I am delighted to welcome Tony Laithwaite of Laithwaites Wines to answer some questions for Oapschat.
Let me begin by giving members the background of Laithwaites. Below is an extract from the website.
It all began in 1969 ...
As a student I spent my summers working in the Bordeaux vineyards – lugging the local wine home on the train for a few family friends. Then in 1969 I bought a Ford van in order to bring real wines - wines of authenticity and character and directly to customers in the UK. Since 1969 I've done nothing but travel the world's vineyards, seeking extra-special wines for my customers. In 1980 my old friend and mentor Jean Cassin sold me his vineyard in Castillon, Bordeaux. Now, three decades on, Château la Clarière, has just won the Prix d'Excellence ...and somehow got me decorated by the French Government. My company, Laithwaites Wine, finds great little-known wines from all around the world and also makes a few itself. It remains proudly family-owned and is the world's most successful home-delivery wine merchant.
Bordeaux Direct came first ...
Called 'Bordeaux Direct', the original business had just five wines on the list (at 13/6d a bottle!) and only 150 customers. But slowly we began investigating vineyards further up the Dordogne ... and beyond.
In the 1970s we were the first merchants - of any nationality - to prospect and buy wine from the wine regions of southern France ... Bergerac, Duras, Cahors, Madiran, Gaillac, Minervois, Saint-Chinian and so on eastwards. Then came other countries; Rioja, Bulgarian Cabernet, even wines from Oz that were first shipped in 1974.
Onwards and upwards ...
Bordeaux Direct was unique for only selling wines bottled by the producers; because they simply had more flavour, extra character, total authenticity and somehow anyone, even a newcomer to wine, could always taste that quality and goodness.
Today ... over 40 years on, we're now called Laithwaites Wine and deliver wine to over 700,000 customers. We may be bigger, but we still go 'direct' in the same old way, and so keep costs down.
We have a huge network of supplier contacts, some now the grandchildren of those we started with. We still only do top-quality, small production wines from producers in every corner of the known wine world. We are still travelling, still searching out the real good wines.
Good morning Tony and thank you very much for your time in answering some questions for Oapschat. Also many congratulations on achieving number 1 status of any UK wine seller by Institute of Customer Service.
As someone who has been in the wine trade since 1969, I am curious to know what still drives you after 46 years?
It has not been hard, I have been very lucky, my wife is in charge of the administration and I travel extensively to taste and write about wine. I intend to keep doing so until I fall off my perch!
Do you have a personal favourite grape and wine region?
I cannot answer that, it could be the last wine I tried. My own vineyard produces some excellent wines. Of course I have an emotional connection with my first vineyard that I bought.
I see for example that Laithwaites Sauvignon Blanc 2012 has won
Bronze, International Wine & Spirit Competition, 2013
Decanter, Decanter World Wine Awards, 2013
Decanter, Decanter World Wine Awards, 2014
If you hadn't gone into the wine industry, what job would you have done?
I studied Event Staging at University , so I expect I would have done that.
Does the size and shape of glass affect the taste of the wine?
A big glass with a small amount of wine in brings out the aromas, so I prefer that and even champagne can be drunk from a big glass, instead of a flute.
Do you prefer to drink some wines on their own rather than with food?
Oh yes, the New World wines for example, are excellent on their own.
Which country is the next big producer?
I would say China. It has the right climate and irrigation.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
I have just returned from Madeira and had a great time.
Does 2015 pose any new challenges for you?
I shall continue to travel. My three sons work for Laithwaites and I love going into the office to see what is happening.
My Members have sent me a few questions for you to answer please
If I had never tried wine before, which would you recommend me to start with?
Maybe an Italian, like El Papavero, which is easy on the palate and nice and light.
What is the most money you have ever spent on a bottle of wine?
Around £80 in a restaurant.
How many bottles are in your own wine cellar?
I have no idea, but turnover from Laithwaites is in excess of 50,000,000 bottles
Do you have any shops in the High Street?
Yes there are twelve at present where members of the public can sample and buy from a great selection that are always on sale.
Do you supply the pub trade?
No, pubs stock a very good selection of wines these days.