Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wine Merchant That Just Gets Better with Age

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wine Merchant That Just Gets Better with Age

Article excerpt


IT'S NICE TO KNOW that good old fashioned British style is alive and kicking - and, what's more, it's in a family-owned company in St James's Street. Yet little more than a decade ago, the wine lists issued by the venerable firm of Berry Bros & Rudd had to be small enough to fit into the chairman's waistcoat pocket - indeed, one year the list had to be pulped because it didn't fit.

Yet in the past decade, sales of wine have more than quadrupled to [pounds sterling]35 million, thanks mainly to Berry's prizewinning website, making it a major force in the fine wine business, not only in Britain but also in Ireland, Japan and Hong Kong.

The web was essential, says deputy chairman Simon Berry because the 17th-century shop - "that perfectly preserved Rolls-Royce", as he describes it - remains rather intimidating whereas "in cyberspace nobody sees you blush, so you can ask the stupid questions".

However, the shop now has a more modern, welcoming annexe, which at least one director refers to as "the supermarket". The combination, Berry says, caters for "the growing number of people throughout the world who want the best".

The company's international outlook dates back more than 80 years thanks to its whisky. It was named Cutty Sark in 1923 by James McBey, an artist friend of the family who was fond of sailing ships and sketched what is still the label after a particularly good lunch.

Francis Berry took a sample to the Bahamas, where he met a Captain McCoy, who was a pioneer in the smuggling business in the era of US Prohibition.

Cutty Sark immediately became "the real McCoy".

It flourished after Prohibition ended, and was the number one Scotch as late as 1975. After some unhappy years when Cutty Sark's agent was sold and resold, Berry's has returned to its policy of taking local entrepreneurs as partners by signing up Maurine Kambar, who was behind the highly successful Skyy vodka.

Today, in partnership with Famous Grouse maker Edrington, Cutty Sark accounts for more than three-quarters of Berry's total turnover of [pounds sterling]177 million, up from [pounds sterling]100 million a decade ago. …

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