Ratcliffe & Brown

Out and about with…Ratcliffe & Brown

August 31, 2016

If you find it difficult to get in touch with your wine supplier over the coming months, that’s because they might be quite busy. Find out what’s going on, above and below the cellar, as we speak to Andrew Brown, the managing director of onboard wine importer and distributer Ratcliffe & Brown.

Andrew followed his father Val into the wine trade after a gap year learning to make wine in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Here, he fell in love with the passion that goes into making every bottle and that certainly comes across when you talk to him.

“This is an exciting time of year in the vineyards of Europe and a very busy time in the wine business,” Andrew tells me.

Right now, Andrew tells us, the producers are getting their cellars ready to receive the new grapes: “They’ll be harvested in late September/early October (February/ April in the southern hemisphere).”

At this point, in late summer, the winemakers are nervously checking the long-range weather forecasts and consulting their notebooks for hints and tips from previous years. “Picking the grapes too early or too late can be disastrous,” says Andrew.

Before the harvests begin though, Ratcliffe & Brown must listen to and interpret the spin from the wine makers: “They tell us: ‘this will be the best year since…xx’, ‘the fruit is amazing’, or ‘it’s a very small harvest, prices will go up,’ says Andrew, who is used to reading between the lines of hype and doom.

Ratcliffe & Brown’s job begins soon after harvest, when it’s time to visit the producers in France, Spain and Italy to try and understand how the year has truly treated the vines.

“Tasting freshly-pressed juice before fermentation shows you levels of natural sugar, tannins and depth,” Andrew says. “Tasting young wines, still zinging from their recent party with the yeast can set your mind racing with the possibilities of future market places.”

So what comes next? In late November, as the young wines have been resting in cool tanks in darkened wineries, the attention is focused on the fast-approaching New Year and the race is on to find the perfect wines.

“What tastes fine in your local restaurant might well fade into obscurity when exposed to the atmosphere of an aluminium tube stuffed with 300 people, Andrew tells us. “We need wines so bursting with flavour that they almost jump out of the glass into your mouth.”

Soon, Ratcliffe and Brown’s tasting room will be home to the sounds of clinking and slurping, as Andrew and his son Chris hunt for a mix of old favourites and exciting new blends to interest a new generation.

“Seeing people’s eyes light up when you show them an amazing wine is a real joy,” says Andrew.