A few weeks ago I gave a webinar to the members of 67 Pall Mall on the theme of ‘Tales of Michael Broadbent’. Michael has been my inspiration and my mentor throughout my life in wine, and it made perfect sense to me that it was a new edition of his groundbreaking book, Wine Tasting, that launched our publishing venture last year. The Académie du Vin Library was to be – and now is! – a celebration of all fine wine writing and I could think of no better author to lead our list.
We had been friends and collaborators for over 40 years, so Michael agreed to our project without hesitation. Such was his generosity – and such was his vision, too. I could fill a book with reminiscences of Michael, his adventures, and the enthusiasm with which he would greet any new project. He was a great inspiration for everyone in the wine trade.
But back to those ‘tales’. I should start at the beginning.
I first met Michael in 1966, two years after I had joined the London Wine Trade and shortly after he had recreated the Christie’s Wine Auctions in King Street, St James’s. It was the custom then to hold tastings of the major lots for the following day, and I would go along. Michael would be there ensuring that the wines were tasted with a view as much to learning as to potential purchase. To me his presence was schoolmasterly: watching him go down the line with his little red notebook, I could sense him assessing the colour, nose, palate and after-taste of the wines in a precise manner that I had not come across before. This showed me that wine tasting could – and actually should – be a structured process.
In 1968 I obtained the first edition of Michael’s Wine Tasting through the Wine & Food Society. The book set out in the clearest and most detailed manner why and how to taste wines. By 1971 my wife and I had moved to Paris where I had purchased a small wine shop just off the Place de la Madeleine. My mostly American clients used to come by in the evenings to taste the wines and would always say to me that they would like to learn more. Thus, in 1973, was born L’Académie du Vin. My own knowledge and wish to share the pleasures of wine helped, but it was the detailed approach that I learned from Wine Tasting that turned me into a teacher.
Later that decade my Paris office began representing the Christie’s Wine Department in France and Michael introduced me to the art of cataloguing and packing up extraordinary cellars of wine for sale in London. Monsieur Darroze’s cellar in Villeneuve de Marsan sticks in the memory: it contained the famous 1806 Lafite, which held the highest auction price for many years.
In 1982 we were set to return to England and I have a letter from Michael, written on New Year’s Day of that year, asking if I would be interested in creating a Christie’s wine course, something he had never had time to do himself. I said ‘Of course I would!’ and on 5th October 1982 (my 41st birthday) the first Christie’s Wine Course was taught by Michael, with me in attendance. Thirty years later Michael gave the first lecture of our 30th season, having not missed a single one of his teaching evenings during all that time.
The following year, Michael penned his final column for Decanter, having written 433 without a break since the very first issue. I retired from Decanter earlier this year at 330. Nobody could ever match Michael.
His final column was a cause for a grand celebratory lunch in Decanter’s dining room. A 60-page book was presented to him with his first and last columns and quotes, tributes, stories, even limericks from around the world. The frontispiece held Michael’s own view on wines. ‘Wines are like people. Some are perfect but boring, some are precocious but fail to live up to their promise, and some may be flawed, but the way they develop is endlessly fascinating.’
Michael Broadbent was irreproachable, irrepressible and now, sadly, irreplaceable. His remarkable influence will guide all our books and live on long in his own.