An indepth conversation with Tony Laithwaite CBE on his inspiring career.
Where it all started ...
Have you ever enjoyed something so much that you wanted - straightaway - to share it with friends and family?
That happened to me 50 years ago and I have not stopped sharing it ever since.
In 1969, by complete chance, I took a job washing bottles at a Bordeaux winery. They made great wines ... and at very reasonable prices.
I fell so, so in love with their wonderful world of wine.
It was the way the lives of everyone, from the bottle washers upwards, were totally wrapped around not just making wine but making THE BEST wine possible. These wine people weren't just passionate, they were obsessed!
I had it drilled into me early ... “C'est qualité! Qualité! Qualité!”
I wrote home and they said, well then, bring some of that ‘real quality stuff'. See most of the wine you could buy in the UK at the time was blended in vats in Britain and there was plenty of deliberate mislabelling going on.
It made me angry and I wanted it to stop. So I wrote to the papers (that's what you did in the 1960s). Made some noise.
More and more people started asking for a taste of this ‘real quality stuff'.
So I borrowed a van, drove down, collected my special wines and delivered them ... sharing all that excitement.
These were wines from growers I knew personally, with real stories (that customers found reassuring). And even a beginner could taste they were better.
Things went so well that winemakers across Europe began offering me their wines. So my girlfriend and I opened our first premises ... under a railway arch.
50 years later we (now married, three sons, grandkids and all) have over 400,000 excellent customers ... but we still work in a very similar way, knowing personally all our 450 winemakers around the world and knowing - thanks to technology - the likes and dislikes of every customer.
Wine, done right, really is such a personal thing; it's best that way.