The Passing of Michael Broadbent MW and a Debt Owed

I can’t be sure how much it amounts to, but I know that I owe Michael Broadbent a debt.

The great Michael Broadbent MW has passed at the well-cellared age of 92. The man was an absolute giant in the international wine world. I’m not sure he can be replaced nor should he.

As one would expect, Jancis Robinson has penned the best obituary/remembrance of Mr. Broadbent. I recommend it.

As for my debt, it is directly related to Broadbent’s “The Great Vintage Wine Book”. My copy has the great man’s signature in it and for that reason alone, I’ll treasure it. I never met the man, despite having a chance or two. However, reading this long book of notes on wines one does get a sense for him. Broadbent’s “Great Vintage Wine Book” taught me at the beginning of my career how to think about wine, particularly well-aged wine. Its notes on wines reflect on bottlings that were ancient at the time as well as those that would have been young at the time of writing.

The vast majority of the book is devoted to the wines of France, with some German, Tokay, and Port threw in. My interest, however, was in the 9 pages Mr. Broadbent devoted to the wines of California. When I first read the book I was new to the wine industry and still learning where the quality guardrails had been set, how to talk and write about wine and even how to think about wine. So, reading his notes on the 1892 Inglenook Pinot Noir (“Beautiful colour, like old port, faded mahogany with amber brown rim….Tasted in Chicago in 1979”), the 1959 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon (“…a really lovely rich wine. Even the highlycritically tuned palate of Edmund Penning-Roswell could not fault it.—Tasted at a rather casual Wine Publications working lunch at Christie’s, July 1977”), or the 1947 Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve (“Still incredibly deep for its age; very rich, very fine bouquet with the Napa burnt character and marvelous fruit…Will last for years.—Last tasted at Heublein’s, May 1977”) gave me the window into what was what concerning California wine history that few writing on wine at the time could offer. It was a windfall of knowledge for me.

I’ve gone back so many times to this book not so much for additional learning, but for pleasure. No one currently writing about wine composes notes like Mr. Broadbent. My copy of “The Great Vintage Wine Book” is soiled by happy use.

Michael was delivered all the honors available to him during his lifetime. They need not be recalled here. His presence has been with me my entire career not merely through that soiled book but his ongoing contribution to Decanter Magazine. As I think about it now, I can count on one hand and without using all its fingers the number of wine writers and communicators alive today who could be said to have been as great an influence as he.

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  1. George Ronay - March 18, 2020

    Thanks for the tribute Tom – with everything else going on, I hadn’t heard the news and it is the end of an era indeed. And I’ve been in the business long enough to remember Sandy and the Hueblein Auction tastings……

  2. John Skupny - March 18, 2020

    I would suspect that the Inglenook was tasted at the Heublein Auction [May 24, 1979] which was celebrating the Centennial of Inglenook. That is where I first got to meet Michael and hear his precise and erudite musings on a bottle of 1791 Galbert [a lost Rhone vineyard]. I had just finished reading the 1975 edition of his instructional ‘WIne Tasting’ book. Late last year I acquired four signed copies of the same book’s 50th Commemorative Edition – one for myself [re-read again]and the other three for my children so that the next generation knows where to start!

  3. Alan Goldfarb - March 18, 2020

    I cut my teeth on that book too. But it’s his ’02 “Vintage Wine” that I most treasure because Michael signed it after I interviewed him in his son Bartholemew’s house I believe, in San Francisco. Michael was a most gracious, generous, sweet man. One of the best I’ve met in my career.

    Thanks Tom for your thoughts on Michael.

  4. Helene - March 19, 2020

    Actually, Michael was in his 93rd year. And all of us MWs read the news early Wednesday. Yes, a great man, but interestingly humble and always generous. And although he did not qualify as an architect, Michael would have been the first architect to become a MW. Only one qualified architect is a Master of Wine. Similar requirements: Art and Science.

  5. Peter J Morrell - March 23, 2020

    Sad news. A giant has passed. He influenced me greatly as well and I considered him a friend.
    As it happens, it was I who purhased the bottle of 1892 Inglenook Pinot Noir at the Heublein Auction. Naturally, I had a back-up bottle of something alse special, just in case, but I uncorked and shared it with my wife and daughter on Christmas Eve 2019. The cork was fine, the wine, quite amazing at 127…not only alive, but stll kicking (!) with surprisingly charming aromatics of dried leaves and underbrush and a and, almost unbelievinly, still evident, if fragile, delicate Pinot fruit. Michael’s contributions to my career are too many to repeat here, but my memoir will well remember him.Stay healthy and stay safe.


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