Thursday, 13 July 2017

Berry Bros. & Rudd: My Secret Pride

As readers will recall, CJ finally visited the historic premises of wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, at No 3 St James’s Street – and was too daunted to enter.

I understand. There are places I’m daunted by – like fishmongers’. 


But what CJ deemed inaccessible, I had always seen as an aspiration, the epitome of wine merchants with ampersands whose respect I wanted to earn. I always felt significant when I stepped through their doors.

So if anything, their announcement of a new shop, just around the corner at 63 Pall Mall, had filled me with trepidation. Especially when their CEO, a former Tesco executive, was quoted as saying that the new store would be “much more finely attuned to modern retail.” What, like Tesco?

Of course, CJ was completely unaware of this new shop when he visited the old. The original premises carried no indication of the nearby new shop; not even, CJ told me, a suitably historic maniculum to guide the way.


So despite my misgivings, as CJ had visited the old premises, I felt I must visit the new. The first issue was what to wear.

Cue snort of incredulity from CJ. But look, even he wouldn’t go to church in a singlet. I always feel that, like any appointment with a professional, one should show a modicum of respect for knowledge and experience. So I would have worn to the old premises what good restaurants now describe as “smart attire”; I hoped that would be appropriate for the new. Although I might be overdressed for Tesco.

Well, the new shop is certainly smartly attired itself. It has stone floors and beautiful wooden shelving, with each bottle displayed in an individual section. It’s tastefully modern, luxurious but thankfully without any trace of objectionable bling – it’s Heals, not Harrods. 


And it is a browser’s paradise, something which could never have been said of the old premises, where you literally had to ask in order to see a bottle. There are the best and longest descriptions and tasting notes I have seen anywhere, beside every single bottle, no matter what its price. In that sense, it’s the most egalitarian of wine shops, treating all its bottles (and, therefore, its customers) equally. The only betrayals of status are the occasional security tags.

(Tags? In St James’s? Really?? Yes. I understand some bankers are wearing them nowadays, too…)

There are wines you can taste from an Enomatic, and chairs to sit in while you do. There are shelves of accessories, and tools, and wine books. And the (welcoming but not intrusive) staff wear rather fetching aprons, giving them an artisanal air. Having said that, the chap who actually served me was wearing a suit; when I asked why, he said “I don’t always work here, I’m based in No 3.” Which says it all, really; aprons in the new shop, suits in the old.

And of course I succumbed, and bought a bottle of claret, as one does at Berry Bros. It was a “Staff Recommendation”. Which at one time, of course, every bottle was.

The one niggle is… this thing about earnt access. Earnt not through an accident of birth or wealth, but through learning. I feel that over the years I earnt my access, to Parisian restaurants, to Savile Row tailors, to book dealers and shirtmakers and, yes, St James’s wine merchants, by learning to speak their language – what to know, what to wear, what to say, how to behave. And I can’t help feeling sorry that something to which I felt I had earnt access, somewhere I finally felt confident enough to enter but CJ did not dare to tread, has now been thrown open to all and sundry. That’s all.

I walked back along Pall Mall, past the club to which I have the right to belong, the club to which I used to belong, and the club to which my father-in-law would like to propose me to belong. Perhaps as daunting to some as the original Berry Bros premises. But while the doormen of St James's would turn up their noses at CJ’s shorts and sockless sandals, I reckon he could comfortably enter 63 Pall Mall. This new shop is egalitarian not only in the wines it sells, but in the way it has opened doors – of Berry Bros, of St James’s and of wine itself.



PK

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