We never seem able to get what we want from the corporate wine world, so virtually all of our 454 growers are families too. Perhaps that's why we work so well together - there's a bond of trust, often built up over decades. From Italy and Portugal to Moldova, Australia, Chile and beyond ... there is a cast of thousands out there making wines of character and authenticity ... almost always in quantities too small for the big retail chains.
Every one of our family of winemakers has a great story to share ... find out more below.
Winemaker - Bob Berton
You'll find me at the Berton Vineyards stand
Key facts about Bob
A very likeable, hardworking family man and reliable old friend
A winemaker of great integrity and knowledge, with experience at some big-name Australian wineries
His leap of faith to 'go it alone' in 2006 is now really paying off
He is the man behind a few of our most popular Aussie reds, including the Willy Willy Shiraz, Kelly Country, The Optimist and the All Out range
We've known Bob for years, in various guises, as he worked for a number of companies and wineries before going it alone in 2006. Now, he's the winemaker at Berton Vineyards winery, which is behind a variety of Aussie wines all made exclusively for us.
He's a big guy, the cowboy boots and his long hair (now tinged with grey, worn tied back in a pony tail) might suggest a biker. Indeed he's been photographed astride a Harley, however he's actually probably more accurately described as a pretty quiet, friendly, determined and very hard working family man. A man equally at home in the vineyard, as well as chatting to (and charming) the customers.
A regular at our Vintage Festival, he is always extremely popular. Great personality, very approachable always great value; just like his wines!
The dynamic, highly acclaimed chief winemaker at the multi award-winning Hungarian Törley winery based in Etyek-Buda
Works at a winery with a rich, sparkling history once the toast of Europe
The man behind our popular Campanula range
Gábor Laczkó is the youngest winemaker at one of the biggest and most respected producers in Hungary. Törley is a winery established in the 1880's by József Törley in the little region of Etyek-Buda.
He is the man behind our bestselling Campanula wines has worked with us for a few years now, and in a short space of time, has made the transition from apprentice to Chief Winemaker at one of the country's leading wineries.
The wine bug did not bite Gábor immediately, having enrolled at university in 1995, here he studied food technology to start with. By his own admission, at that stage he had 'no concrete plans for the future.' Many on his course did however, and were budding winemakers. He spent his summer holidays visiting wine cellars with his fellow students. His interest was sparked and by the time he graduated in 2000, he had decided to look for work as a winemaker. It was then that he began work as an apprentice at Hungarian cellar, Törley.
You'll find me at the Harrow & Hope & Domaine Laithwaite stands
Key facts about Henry
Tony and Barbara Laithwaite's eldest son of three
Introduced to winemaking at the age of 10 and got his first real winemaker post at 17
He is Parker-rated - a top accolade
Makes wine in England, Bordeaux and Australia
Like his Dad, Henry believes that a wine is made in the vineyard and so produces styles with as little human intervention as possible.
Although he'd been dragged round wineries and vineyards for as long as he can remember, he didn't become a winemaker until he was 17 but already has coveted Parker-points to his name. At 13, Henry's father (Tony) told him that the grape had the highest sugar content of any fruit. Naturally being young and curious he asked "what is the second, dad?" ... and he answered "the pineapple, son!" Indeed, only pineapples and grapes have enough natural sugar to ferment without adding any extra. As luck would have it, they had just come back from the school fair, where they had won a good number of no, not coconuts (well, this was the Oratory), but pineapples. He subsequently spent the whole weekend trying to extract as much juice out of a pineapple as he could. The juice was then put into bottles with some yeast and left down in the cellar to do its thing, which, for most of the bottles was to explode and spread itself over Tony's precious wine collection! (Like mother, like son - Barbara Laithwaite had had quite a reputation at Durham University when studying chemistry, causing a couple of explosions in the lab!)
After that, Henry went into winemaking big time. He did a stint with the Rhône's grand master, André Roux, and then became a Flying Winemaker for Jean-Marc Sauboua. He was in charge of production in a Bordeaux co-op cellar. He then spent two years in a small French village in the Ardèche called Valvignières (which means valley of vines) under the tutelage of the Flying Winemaker Thierry Lesne.
