Home' Hospitality Business : HB MAY 2016 Contents 54 | May 2016 | Hospitality BUSINESS
Laithwaite’s Wine Group has landed locally, offering
characterful wines, handpicked from the vineyard and
delivered to the door. Helene Ravlich spoke to founder Tony
Laithwaite about why now, and his love of New Zealand
Still a family-run business, Laithwaite’s Wine Group is the
world’s largest wine delivery merchant, serving over one
million customers internationally.
The business began life almost 50 years ago when Tony
Laithwaite sold his first wine – a Bordeaux, bought from a
Saint-Emilion estate owned by a mentor and trusted friend.
Now with a fortune of £160 million, Tony is one of the wealthiest
people in the UK drinks trade, known for his amazing work
ethic and his wine savvy. Over the last 50 years he has built
his business from a single Ford van making trips to France
to supply his customers under a railway arch in Windsor, to a
multi-million pound company that includes The Sunday Times
Wine Club and has franchises in Hong Kong and India.
Developing such strong, direct and face-to-face relationships
with producers remains at the heart of his business model. It
ensures customers have unparalleled access to handcrafted
wines, invitation-only estate bottles, special project and limited
Laithwaite’s Wine New Zealand offers a carefully
selected range, curated by Fiona Warren-Tibbetts and
a global team that includes Master of Wine Justin Howard-
Sneyd, Tony and legendary wine author Hugh Johnson.
Over 6,500 wines have been tasted, of which the best 250 have
been chosen for New Zealand customers.
Laithwaite’s has a long and meaningful history with New
Zealand, and has proudly launched many of the country’s
wines on the world stage. One particularly significant milestone
for the entire New Zealand wine industry happened back in
1986, when Hunter’s Wines Sauvignon Blanc, never before seen
in the UK, won the ‘Wine of the Show’ Trophy at The Sunday
Times Wine Club’s Vintage Festival run by Laithwaite’s. This
triumph not only launched Hunter’s Wines with fanfare in
England, but introduced British wine drinkers to the joys of New
Tony and his son made a flying visit for the launch in March
and he was happy to chat...
I HEAR YOU HAVE BEEN LONG-TIME VISITORS TO NEW
ZEALAND, WAS IT WINE THAT FIRST BOUGHT YOU HERE?
Yes. Eternal thanks to your generous government in flying me
out thirty years ago; a trip I could not afford myself.
WHAT WAS THE PLAN FOR THIS TRIP?
I did some interviews in Auckland and some in Wellington. We
checked out our likely competition and we visited some of our
newer North Island suppliers. We were very impressed. Saw
the new fruit coming in and it looks like a good vintage.
WHY HAS IT TAKEN YOU SO LONG TO LAUNCH INTO NEW
ZEALAND AS A COMPANY?
Whoah! We’re going as fast as we can! We are a Careful Family
Company and have learnt not to take on a new venture until the
last one is working well.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITE NEW ZEALAND WINERIES?
I love them all. And I must be tactful. But Hunters will ever
be close to me because of those very early days with one of
the brightest wine stars ever to shine - sadly so briefly - Ernie
Hunter, the Belfast boy who with his huge charisma put New
Zealand wine firmly on the map with the very first, and at the
time truly mind-blowing Marlborough Savvy B.
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE WHICH NEW ZEALAND WINES GET
ADDED TO YOUR CELLAR?
We got ourselves a top class buyer, Dan Parrot who previously
had a top job at Coles and knows the territory. He has a free
reign. We ask him just for wines and propositions that get us -
and the customers - excited.
WHAT ARE SOME EMERGING REGIONS THAT YOU HAVE
BEEN PICKING UP ON OF LATE?
I really like wines from Nelson... quite new to me. I like what
Martinborough are doing with cool climate Syrah. And I reckon
the next big hitter will be their Pinot Gris. Ata Rangi make the
best Pinot Gris I’ve tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot.
If you want to know where in the rest of the world we are
finding exciting, currently it’s the last place you’d expect - little
old UK. Hardly anyone knows that England can make seriously
top class Sparkling. You’ll see!
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL SCENARIO FOR DRINKING A
To tell the truth wine is always best when you are sharing it
with its winemaker. You then get so much more than flavours;
you get the whole fascinating story. And a terrific evening. What
we try and do is replicate that experience in what we write to
customers. For example, if you go on to our UK website this
month you’ll see our new Sicilian range and also Davy - our
buyer - writing about his trip on a scooter round the vineyards.
You get up close with the winegrowers. Makes you want to
hop on a plane. Buying from Laithwaites is almost like the
winemaker invited you to stay for dinner.
UK’s Laithwaite’s launches into New Zealand
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