These are similar to the "Why are you talking about Laithwaites?" calls we get from Sunday Times Members.
That's probably because we are both – and have been for 36 years.
We've never hidden the link. Honest. But I suppose unless you read our stuff from cover to cover - and few do - you could miss it.
So how come there are these two wine outfits and I'm Co-Chairman of both?
The Condensed Story ...
In 1971 we were a one man/one girl wine merchant based under Railway Arch 36, Windsor. Not big. The Sunday Times published another of their exposés of fraudulent wine-labelling in Essex. I wrote a "Dear Editor, Well done, they're all at it. It’s not fair. All my wine is grower-bottled proper stuff ..." letter.
Amazingly he printed it! We got a huge postbag, the ST said "So do us a Reader Offer then"… and we did. Sold a storm. 3000 cases! Did another. Ditto. Some bright spark said "Why not make this permanent - like a club?". So we did. It went well. 6000 cases first week. But we weren't, of course, about to give up our own business (then called Bordeaux Direct).
So for 36 years we've run under two names. Sometimes we've made them more different. But the same problem always crops up. If you find a really great wine deal, and enough to go round, why deny it to a whole load of the people who keep you in business?
On the other hand we mostly sell very small volume wines so it helps to have two lists. There are always differences in the lists.
The main difference between Laithwaites and the STWC is probably the influence of Hugh Johnson OBE who has been President of The Sunday Times Wine Club since the start. He loves it like it’s his child and likes to do something different with it – sometimes wacky.
He was the one who wanted the trips and the tastings and the festivals and cruises and German wine. Being as he likes a party, does Hugh. I'm more of your boring stay home type apparently.
There is also of course the influence of the great newspaper itself. The whole idea of the Club was to combine our professional wine expertise with their professional writing/communication skills. (With Hugh you get both). I just do wine. I get someone else to run the business. I write a bit ... but not 'professional'.
Anyway the Laithwaites-Sunday Times marriage has lasted and I think we've done our bit to brighten up the wine scene. Taken wine drinkers to parts they'd never drunk before, introduced them to some great characters who also love to make good wine.
It’s a lovely arrangement. (And its become a model for other newspaper Wine Clubs around the world.)
Well, the best wines are indisputably made in small amounts by small farmers. Which doesn't sit well with modern mass-retailing. But works brilliantly with us. So we must do more. Save the good, small wine producers. And save the good, little wines. 'Cos the way the world's going, we really need 'em!