Flying fine wine with Berry Bros. & Rudd

By: Dave Gunner

March 1, 2019

The rolling barrels at Pulenta Estate

At first glance, Virgin Atlantic and Berry Bros. & Rudd don’t appear to have much in common. We’re an airline born of rock and roll and they’re the oldest wine merchant in the world, trading for more than 300 years. But we both share a passion for excellent wine and we’ve been working together for over 13 years to make sure the wines we serve onboard elevate your flying experience to new heights.

Berry Bros. & Rudd have been trading from the same shop at 3 St. James’s Street, London, since 1698

We’ve just extended our partnership with Berry Bros. & Rudd, and this month we’re launching what we believe is an airline first. Our close relationship means we’re now able to offer wines from smaller producers, whose low volumes have meant they’ve been unavailable to airlines in the past. From 6th March, you’ll now be able to enjoy the depth and breadth of the unparalleled Berry Bros. & Rudd range when you fly with us.

Our Manager of Clubhouse Operations, Dominic Thomas, has just returned from Argentina, where he visited two very different vineyards producing our onboard wine.  We asked him to share some discoveries from his exciting New World pilgrimage.

I was recently lucky enough to visit Mendoza, the capital of Argentinian wine. Having been a fan of the region for many years I was determined to plan an itinerary that would fit in as many vineyards as possible.

Top of my list was Pulenta Estate, a vineyard whose wines I’ve come to love from my time at Virgin Atlantic, having tried them many times when choosing wines for the Clubhouse and onboard. Berry Bros. & Rudd also told me about a small producer, Bodega Cuarto Dominio, whose wine we were about to start serving in Upper Class.

Andres, Javier, Chris and Dominic

Bodega Cuarto Dominio may be relatively new but the founders Andrés Blanchard and Javier Catena Pedro come from a long line of winemakers going back four generations, as their name implies. Javier’s family are Argentinian wine-making icons. His uncle is the visionary Nicolas Catena who was arguably first to put the wines of Mendoza on the global map, and continues to make some of the most sought after wines in the country.

The first wine I tried at Cuarto Dominio was a Chento Malbec, named after the man who’s looked after the family’s estate for many years. Most wines from Mendoza carry the name of the family who own the vineyards but Andrés and Javier wanted to celebrate the people who worked in them and chose to honour Chento, who for years has lovingly tended to their vines.

Andrés explains how working with Virgin Atlantic gave them one of their first big breaks as a new business. On one of our flights from Hong Kong a crew member was pouring a glass of the Chento Malbec for an Upper Class customer, explaining that at a recent tasting it had received 93 points from the renowned wine critic, James Suckling. The customer they were serving was none other than James Suckling himself who was so delighted by this that he wrote about it and the profile of Cuarto Dominio received a huge boost.

The latest member of the family to work for the company is Andrés’s sister Constanza Blanchard, who is the chief wine maker for the bodega. Constanza has worked all over the world, including at Chapel Down in Kent, and is part of a new generation of young and exciting wine makers not afraid to experiment with different techniques and grape varieties. You get a real sense of this when touring the winery. Previously all the wine was made in huge concrete tanks, but some of these have now been converted into rooms which house concrete spheres or rows of French oak barrels. Straight from one of these barrels, we were lucky enough to try a 2017 Tannat, a grape not commonly grown in Argentina.

Constanza Blanchard

"It was great to see how the decisions we make as a business can help smaller producers who are just starting their journey".

Malbec, however, is justifiably the signature grape of Argentinian wine (although it originally came from the Bordeaux region, where it’s one of the five grape varieties allowed in their red wine). It’s a Malbec from Cuarto Dominio that we’ll soon be serving to our customers in Upper Class, Berry Bros. & Rudd The Wine Merchant’s Range Argentinean Malbec 2018.

Compared to many of the Argentinian wine labels we see in the UK, Cuarto Dominio is tiny, and the owners very much hands-on in the wine making process. Rather than being able to relax and take a traditional siesta after lunch (much needed in the 35 degree heat), it was straight back to work for Javier and Constanza, who had to decant and filter wine out of the tanks. Great wine doesn’t wait!

Everyone I met was appreciative of the support they’ve received from Virgin Atlantic over the years. It was great to see how the decisions we make as a business can help smaller producers who are just starting their journey. This fits so well with our history as a challenger brand, and it’s fantastic to be able to work with a company who share our values for recognising their team, as they did with Chento. And did I mention how good the wine was!

The Pulente Estate vineyards

Pulenta Estate was founded by another Argentinian wine making dynasty. They used to own one of the largest producers in the country, but sold this to focus on quality, smaller scale production and now make wine in a stunning industrial-design winery. The family import Porsches (and previously Ferraris) into Argentina and as you tour the winery you’ll find car engines displayed in the cellars like museum pieces.

They too like to innovate, and use a huge range of different tanks and barrels from small concrete tanks to oak barrels which can be rolled in their cradle to mix up the wine. As with most Argentinian producers they produce amazing wines from Malbec, but also vinify wine from a range of other grapes. Touring the cellar I found barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot, quietly maturing in the dimly lit corridors.

The barrel rooms in wineries often have a spiritual feel to them, and this is certainly true of Pulenta Estate where the guides talk in hushed tones as if not wanting to disturb the ageing wines. It’s easy to see why Pulenta Estate wines have been served so many times at Virgin Atlantic and why our customers love them so much. All are fantastic but if I had to choose my favourite it would be the utterly delicious Cabernet Franc – probably my desert island wine if I ever had to pick one!

  • Lunch at the vineyard

  • Cuarto Dominio winery

  • Concrete tanks at Pulenta Estate

On a recent trip to San Francisco I treated myself to a glass of the Pulenta Estate Finca La Zulema Chardonnay with my lunch, and was immediately transported back to that sunny vineyard in Mendoza. I can’t wait to try the Berry Bros. & Rudd The Wine Merchant’s Range Argentinean Malbec when we start serving it onboard so I can reminisce all over again.

Experience Berry Bros. & Rudd wines in all classes on Virgin Atlantic from 6th March. You can then order your favourite wines for delivery at home with up to 20% off at Berry Bros. & Rudd’s special Virgin Atlantic online store.

In Upper Class you can taste discovery wines from smaller producers, hero wines which are our popular favourites, and familiar wines that we serve onboard for a few months, all chosen with the help of Master of Wine Mark Pardoe at Berry Bros. & Rudd. We hope you enjoy exploring them as much as we do.

Dave Gunner

Dave Gunner

I love telling the story of our people, our planes, our places and our planet through Ruby Blog.

Categories: Our Experience