Those lucky enough to have visited Berry Bros. & Rudd on St James’s Street will have rejoiced in the wonderment that is the 317 year-old-shop which has remained relatively unchanged since it first opened as a grocers to the Palace across the street.
But what everyone isn’t aware of is what lies beneath the shop, which was first opened by the Widow Bourne in 1698. Once through the doors the shop is a more like a museum than off licence. Eyes dart between the huge and imposing coffee scales suspended from the ceiling skimming the sloping floors below; a letter from the White Star Line sent to Berry Bros. & Co (as was) just days after the Titanic sunk informing the company of the loss of 69 cases; and the rather understated, but hugely important, Royal Warrants from HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.
There is a wonderful and varied range of wine in an anti-room just off the main shop area and a glorious spirits room offering Berrys’ own label single bottlings of rare whiskies, well-known brandies and Armagnac’s as well as a huge array of white spirits including an intriguing vodka made from milk and glorious gins from around the world. Plus the curious King’s Ginger liqueur, made by Berry Bros. & Rudd for King Edward VII no less!
But all this, whilst hugely impressive, is what most people would expect from the world’s oldest wine and spirits merchant, but what I discovered below the surface was not.
There are wines in the old cellars, naturally, but I’m told the reality is that the company boasts three temperature controlled warehouses housing nine million bottles in the less salubrious surroundings of Basingstoke, the company’s Hampshire cellars.
But back in St James’s Street the cellars are alive with wine schools, tastings and dinners, which everyone and anyone can attend. The calendar of ticketed events runs throughout the year and includes everything from an introduction to wine tasting to a Sake dinner. The establishment is also host to many private wine events hired for birthdays, anniversaries and for corporate entertaining.
The Cellars, namely Pickering, Napoleon and Sussex, are historic but thoroughly modern venues. Dating from the Early Eighteenth century, Louis Napoleon, later to become Emperor Napoleon III, held clandestine meetings during his exile in the 1840s, plotting his return to France.
But the wow factor doesn’t stop there. Berry Bros. & Rudd has unrivalled experience and expertise with no fewer than eight Masters of Wine – more than any other company. And the food, well that’s another story. People visit Berry Bros. & Rudd to buy a bottle of wine, or perhaps invest in a Cellar Plan or even join the Wine Club, yet no-one would expect to dine from menus usually seen in Michelin starred restaurants- you can do just that here.
The catering team is based in-house and is led by Head Chef Stewart Turner, previously of The Connaught Hotel, The Wolseley and the three Michelin-starred Waterside Inn. Unlike most chefs who usually only dictate the food and leave the wine matching to the sommelier, Stewart has the enviable task of choosing food to match with the wines already selected.
“I want guests to have a complete dining experience, with food that is as good as the wine. Our menus are designed to work in harmony with the wines, creating a marriage that brings out the best in both,” – Head Chef Stewart Turner
Stewart and his team not only service the Napoleon and Sussex Cellars for lunch and dinner but the smaller dining rooms of The Long Room and The Delft Room. Both are situated in the William & Mary Townhouse behind the shop just off Pickering Place, the oldest public square in London and the site of the last duel.
Fine cheeses and canapés are provided for the daily Wine School events that take place in the Pickering Cellar. Headed up by Wine School Manager, Rebecca Lamont, the teaching team includes the company’s eight Masters of Wine, one of which is Wine School Education Specialist, Anne McHale MW.
“I love teaching wine appreciation to people and seeing the knowledge and confidence sink in. I most enjoy helping people to discover an exceptional wine that they hadn’t heard of before, or debunk a myth about a wine style to show its true potential.” – Wine School Education Specialist, Anne McHale MW
Whether you want to learn more about a particular style, region or producer of wine, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s tastings are a great way to do so in a relaxed setting. The Wine School aims to strike the perfect balance between learning and pleasure. Berry Bros. & Rudd is so much more than a shop to buy a bottle or two–that is just the tip of the iceberg–and what lies beneath offers a whole other world of vinous pleasure.