An Interview with Stephen Browett: Chairman of Farr Vintners
12×75: Stephen, thank you for taking the time to talk with us here at 12×75.com I suppose the first question we’d like to ask you is, how did you go from driving a van in 1980 for La Reserve in Knightsbridge to the Chairman of Farr Vintners in 1985? What was your secret during those 5 years?
STEPHEN: Well I started in the wine trade by driving a van for La Reserve in 1980. After that I worked in one of their shops and joined Farr Vintners in 1984. We bought out Mr Farr in the late 1980’s but I didn’t actually become chairman of the company until I bought out my other partner 3 years ago. It’s actually been a long journey from driving the van to being in charge of the world’s biggest fine wine dealer. 25 years in fact.
12×75: Farr Vintners is very well known and respected in the market, how would you say that you keep the brand as strong as it is?
STEPHEN: By focussing on the very best wines of France (especially Bordeaux) and a few other top wines from around the world. By having competitive pricing and a huge selection of stock. Also by employing knowledgeable and efficient staff.
12×75: Do you ever envisage a time where Bordeaux will no longer be the largest traded region for Farrs? Do you see other regions or even countries taking a larger portion of the fine wine market? If so which ones?
STEPHEN: No Bordeaux will always be King. Burgundy may rival it for quality but they will never have the volumes to compete.
12×75: Of late the prices of the Blue Chip Wines have fallen, most notably the prices of Lafite. Would it be fair to say, that we in the wine market have been spoilt for far too long, and have only ever concerned ourselves with DEGREES of profit, and now for the first time in a while, we may have to face the fact that the price of top class wines can fall too?
STEPHEN: All markets MUST go up and down. That’s a certainty. Blue Chip prices have only fallen very slightly in comparison to the enormous gains of the past few years. You have to take a medium to long term view when looking at these things.
12×75: You were of course one of the first merchants to be setup up in HK in the late 90’s. How would you say the lay of the land has changed, since HK dropped its import tax?
STEPHEN: The scrapping of all taxes on wine in HK was one of the most important things that ever happened to us. For such an important market to suddenly become “duty free” meant that customers there could suddenly spend money on wine after years of holding back. Fortunately we were already there and established when this happened.
12×75: It goes out without saying how well known Robert Parker is throughout the industry. If he were to retire tomorrow, what do you think would happen to the market?
STEPHEN: I doubt that any one critic would replace him in terms of influence. Consumers would then have to be guided by several different critics. Whilst the prices of the truly great wines of the world would not be affected by this, those that RP prefers more than other critics might be.
12×75: I would be a fool to not ask you about your purchase of Crystal Palace FC with three fellow investors. Tell us, how did all of this come about? Are you a passionate football supporter, or is this more of a commercial decision?
STEPHEN: It’s purely from the heart. I have been a Crystal Palace supporter since 1969 and we bought the club in order to save it from going bust. None of the four of us expects to make money out of it. It’s really just an expensive hobby that I am fortunate enough to be able to afford.
12×75: Some of your fans have quoted the four of you as “heroes”….. What word would you use to describe yourself?
STEPHEN: Well if we had not stepped in the club would have gone into liquidation but we just did what we had to do to stop our Saturday afternoons being ruined.
12×75: With such a high profile role in the wine world, and now in the football world, I’d imagine a lot of your time is spent away, with trips to probably Bordeaux and Hong Kong being a regular affair. How do you balance such a taxing work life, with your family life?
STEPHEN: By having excellent people working in the businesses and being able to delegate. With modern communications it is not actually necessary to travel all that much.
12×75: With all the tastings you go to, how much would you say you spend a year on teeth whitening with your dentist?
STEPHEN: I should spend a lot. Black coffee and red wine are not great for teeth.
12×75: What advice would you have to any of the van drivers that work for Farr Vintners? Do they also have a chance at the top job one day?
STEPHEN: With hard work and good luck anything is possible.
12×75.com would like to thank Stephen Browett immensely for making the time for this interview. Stephen Browett is the Chairman of Farr Vintners & one of the owners of Crystal Palace FC.……………need I say more!!! – The Editor