Then he was off to Australia to get to grips with hands-on winemaking the New World way at the RedHeads studio. He worked alongside and learnt from some great winemakers such as Phil Christiensen, Michael Fragos and Adam Hooper, whilst also getting to know a lot of the top growers in the area like Nat McMurtrie. Every March Henry goes back to Australia to make 30 or so barrels of wine for RedHeads. In 2014, he'll just make Wilson Gunn and has declared that, even if RedHeads moves its operation to the Barossa, he'll be using McLaren Vale fruit! That's where he knows where to find the best grapes and he's mates with the best growers. Everything is done by hand in small, open-top vats, the finest oak, lots of love and care.
Now, being a sparkling wine maker is a very different proposition to crafting claret or reds Down Under. But Henry has gone into the project with his eyes wide open. He spent a couple of weeks during vintage in the Yarra Valley, at Moët et Chandon's outfit over there and, in the last couple of years, has worked closely with top English sparkling producer, Ridgeview, learning as much as he could. Founder and winemaker from there, Mike Roberts, was on hand to help and Henry was lucky enough to have Tony Jordan (former head of Domaine Chandon in Australia) dropping in to help him blend. For as Tony says, the key to success in making top-class sparklers is building up reserve stocks, so you have the greatest palette to blend from. Henry has taken this on board and only plans to release 50-60% of his production each year, keeping the rest for a rainy day in more ways than one!
We just can't wait to taste the first release the 2013 which will be on taste at the Vintage Festival.
Owner of the fiercely independent, family-owned Hunter's Estate established with her husband Ernie in Marlborough over 30 years ago
She helped put New Zealand Sauvignon on the wine map in the mid 1980s (along with us!)
Producer of many wines that in our range over the years
Exactly 25 years after taking over managing Hunter's Wines Jane was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to viticulture.
Jane is an internationally respected vintner and recipient of the prestigious UK Women in Wine Award, as well as an OBE. If New Zealand had a royal family of wine, Jane Hunter would be the queen she surely deserves the title First Lady'. Her story is a mixture of major success and tragedy, and it all started over thirty years ago.
Our man from Haut-Brion, Jean-Marc Sauboua has been a winemaker here since 1993, having studied winemaking in Bordeaux. He is responsible for overseeing the creation of all our precious handcrafted 'direct from the vineyard' bottles - including medal-winning favourite Laithwaite Sauvignon and the barrel-aged beauties from Le Chai.
Jean-Marc Sauboua began an illustrious career in winemaking over two decades ago at Château Haut-Brion, the most famous château in the Graves district of Bordeaux. Half-French, half-Spanish, Jean-Marc comes from a family with a long history of winemaking.
Before joining our team, he spent two years in Stellenbosch in South Africa and also took a year's sabbatical to work for a Moroccan winery in 1996. Since then, Jean-Marc has gained invaluable experience in the wineries of South Africa, Australia, Italy, Chile, Spain, all over France, and in our latest treasure-trove, Moldova.
Here, Jean-Marc is in charge of all of our own-label wines and Le Chai specialities - and he takes his job rather seriously. If that's not enough to impress you, he also oversees our quality control too. Add to this the cupboards bursting with trophies and accolades and you've one very busy person! All-in-all this doesn't leave much time for his family, but don't be alarmed, we wouldn't let him do all this without a little help. Jean-Marc oversees a team of highly talented winemaking individuals (Flying Winemakers we like to call them) dotted around the globe.
Experience in California and Burgundy and shortly to do a vintage in Chile
Enthusiastic wine ambassador for Romanian wines
Lorena is the first in her family to enter the wine business. She was born in Stefanesti, in the southwest - a hilly area with very ancient oak woodlands - to a biology teacher mother and her father, who was head of the post-office.
The region did have vines growing, even a winery within Stefanesti, but it was better known for its ancient oak forests and for extensive orchards, the plums from which were used to make a fruit brandy. There was also a wine institute and a distillery, where she used to work in the holidays, when she was old enough.
Lorena's experience isn't confined to Romania. In 2001, she did a vintage at Matzanas Creek, California, in 2008 was at Domaine Jacky Renard in Chablis and in 2014, did a vintage in Concha y Toro, Chile. Pinot Noir is always a difficult grape to master, hence Lorena's imminent trip to Chile. Halewood Romania already makes a really delightful, fresh, fruity and very approachable Pinot Noir, but never satisfied, they would like to produce a more serious version, too.
