Walking into Berry Bros. & Rudd’s flagship store in London takes the cliche “stepping back in time” to a distinctly new level. The warped and dented wood floor beneath customer's feet has remained the same since the shop first opened in 1698. Though the store’s ground now slopes steeply on its left side, thanks to centuries of use and the weathering of more than a few wars, the owners never dared fix it.
In this way, Berry Bros. has perfectly preserved the memory of every visitor who ever walked through its entryway, which has included celebrities, heads of state, and some of the country’s finest artists. This illustrious history is perhaps why the Windsors made it one of only two official wine suppliers to the entire royal family.
The store, located at No. 3 James Street, remains family-owned by the Berrys and the Rudds; a living history of the United Kingdom that long predates the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
In its humble beginnings, Berry Bros. acted as a small merchant shop selling provisions like spices, teas, and coffees procured from across the globe. Soon, it transitioned into a fine wine shop serving the likes of Lord Byron, Aga Khan, and, more recently, A-list celebrities like Matt Damon.
Every nook and cranny of the small but stately space is filled with fascinating relics of the brand’s storied past. Along the walls, shelves full of thick and heavy ledgers contain sales information from the last 300 years—even a document containing the weights of its most famed clientele (including a few royals).
One quirk that initially made the Berry Bros. famous was its 17th-century coffee scale. In 1765, a customer could ask to be weighed on it to avoid paying a doctor for the service; thus a humorous tradition of weighing customers not in pounds but by crates of wine began.
Yes, even Damon was weighed there, as was Beau Brummell and Napoleon III. Lord Byron, upset about his weight, blamed his excess pounds on the mud dragged in on the bottom of his coat.
Not publicly disclosed in the ledgers are the weights of any member of the royal family (at least not to us). But you can satiate your royals fanaticism by perusing the special Windsor memorabilia that hangs on the wall directly across from the shop’s front door.
Berry Bros. has a long history with the royals, supplying the family with fresh vino since the reign of King George III, which began in 1760. King Edward VII made the family’s love of the shop official in 1903 by providing it with a Royal Warrant. Queen Elizabeth kept the tradition alive when she granted Berry Brothers her own royal warrant in 1995, and Charles, Prince of Wales, did the same in 1998. Perfectly positioned in the main shop, so all visitors can gaze upon it, are both royal decrees.
Climb down a series of rather narrow steps and visit the store’s impressive cellar. Quiet, dark, and undisturbed, it feels like a ghost could tap you on the shoulder or whisper in your ear, “Try the cabernet, it’s divine.”
Inside this downstairs lair, the Berry and Rudd families keep an estimated 10,000 bottles in a private reserve. Don’t bother offering large sums of money for the bottles; to the families, these wines remain priceless. (Though, if you do want to store your wines next to theirs you can for just about $150 a month.)
Berry Bros. holds a special place in the hearts of the entire royal family as evidenced by the fact that Queen Elizabeth quietly celebrated her 89th birthday inside the shop at a private dinner, which likely included a one-of-a-kind menu by Berry Brothers Head Chef Stewart Turner. There, she sipped alongside family, including Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton.
Now, Berry Bros. just may have captured the ultimate royal honor: procuring the best product for Prince Harry, and his future wife Meghan Markle, for their royal wedding on May 19. Luckily for the public, anyone can come and taste a few of the bottles that may sit on the reception tables at Windsor Castle in just a few weeks—for the right price (and if you have the right connections, of course).
“For travelers looking to book this special experience: if you have an American Express Platinum Card you can contact one of American Express Travel’s 5,000 travel & lifestyle consultants to curate this unique and tailored experience with the Berry Bros. events team,” Tatiana Moses, an American Express Travel Destination Manager, told DEPARTURES.
Privately parties held at the shop, Moses noted, can accommodate up to 120 guests, or up to 60 people in the store’s expansive cellar.
While visiting, DEPARTURES test-drove this experience with a four-course meal and a few of the shop’s favorite wines (like a 2015 pinot noir by Au Bon Climat produced in the Santa Maria Valley in California). As a treat, guests at the dinner also sampled the Gusbourne sparkling wine, made right in the United Kingdom. It’s this sparkling representation of England that just might be making its way to the royal wedding. But we can neither confirm nor deny this.
The wine—crisp and refreshing, with notes of citrus and white fruit—is as vibrant as the young royal couple themselves. Sitting in the tasting room above the store, a Berry Bros. representative noted that while they are not at liberty to disclose which wines will be present for the couple’s big day, this bottle of Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs is “particularly popular”.
Throughout their wedding planning process, it’s become clear Meghan and Harry want both their countries represented. From the American cake baker, now living in London, to the invitations printed on British paper with American ink, no detail has gone unnoted.
Perhaps it’s also acceptable to guess the couple will pick a California pinot noir, like the Au Bon Climat, to represent Meghan’s home state. As Markle herself wrote in a piece for TODAY.com, she’s a big fan of Flowers Winery in Sonoma, California. There, everyone should “buy a bottle of their pinot noir. You’ll see why" she explained with a wink.
For now, even if you can’t become an actual American princess, at least you can drink like one.