Saturday, 7 November 2009

Pétrus: the Pomerol powerhouse

Working as the editorial assistant at Decanter has opened a door onto another world. Every day is different and throws up new challenges. I've got to do some pretty bizarre things during my two years on the mag, none of which however were as strange as the task that befell me the other afternoon.

We are working on our Christmas issue and wanted to reflect the decadent and indulgent nature of the festive season on the cover – if you can't crack open your best bottles on Christmas Day when can you? Guy Woodward, our editor, made the bold decision of putting Pétrus on the cover.

It may sound strange describing the decision to put the most lusted after wine in the world on the cover of the the best-known wine magazine in the world as 'bold', but there is the danger that in doing so we'll alienate our readers. Pétrus is one of those wines most people can only dream about tasting. It's the holy grail and at the top of my wish list of wines to try before I die. The closest I've got so far is salivating over the tasting notes. Other luckier members of the team got to try the lauded '89 vintage last year at a dinner honouring Pétrus manager Christian Moueix as the Decanter Man of the Year 2008.

I was in full support of Guy's decision to put Pétrus on the cover, even in these dark times of recession, because magazines are all about aspiration. Glossy magazines at their best transport you to another world. If you can't wear the clothes you see in Vogue, at least you can imagine wearing them, and who can really afford to drive the Ferraris on the cover of Top Gear each month? Yet that doesn't stop the magazine from selling. People want to read about the things they can't afford to own - the fabric of the clothes, the interior of the car, the smell of the wine.

We went ahead with the Pétrus idea and I was asked to source a bottle. I called up a contact at Corney & Barrow and eased her into the idea by setting the scene of our Christmas cover. Then I dropped the bombshell - 'we were hoping to borrow a bottle of Pétrus for the shoot', I said in hushed tones, 'any vintage', I quickly added. I heard a gulp. 'Really', said the surprised voice, 'how long were you thinking of borrowing it for?' 'We'd only need it for the morning of the shoot and could have it couriered back straight after, so around 24 hours in total', I said confidently. 'I'll have to get back to you', she said, and the phone rang off.

A day later we were given the green light and were told a bottle of the 2004 vintage (currently retailing at around £800) would arrive the day before the shoot provided we could prove we were insured for damages. I had to be personally insured for the bottle and was the only person (bar the photographer and postman) allowed to handle it. £800 sounds like a ludicrously high sum, but it's a snip compared to the amount a case of the '82 vintage went under the hammer for this month at an Acker Merral auction in Hong Kong - £56,194, that's £4,682 a bottle!

On Tuesday afternoon an email pinged into my inbox that simply read, 'the Pétrus has left the building'. After an hour I made a couple of calls to the post room to check if it had arrived. It was eventually hand-delivered to me by our Polish postman. My heart started beating a little faster. Why was I getting so worked up over a wine? I get to taste fine wines nearly every day in my job but there was something about this bottle of Pétrus that incited almost evangelical reverence. I nervously grappled with the bubble wrap and eventually got it open. There it was in front of me, the embossed lettering on the glass adding to its beauty. I lingered on the label for a minute then safely stowed it away for the night.

After the shoot the next morning I was informed I had to hand deliver the bottle back to Corney & Barrow, as relying on a courier was deemed too risky. I packaged it up in polystyrene and hailed a taxi that took me across town towards Tower Hill. Unsure of the safest way to position the bottle during transit, I opted for the maximum security method of clinging to it tightly for the entire journey, petrified it might otherwise break.

I am happy to report that the bottle and I arrived safely at Corney & Barrow. It was a brief encounter - the perfect type of a perfect pleasure: exquisite and leaving me unsatisfied - what more can one want?

1 comment:

  1. This is a brilliant story, and at least you can pretend and say you spent the day 'getting acquainted' with a bottle of Petrus, even if you didn't drink a drop! x