbidding.’

Three-Standing---Simon-Peel-20.02

The pattern was established from the beginning. A page or two of editorial, an article highlighting a particular wine region (the first edition featured Sherry), and the odd paragraph highlighting a service (‘Free Delivery of Country Orders’ – ‘…we have been able to obviate any extra charge … by packing consignments in free, non-returnable fibreboard cases’).

Conscious of our history, we initiated a series entitled ‘They Came to Number Three’, featuring a customer who had, invariably, been weighed on our famous scales. The first subject was Beau Brummell – the subject of a recent film starring Stewart Grainger and Elizabeth Taylor, as we illustrated in glorious black and white.

There was also the beginning of a series under the heading ‘The Storage and Serving of Wine’ – and, almost apologetically on the last page of the publication, a half-hearted, discreet attempt to sell a few bottles. We listed three red Burgundies ranging from eight shillings a bottle to 18, three ‘outstanding white wines’ including 1950 Le Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche (28 shillings a bottle) and 1920 Ch. Yquem (45 shillings – just over £2! – a bottle), and a new Sherry, named ‘Number Three’ to honour the magazine.

For over 40 years the Magazine was published twice a year, and changed little – its cover page not at all, apart from slightly less sombre colours towards the end. I took over editing it in 1986 – four years after my father had officially retired. I introduced colour photographs, a wonderful series written by my father called ‘Then & Now’ which compared the modern wine trade with that of his youth, and even a bit more commerciality – sometimes listing as many as 35 wines in a single issue! However perhaps that was the magazine’s downfall. The bean counters began to measure the cost of production against the sales volumes, and failed (as so often!) to measure the intangible benefits. By 1992 Number Three had become an annual publication, and four years later it had ceased to exist in any recognisable form at all.

By the mid-1990s, of course, the world was a very different place – even the conservative world of St James’s was moving with the times. Our price lists had changed in 1988, and now contained information on vintages, vineyards, and vignerons – and even boasted maps. In late 1994 we launched our first website, and suddenly the world had access to an encyclopaedia of wine information created by us. The 24 page ‘parish magazine’ was really a thing of the past.

Nevertheless, we had, over the course of 42 years, amassed some 78 editions, and almost 400 articles and snippets of information, and recommended over 1500 wines. Some of its contents are timeless (eg advice on decanting wine), some now seem jarringly old fashioned. In 1955, for example, we recommended a new invention thus:

‘All cases which we send to the country have to be securely strapped both to avoid pilferage and to satisfy our insurance brokers. We know that many of our customers have difficulty in breaking the steel bands, and in order to help them we have produced a very simple and effective tool which we are sorry to say is known as a ‘Destrapper’….’

Our blog (a word as unrecognisable 60 years ago as ‘Destrapper’ is today) is going to celebrate these years by re-publishing some of the articles from ‘Number Three’ Magazine. We hope you find them fascinating and enjoyable.

Category: Miscellaneous

Rhône wasn’t built in a day

Author:

Share this post


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Simon Field MW fondly recalls his early experiences as our Rhône Buyer, and the growth of the offer – both in volume and status – in recent years

The launch of our annual Rhône offer is, as usual, a source of great satisfaction and an opportunity to reflect on the process of its gestation and, maybe more whimsically, on its development over the last few years. I recall the early days when I was made the Rhône Buyer and the outstanding 2001 vintage, launched in early 2003. The offer was neatly captured on four sheets of A4 and was dominated by the ranges of Chapoutier and Ferraton in the north and Beaucastel, Vieux Télégraphe and Clos des Papes in the south. So far, so good, as these were – and remain – the stalwarts of any serious range; but that was pretty much it, with the ‘window dressing’ provided by one or two smaller producers, all of whom were bought through an intermediary, and all of which were fairly widely available in the UK trade.

My first ‘full’ vintages were the disastrous 2002, when the heavens decided to open on the first day of picking in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and pretty much stayed open for the next three weeks, decimating most of the grapes and all vestigial optimism; then came the atypical 2003, when the grapes struggled to combat the fierce 40 degrees-plus heat in mid-summer and reached degrees of alcohol which have, thankfully, never been seen since. These anomalies were actually rather good in the years when I was developing the range and building contacts, as I felt that the lack of any overwhelming interest in the vintages in question allowed me to refine the selection process and to build up a network of contacts. Such things can only be done one way: by repeated visits to the region and by knocking on lots of doors.

