Many across the wine world paused to remember one of its seminal figures, following news that Michael Broadbent MW had died on Tuesday 17 March.
His son, Bartholomew Broadbent, announced the news on social media. ‘Too sad but he had a great 92 years,’ said Broadbent Jr, who also works in the wine trade.
It is hard to encapsulate Michael Broadbent’s many achievements in a single article, but he was perhaps best-known as the man who re-started Christie’s wine auctions in the 1960s.
He was consequently a leading figure in the development of the international fine wine market in the second half of the 20th century, although he once remarked that he had never considered the idea that wine might one day become an investment for some people.
Broadbent was also a prolific author and wine writer. He penned more than 400 columns for Decanter magazine alone, between 1977 and 2012, and was proud to have contributed to every monthly edition of the title in that period. His first column was on vintage Port.
He also wrote seminal books on wine, including Wine Tasting, first published in 1968 and considered one of the first structured guides on how to taste wine.
Broadbent, who previously became only the 24th person to become a Master of Wine, in 1960, had said the book was born out of frustration at the lack of English language guides on the subject. It was updated several times and translated into at least eight languages.
Broadbent also published The Great Vintage Wine Book in 1980, bringing together thousands of tasting notes and personal experiences of tasting some of the world’s best bottles. In 2002, he published Vintage Wine, bringing together 50 years of tastings.
Beyond writing, Broadbent was known among emergent wine writers to have been very generous with his time and expertise.
He was also renowned for his skill at public speaking, and was identifiable for many years by the Dutch bicycle that he rode around London.
Amy Wislocki, Decanter print publisher and editor, said, ‘Michael was a much-loved and valued member of the Decanter family, playing a significant role – since the magazine’s early days – in building its reputation for authority and expertise.
‘His encyclopaedic knowledge of wines, his wit and his zest for life made him a joy to work with – and a joy to read.
‘He gained a loyal following over the course of his 433 columns, and the photo that accompanied his column, showing him on his bicycle, became almost a Decanter trademark.
‘This is how Michael will be remembered, affectionately, by readers around the world: the perfect English gentleman and one of the greatest ever authorities on wine, with a turn of phrase that was second to none.’
Steven Spurrier, world-renowned critic and Decanter consultant editor for many years, said, ‘Michael Broadbent was my mentor and my hero: as simple as that.’ Spurrier said he was working on a longer tribute to his friend on the Académie du Vin website.
Jancis Robinson MW said, ‘He leaves the most magnificent legacy and many of us would be much poorer wine tasters without his magisterial lead.’
An accidental beginning
Born in 1927, Broadbent had first begun training to be an architect. However, he found the process dull, and once claimed to have walked out of class.
‘I was too idle to open any books on drainage and sanitation,’ he told Decanter’s Susan Keevil in 2002.
It was Broadbent’s mother who recommended that he apply for a wine trade job.
In 1952, aged 25, he joined London merchant Tommy Layton, where he began by sweeping the floors and delivering wine across Mayfair.
From there, Broadbent never looked back. He recalled in 2010 that the first wine column that was paid to write was for Cheshire Life, in September 1957. He was paid £5.
As has often been quoted, Broadbent credited Tommy Layton as a mentor, despite referring to the merchant as ‘mad as a hatter’ in one interview.
Broadbent was head of Christie’s wine auction department until 1992, but remained a senior consultant with Christie’s for many years afterwards.
He told the auction house in an interview in 2016, ‘Tommy Layton gave me a piece of advice which I didn’t realise would be so important at the time.
‘He told me that whenever I tasted a wine, I should make a note. So on 13 September, 1952, I did just that. I started with a small red lined notebook, and now I have 150 of them, containing 90,000 notes.’
Arguably sage advice for any wine lover today.
Michael Broadbent was married for many years to Daphne Broadbent, who featured in several of his columns and who died in 2015. Their two children are Bartholomew and Emma.
Michael married Valerie Smallwood in 2019.