Wine before milk

Bartholomew Broadbent’s father, Michael, is considered the world’s foremost authority on old wines, and as founder (in 1966) of the wine department at London auction house Christie’s, he’s probably seen more old and rare wine than almost anyone alive. As one might expect, Bartholomew Broadbent was introduced to wine at an early age, but just how early, he didn’t know until recently. “I was reading a book called The Billionaire’s Vinegar and there it quoted my parents as saying [I] started having wine every day for dinner at age 7. Certainly I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drinking wine.”

Michael Broadbent plays a rather large role in the ongoing saga of the possibly fake Jefferson bottles, as he was the auctioneer in 1985 for the sale of the first and most famous bottle, for what is still an unmatched price of $156,450. He has continued to believe the wine is real, despite strong evidence to the contrary, causing the senior Broadbent, who has long been something of a hero to many American wine lovers, to come out of the whole affair with his reputation sadly tarnished. 

How European: Bartholomew Broadbent was introduced to wine at age 7 by his father, Michael, an authority on old wines.

“It’s a good book. A good read, great fun,” Bartholomew Broadbent says in regards to The Billionaire’s Vinegar. “My father actually enjoyed reading it the first time. But the second time he went through it—he’s actually written me 18 pages of mistakes in the book.” There are two movies being planned on the Jefferson saga, and what is clearly frustrating, to both Broadbents, is that this 28-year-old auction, one of maybe 50 Broadbent’s father presided over that year, refuses to remain in the past.
Broadbent the younger, an important figure on the wine scene in his own right, has just moved to Richmond after 21 years living in San Francisco. He’s an expert on Port and Madeira and his company, Broadbent Selections, imports wines that are family run, traditionally made, and often quite unusual. They carry lots of Portuguese wines, one wine from China, and wines from Chateau Musar, Lebanon’s top winery. That’s right, Lebanon. Wines from Musar are utterly unique, completely natural, and come with a back-story involving making wine during wartime.

What Broadbent Selections does not carry are wines from California. “Twenty five years ago, 30 years ago, California wines were great,” he says. “In the past 10 years, there [have been] very, very, very few California wines that I would even taste, let alone drink.” Virginia wines are another story, however. “My first week in Virginia … I went to have lunch at Barboursville. We had five vintages of Octagon and it was a complete eye opener.” Broadbent and his father are champions of low alcohol, more traditionally styled wines that emphasize regionality over massive fruit. “I felt [the Octagon] was the best American wine I’d had in 10 years.”

Although his wife is from Richmond, Broadbent had long said he would never live there. But then, visiting family one Thanksgiving, he fell in love with a house on Monument Avenue, and in no time found himself a resident of The Old Dominion. The real kicker? After moving in he discovered that his dream house had been the site of a secret meeting of Virginia politicos that led to the repeal of Prohibition in the state.

Bartholomew looks a lot like his father: same dashing, British good looks, same crooked smile, and the same child rearing methods: When his own twins were born, Broadbent the younger went to a nearby wine bar, ordered a glass of the famous dessert wine, Chateau d’Yquem, carried it back to the hospital, “and the very first thing they had within one hour of being born was a dab of Yquem on their lips, so I can say they definitely had wine before milk.”

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