My strategy was, and still is, to make and maintain direct contacts and, wherever possible, to avoid the ‘middle man’, the agent who usually takes a commission and tries to sell a wine to as many importers as possible. The task has been facilitated by the evolution of large wine fairs, specifically Vinisud in Montpellier and Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône, which takes place every other year in the key towns and villages of the region. Smaller events, such as the Ampuis Wine Fair in January, have also played their part and the serendipitous acquisition by Berry Bros. & Rudd of smaller agency houses with Rhône specialities have brought in the exclusive importing contract for Clos des Papes (via Richards Walford) and Beaucastel (via Mistral), two of the very greatest names.

And so, slowly but surely, the offer has grown, with significant landmarks being the 2007 vintage, where an annual Fine Wine trip was introduced to inspire colleagues from our key sales team to learn about and get behind the wines in question, and then the 2010 vintage, a year of such unrivalled sublimity that the number of producers climbed to over 60 and the sales broke all records. Thereafter we have been delighted to maintain relationships with the vast majority of these producers, every year introducing new names and refining the offer so that it comes closer and closer to giving a definitive photograph of the diverse styles of wines available. And talking of photographs, the last few years have also seen visits by a professional photographer, together with our Brand Director, the result of which has been a set of very smart brochures adorned with great illustrations of growers and vineyards alike.

So, great leaps forward over the last decade or so, and a list to be proud of. The 2013 vintage was a somewhat atypical harvest with small volumes, brought in very late in the season, but with resulting wines of great harmony and subtlety. The comparisons made by some of the growers to the best years of the 1980s and early 1990s are, however, in no way negative, and reflect styles of wines which are currently back in fashion… and I, for one, shall certainly be purchasing a few for my cellar.

Explore Rhône 2013: En Primeur on bbr.com.

Category: Rhône Wine

By invitation only

Author:

Share this post


pyramid of wrapped bottles

 You are cordially invited to Berry Bros. & Rudd’s exclusive Friends and Family Wine Sale for extensive discounts that will not appear elsewhere.

The event will take place from Thursday 5th to Sunday 8th March.

Thursday: 10am to 8pm, Friday: 10am to 6pm

Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 4pm

The Warehouse Shop

RSVP for access to this unique event.

Category: Miscellaneous

One night, one cause

Author:

Share this post


Maxime Machenaud, just one of the rugby stars who will be in attendance on 24th March

Maxime Machenaud, just one of the rugby stars who will be in attendance on 24th March

On the 24th March we are holding a dinner and auction to raise funds for Berry Bros. & Rudd’s supported charity, Sands – the stillbirth and neonatal death charity. Matthew Tipping – Fine Wine Sales Manager – explains the important work being done by Sands, and how you can help.

The death of unborn and recently born babies in the UK occurs at an unacceptable rate, especially when compared to other developed nations. Whilst the incidence of cot deaths has fallen dramatically in the last 20 years, there has been almost no change in the number of still births. Sands support anyone affected by the death of a baby and work in partnership with health professionals to ensure that bereaved parents and families receive the best possible care. They also promote and fund research and changes in care that could help to reduce the loss of babies’ lives.

Over 30 years ago the devastating impact of the death of a baby on the mother and father was neither widely understood nor acknowledged. For many parents it felt as if their baby had not existed and did not matter. Sands was established in 1978 to change that perception.

Since that time Sands has supported many thousands of families whose babies have died, offering emotional support, comfort and practical help. Working in partnership with health professionals and service providers, Sands has played a leading role in transforming the culture and practice of perinatal bereavement care in the UK.

Whilst the way in which parents and families are cared for and supported has substantially changed, the tragic reality is that large numbers of families continue to be devastated by the death of a baby. In the UK, in spite of medical advances, around 6,000 babies are stillborn or die within the first 28 days of life each year.

As Berry Bros. & Rudd’s chosen charity, we support Sands by offering them a guaranteed donation every year for three years. This year we have decided to fund a dinner in our cellars with international rugby stars Johnny Sexton, Juandré A Kruger, Dimitri Szarzewski, Maxime Machenaud and Michael Phillips, hosted by the one and only David Haig. This means that 100 percent of ticket sales go to Sands and will ensure an even larger donation goes to help their worthy cause in 2015.

We will also be running an auction on the night, with a range of truly remarkable lots up for grabs, from a jeroboam of Vintage Champagne, to a trip to Bordeaux, to a round of golf with a resident pro at Wentworth.

If you would like to attend this once-in-a-lifetime dinner, or find out more about the auction lots, please do email matthew.tipping@bbr.com.

Category: Miscellaneous