50 years of Laithwaite’s Wine … and what a journey it’s been.
Tony’s company has come a very long way from the first sales of Monsieur Cassin’s bottles to becoming the world’s biggest wine merchant.
Over the years Laithwaite’s Wine has discovered wines from countries the UK would never have thought of buying from, bought our own wineries and made our own wines and flown winemakers around the world to share their knowledge.
We’ve even planted a vineyard in the Queen’s back garden – well, at Windsor Great Park!
And this year, as well as
celebrating our 50th anniversary, we were named Online Retailer of the Year at the International Wine Challenge Awards, Tony wrote a book, AND he was awarded a CBE for services to wine.
Here’s a brief look at the last 50 years in pictures …
It all started in 1965 when Tony’s Nana Florence Rudd was visiting and bumped into a French tourist who, after being served tea, offered to help find Tony work in Bordeaux. Just a few weeks later Tony arrived at Jean and Geneviève Cassin’s chateau (well, barn actually) and started work washing bottles at La Cave Coopérative. From the first time he set foot in that winery, Tony was hooked. Tony spent three months working at the cooperative, before having to leave Bordeaux to begin reading Geography at Durham – where he met Barbara! Three years later Tony returned to Bordeaux and spent another 12 months working for Monsieur. Then came an idea … after failing to find a job as a wine merchant Tony agreed to go it alone, selling Monsieur Cassin’s wines in the UK. So Tony returned to the UK with a name: ‘Bordeaux Direct’ and a case of half bottle samples. Soon he began selling wine and eventually invested in a Ford Transit to shuttle orders from France to Britain. A year later Tony was getting so many orders (he’d stumbled upon the corporate gifts market) that he had to upgrade from the 100 case-capacity Ford Transit to something much bigger. But there was one problem … where to store all that wine? And so, after a brief stay in a rickety old shed in Windsor, Tony and his stock of more than 14,000 bottles of wine moved into Arch 36, under Windsor & Eton Central Station. It looked just like a wine cave and customers loved it … and at the same time Barbara gave up her “proper” job and started working on Tony’s accounts. Tony surrounded by cases and cases of wine in his little warehouse under the railway arch. Having bought wine from Monsieur Cassin and his friends in Bordeaux, Tony was encouraged to travel around the rest of France to meet winemakers in other regions. It was on one of these trips that he met Jean Dubernet, he was to become another of Tony’s great mentors. Tony being taught how to taste grapes by Georges Bertrand, a courtier, who sold wine to merchants. However, when he discovered the style Tony was after, he decided he could do better himself and began making his own wine. He and Tony named it Cuvée Georges Bertrand. Responding to an article in The Sunday Times about malpractice in the wine business, Tony wrote an angry “Dear Editor” letter … this turned into an opportunity to sell a special case to readers and The Sunday Times Wine Club was born. Wine buyer Tim Bleach with Tony and Hugh Johnson who became President of the wine club. Before long they had 20,000 members. Soon Tony had to expand out of France and explore wines from the rest of Europe. He went to Rioja in Spain and the Mosel in Germany. Here he’s pictured getting a lesson in Alsace wine from Monsieur Hauss. Soon Tony and Barbara had a family in sons Henry, Will and Tom. Henry is now a winemaker and Tom a wine merchant but Will, who looks very bored in this photo, is a brewer. In 1980 Tony bought Monsieur Cassin’s vineyard, La Clarière. His family wasn’t interested in taking over a Castillon estate … they wanted something with more prestige. And so Tony started making wine, and launched his exclusive club of confrères. The harvest at La Clarière. Also in 1980 The Sunday Times Wine Club held the first ever Vintage Festival. It was this audience of wine lovers who first discovered New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s been a hit with our customers ever since. The company’s next project was The Flying Winemakers, sending Australian winemakers to Europe. They caused a big stir but had soon impressed everyone. Here are the Flying Winemaker All Stars Martin Shaw, President Goubault and John Belsham. After doing their own things in Europe, the Australian winemakers didn’t want to head back to their jobs in big Aussie wineries. So Laithwaite’s Wine helped them set up RedHeads which has just opened a brand new studio in the Barossa. Next came Le Chai au Quai, Laithwaite’s winemaking headquarters on the banks of the Dordogne. Just like RedHeads, Le Chai has helped bring forward small scale growers and winemakers. After Australia and France, it was time to start making wine a little closer to home. The first English vineyard planted by Laithwaite’s Wine was on a pile of rubble next to our new office in Theale – and the first wine from there won an award! Then Barbara decided she needed another project and created Wyfold with a friend. Now their wine wins awards too. In 2005 Laithwaite’s outgrew its Theale office and cellar and moved distribution to a huge warehouse in Gloucester. It caused a few headaches when it first opened but now it’s a very impressive operation. So what now? Well we keep going of course! Not only in the UK, but also in the USA and Australia. We’ve won Wine Merchant of the Year and Tony is still discovering new wines in distant lands. So here’s to another 50 years! Also on the blog: