While we’re toiling away at screens and desks, day-dreaming about the Grand Cru we might open with friends on Saturday, Gary Boom is doing just that. He’s the former City broker who had a brainwave about the wine business after making his first fortune, and has turned it into Bordeaux Index, one of Britain’s largest wine merchants.
In the last 17 years, Bordeaux Index has become a familiar name to anyone who is serious about wine. The company’s unique appeal is that it views wine as a tradeable commodity, and makes live prices in 150 of the world’s finest wines, allowing people to buy and sell with only a 10 per cent spread.
While other wine merchants want to sell you wine to drink, Bordeaux Index is happy for customers to buy and sell it as many times as they like without ever pulling a cork. Boom also has panache: when I turn up to his Holborn offices to interview him one chilly evening, he asks what I want to drink. I’ve learned there is only one answer to that when dealing with a professional. “I’ll have what you’re having,” I replied. “I’ll go and find something...” he says. He returns, not just with something, but with a crystal decanter of Taylor’s Port (1863 vintage Taylor’s to be precise, a wine that was growing during the American civil war, when Queen Victoria was celebrating the wedding of her eldest son. It tasted like intense, vinous treacle), quite a tipple for a Tuesday evening.
Gary Boom had an unusual start to life as a wine magnate. Whilst many others at the top of the trade are born into it, with wine families stretching back four, five or six generations, he was born in Cape Town and barely even thought about wine. “Back then in South Africa the wine industry was in the doldrums and we drank beer. It wasn’t until a friend took me to dinner with his father – he served us something and I thought “My God”. I realised this was a world I wanted to explore.”
That chance came when Boom arrived in London, seeking his fortune. He managed to find a job at Fulton Prebon, the money broker, on their capital markets desk. He finally had access to fine wines and the money to buy them. I asked him for his “Desert Island” wines.
First, he chooses Chateau Leoville Barton 1985 (£70, duty paid L’Assemblage). “I bought this from the Islington branch of Majestic Wines and took it straight home to have with my girlfriend – it was amazing.” I say it must have been pretty young and green at that stage and he cuts me off.
“Great wines always taste great, young or old – don’t let anyone tell you anything else. I‘ve heard so much bull – “oh it needs time to improve” – it’s just not true.”
Boom then went to work for Michael Spencer just as he was setting up Intercapital, the fledging broking house which has since become the global giant ICAP. Spencer is one of Britain’s most renowned oenophiles, with a magnificent cellar. “If wine had been an interest before I met Michael, now it became a screaming passion. His dad used to come to our offices with these great bottles of Burgundy and we just used to talk about wine the whole time.” Spencer is now BI’s chairman and has a three per cent stake in the business – and always complains he can’t invest any more.
Intercapital was growing fast and Boom made a good living. Fittingly, wine number two on his list is the 1970 Latour (£216, Four Walls Wine Co for a bottle). “I will always remember this one. We had had a great day in the broking firm, we had made £250,000 – Michael and I opened a magnum and drank it to celebrate. Unforgettable.”As a further reward Spencer made Boom the unofficial head of wine buying at Intercapital. “I decided to hide the cellar from him. We actually built one when we moved into our new offices, with temperature control and everything and I didn’t tell him. It took him forever to work out what this room was for because I made sure I kept it locked.
“We were so lucky. We tried all the great wines, often before they became great. We were in the right place at the right time.” Boom had always promised himself that he would retire from the City when he had made some money and he did just that a few years later. “I arrived in London with £10 in my pocket and lived in a squat. So I always said I would quit once I had made £1m. I made a multiple of that and thought, ‘this is my opportunity’.”
After one unsuccessful foray into the wine business, when he bought 50 per cent of a traditional merchant, Boom set up Bordeaux Index, with a determination to shake up the crusty old world of fine wine merchanting.“It happened when I bought a case of 1990 Petrus and the delivery guys just left it round at the back of the house. I realised this was a business that needed to be modernised and I brought a trader’s mentality to it.”
Today Bordeaux Index has grown and diversified massively, but it is still a unique business – one that allows customers to buy and sell their wines. Other merchants have set up platforms that look similar but only BI actually makes markets in the true sense.
“We’ve never turned down a trade. We once took on 50 cases of 1990 Petrus, for example – that’s a £1.6m a lot. I’m the only person in the market who is always prepared to buy.”
And so to wine number three. True to his company’s name, this one is a Bordeaux, too. It’s a Margaux 1983 (over £200 if you can find a bottle these days). “This was the first wine I ever bought by the case – I spotted an advert in Decanter and decided to have a go.” There have been many, many thousands of cases since then.
Boom has exciting development plans for the business, including allowing clients to trade wine on the platform even when it’s held by other merchants, doubling the number of wines on his platform and increasingly automating the system.
True to his commercial instincts, he signs me up as a client and takes my first order once the interview is finished.
None of this, though, has dimmed his love for drinking the stuff. For Christmas dinner, he has a magnum of 1985 Margaux lined up.
Update: This story has been updated to correct the number of cases of 1990 Petrus he bought from 15 to 50.