Vintage Stuff

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If, in spite of the credit crunch, you have some cash to spare and enjoy fine wine, but need a little help sorting out your cellar, how about adding a personal sommelier to your speed dial?

Launching initially in London and Hong Kong, Sarment — the name refers to a grapevine's stem — is the brainchild of retired businessman Bertrand Faure Beaulieu and sommelier Philippe Messy. The idea is simple: poach a crack team of sommeliers from Michelin-starred and other top London restaurants like Papillon, the Square and Tom Aikens, and make them available to a select invited few. Seventy-five, to be exact.

Whether it's a phone call for advice on the wine to go with your seafood brunch, on how to source that hard-to-find JJ Prüm 2005 Gold Kap, or how to transport wine safely (microchips embedded in the crates to regulate and monitor temperature, and track location, will help), Sarment's sommeliers provide round-the-clock service. They also spend eight weeks a year on the road to find new wines and forge relationships with reclusive Bordeaux winemakers.

This level of service explains the small membership. The first intake of 75 will be eventually grown to 450 members, but capped at that. "Because we offer a bespoke relationship tailored to a member's level of wine expertise and requirements, this is not a scalable business," says Sarment's U.K. managing director Niels Sherry, who used to run Ian Schrager's hotels. "There should be nothing we can't do."

As you might expect, the service does not come cheap. The joining fee is over $80,000, with a roughly $20,000 yearly subscription, but Faure Beaulieu has sufficient faith in the product's appeal to already be planning a flurry of international membership drives. "I think more and more people are interested in wines these days. Even with the credit crisis, there's room for another model." Such confidence calls for a toast.