Ho Bryan – a great wine brand for 350 years

On April 10 1663 Samuel Pepys made an entry in his diary: “… and there drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.”

The wine? Well, of course it is Château Haut-Brion. One of the five red premier cru wines of Bordeaux. A wine and a brand still on top after 350 years.

Samuel Pepys’ mention of Haut-Brion is the first known where someone actually describes a Bordeaux wine along with its name. Pepys was an English naval adminstrator, renowned for his diaries written in code. And as he also was a man who liked wine, it was not surprising that the note about “Ho Bryan” was made. When he died in 1703 his large collection of books, manuscripts and diaries was bequeathed to Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge where he once graduated. Anyone interested in learning more about Pepys, can visit Pepys library in Cambridge.

I’m interested in brand building and like the story about how Arnaud de Pontac once built the brand Haut-Brion. The following is from an entry I made on this blog about a year ago; Amazing stories of great wine brands.

“One of the stories fascinating me on this theme is the one about “Ho Bryan”. A history stretching centuries back in time. And a story about a brand still on top after 350 years. It must be the first example of conscious brand building in the world of wine.

Hugh Johnson has described the remarkable rise of this luxury brand in the book I love most when it comes to wine history; “The Story of Wine”.

We start around the year 1200. London had then reached the position as the prime export market of Bordeaux wine. The position was realised after a chain of events, which began when the incredible Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen of England in 1154. It continued when King Richard, known as Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor’s son, wanted wine from Bordeaux to be served on the tables of the royal English court. And was accomplished in 1203 when John Lackland, the next king of England, and the youngest son of Eleanor, removed the heavy taxes on wine exported from the harbour of Bordeaux. His decision opened the gates to London. The claret flowed north, but it was still of ordinary, everyday quality.

We move forward to the 1660s and give the stage for Arnaud de Pontac. Head of the Parliament of Bordeaux and a man determined to take the family wine business to new heights. His plan involved ingredients well known to many modern brand builders.

Arnaud started to differentiate his product from the competitors’ by raising the quality. “Ho Bryan” was a dark coloured wine with a power that outperformed the previously known standard. There were no lack of resources to put into the production, so the quality was presumably achieved by selecting the best grapes and perfecting the winemaking methods.

Additionally, Arnaud took a completely new approach in wine business, when he as the first producer put a trade mark on his wine. It was carefully chosen to show the origin of the wine. The name was that of his family estate south of the town of Bordeaux.

The strategy was to create high demand in England, so marketing was needed. Arnaud selected the channel carefully and put it in total control of the family. In 1666 he opened an exclusive inn, the first real restaurant in London. At “Pontack’s Head” the food and wine were exquisite. So was the price tag. “Ho Bryan” was sold at a price more than three times of an ordinary wine. Arnaud positioned his wine as top-of-the-line, aiming for the market of affluent citizens.

The success came quickly. A luxury brand was born. London cried for Arnaud’s prime brand “Ho Bryan”, as well as the “Pontac” produced at his other estates. The demand drove prices to ever higher levels.

The wine, yes, it is the Haut-Brion. One of the five premier crus of Bordeaux. Still on top after hundreds of years. And an amazing history of the creation of a great brand.”

The 350 year anniversary of Samuel Pepys’ diary entry was celebrated yesterday at a gala dinner hosted by the Cambridge University Wine Society at Magdalene College in Cambridge. At Decanter’s website the event is described together with a picture of the famous diary. Take a look at it, it is really a very special book!


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