Notes on a vest-pocket list
Author: Berry Bros. & Rudd
How much information should a wine merchant’s list contain? Ought it to provide a sort of conducted tour of the wine districts complete with maps and descriptive vignettes? Should there be notes on individual wines? Is it desirable to include, say, a guide to recent vintages or a glossary of wine terms?
These questions are prompted by one of Edmund Penning-Rowsell’s excellent articles in The Financial Times. On this occasion he had been looking through merchants’ lists and had found them, with a few exceptions, “as abashing to the ignorant as they are impressive to the informed”. He went on: “I wonder how many traditional wine merchants realise how formidable their stock-in-trade is to the average drinker… Even a distinguished St. James’s wine merchant estimated to me that 70 per cent of their orders came through the post. So the merchant’s principal sales instrument must be his list. How helpful are they?”
What Mr. Penning-Rowsell termed “the vest-pocket lists of Berry Bros. & Rudd” emerged from the survey as among the most austere and strictly utilitarian on the market. “If you wish to know which of the 103 clarets might suit you, obviously you discuss the problem with one of the partners over a glass of sherry,” he wrote – adding, however, that we also issue this magazine “which discreetly sprinkles a few wines among the articles”.
The motley collection of lists reviewed by Mr. Penning-Rowsell shows that almost every firm has different ideas on this subject. Much must depend on the size of one’s business and the type of customer one mainly serves. A large company with branches all over the country naturally has to rely far more on the selling power of its price list than the merchant who has personal contact with most of his customers, if not face to face, then over the telephone of by letter. While a large proportion of our own orders come by post nowadays, many of them are for wines that have been recommended personally to the customer at some time.
Again, where does one stop in providing a customer with all the written information he should have to select a wine to his taste? Why annotate certain wines and not all of them? – an operation that would be almost impossible because of the difficulty of giving useful and effective brief descriptions. In our own case, at any rate, we still feel that the advantages of issuing an easy-to-carry “vest pocket” list outweigh the arguments for making it bulkier and more explanatory.
Nevertheless it may be helpful, especially as we are now enclosing a list with every copy of the magazine, if we annotate it briefly page by page – though to do this we will have to go rather against what we have always said and deal in generalisations. [Editor’s note: what follows is a region-by-region guide to the style and drinking window of the wines included in the list, which we have not replicated here.]
These remarks will, we hope, help to alleviate the “austerity” of our price list, but we would like to emphasise once again that one cannot afford to be too dogmatic because in the final analysis the merits or demerits of a wine are largely a matter of personal taste. The method of communication that is usually fairest both to our customers and ourselves is personal advice.
While very few of our orders come via post today, we still produce a pocket-sized price list. The 2016 edition has just been published, and will shortly be available in both our shops. This year’s list includes a single wine recommendation for each region: if you are looking for just one bottle, this should be it. You can browse this selection on bbr.com.