Michael Broadbent MW, one of the world’s greatest wine trade legends has just passed away at the age of 92.
The wine critic, writer and auctioneer died yesterday (17 March) at home. He was a towering and influential figure in the wine trade.
Born in Yorkshire in 1927 and with a real talent for drawing, he originally trained as an architect before switching to the wine trade in 1952.
Starting at Layton’s, he ended up at Harvey’s of Bristol in 1955 and received his Master of Wine qualification in 1960.
In 1966, he moved to auction house Christie’s, where he pioneered fine wine sales at a time when none of the major auctioneers had a wine department; Christie’s also gave him access to an unprecedented range of old and rare wines, including some dating back to the 17th century.
His time at Christie’s was, however, marred by an association with the late German collector and counterfeiter Hardy Rodenstock, which involved the sale of the infamous ‘Thomas Jefferson’ bottles. The saga was chronicled in the book ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar’, which caused Michael to sue.
The author of many books, his The Great Vintage Wine Book (1980) was a compilation of more than 6,000 tasting notes (he made tens of thousands in his lifetime and was a religious note taker), while his seminal Wine Tasting (1968) was recently reprinted by the Academie du Vin Library Press. His works on wine appreciation and other vintage guides were considered standard texts for the wine industry and interested amateurs for decades.
Michael remained at Christie’s until 1992 as senior director of the wine department, and remained a senior consultant there until 2009.
Michael received a number of awards and accolades during his lifetime, including being appointed Chevalier of the Ordre National du Mérite in 1979 and being made an honorary member of the Académie du Vin de Bordeaux.
He was also Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, President of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and Chairman of The Benevolent. He also spoke and lectured widely on wine well into later life and was a monthly columnist for Decanter from 1977 to 2012.
He was married to Daphne for many years, with whom he had two children, Bartholomew and Emma, before he became a widower in 2015. Then, in 2019, at the age of 91, he married for a second time – this time to Dr Valerie Smallwood, the widow of a fellow MW, Simon Smallwood.
Alan Montague-Dennis, Court Assistant and Prestige director of UK agency Mentzendorff, said: “I think Michael’s love of daily rituals – a little glass of chilled Verdelho at 11am, a Buck’s Fizz to kick start the day, and the habitual Bloody Mary before lunch and dinner – made him totally lovable (not forgetting his wonderful sense of dress, his detailed eloquent and poetic tasting notes, his love of hats and bicycling everywhere in London). I spoke to him in February and he assured me he wasn’t ill, just frustrated he was immobile and unable to drive his Rolls Royce!“Generous with his cellar, his knowledge and his time, the outpouring of memories from writers and merchants today who looked up to him, is a testament to his stature and the respect, esteem and admiration in which he was held by all who came into contact with him .
Credit to Rupert Millar – The drinks business and Alan Montague- Dennis