Talk to Lorena about her job and her passion for winemaking shines through like a beacon. Lorena says she tries to bring out the innate character of each grape variety and reflect the conditions of the vintage, too. She says, ... wine is like my child, it needs to be nurtured through every stage.' She truly loves what she does, despite the 17-hour days during harvest and wouldn't do anything else "What other job lets you travel worldwide, meet new friends and interesting people. Wine is a good friend of mine."
"She so dearly wants her country's wines to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and I hope that we can pass on this passion to our customers."
Winemaker at Le Chai but born-and-raised in Jersey
Mad about the Roussillon
Has won many medals for his wines
His nickname? The Hurricane!
Meet Mark Hoddy and you'll soon understand why he is nicknamed is The Hurricane. It's not only the speed that he talks about his experience, it's also the force of this enthusiasm. Then you realise the speed that he goes about his work ... well, how else would he fit it all in?
Having helped at Le Chai in 2006, he took over as resident winemaker there in 2007 to make wines from Bordeaux, Condrieu, the southern Rhône, southwest France, the Languedoc-Roussillon and VO from Spain's Rueda to oversee, there was a great deal to do. Each year from August onwards, Mark does an average of two round trips to the Midi each week, to check on progress in the vineyard, choose the harvesting date, and supervise the picking and production of the juice and the transport of the grapes or juice back up to Le Chai.
For six years, Mark just produced Chai wines. Then the Bordeaux négociant business took off with Jean-Marc in charge. Mark acts as his sidekick, working with 15 to 20 properties. As a resident in Bordeaux, he can keep an eye on the blend and, at bottling time, go to the cellar, taste the final wine and tweak or give the thumbs up. Sounds pedantic, but it can make the difference between delicious supple, velvet-fruit style claret and tired, stringent Bordeaux lacking in fruit. Taste our Bordeaux range and you'll notice the difference - and that's not only down to the quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages. The wines are gloriously supple, a very accessible style. Mark says the key is to build relationships with the cellar teams, be respectful of their traditions, but explain what you want them to change and why. And these petits châteaux Bordeaux are currently amazing value and their ripe style will gain them a loyal following.
Very gifted Tuscan winemaker and highly acclaimed Chianti master
At the helm of his family's exceptional Fattoria di Basciano estate in Chianti's quality sub-zone of Rufina
One of our longest-standing, trusted winemakers in Tuscany
The man behind Collezione di Paolo Chianti, and Chianti Riserva, Super Tuscan' Erte e China ... and more
Awarded Trophy for Best Sangiovese Winemaker in the World
Paolo Masi has made an excellent impression with the estate wines of his family property, writes Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.
And over the years, he certainly has too with many loyal Wine Club customers several Italian buyers, and other visiting Wine Club staff all while winning praise, high scores, medals and Trophies around the world.
Face to face dealing with trusted and talented local producers has always been at the heart of our business, and proved essential as the wine world has evolved so rapidly in winemaking, styles, regions and market. Paolo is exactly the kind of winemaker we look to work with, delights in finding and then enjoys building trusting, mutually beneficial relationships. He is passionate about his estate, his region; he loves tradition, but never feels bound by it; he's proud of acclaim, (receives a lot of it) but delights more in the honest appreciation of ordinary wine buyers, with whom he loves to chat at our Vintage Festival every year.
He's a committed family man, the third generation of his family to make wine at the family estate. We knew and trusted his dad, Renzo and we've been buying the family's wines for over 20 years. He's a very hard worker, and has been since he graduated first in his class at Oenology and Agriculture course at Florence's prestigious University. He always seems to be smiling and yet is intensely serious about his wines. It's hard to say if he's more at home with his family, or walking in his vineyards among his vines.
When asked a question, particularly about his vineyards, the furrows grow more pronounced on his forehead, he screws up his face and strives for precisely the right answer, gesticulating and leaning his head to the side (he is Italian after all).
The man behind bestsellers El Bombero, Gran Bombero, La Cantera and more
Head winemaker at Bodegas San Valero in Spain's Cariñena region
Acclaimed, Trophy-winning, and a charming man to boot
San Valero is certainly one of the warmest teams, ready to welcome visitors and openly discuss possibilities. I enjoyed meeting the team there and getting to know the style of their wines. Nobody can deny that Bombero, Gran Bombero and La Cantera are crowd favourites, and the quality of winemaking clearly is to be thanked for that.
Beth Willard, Wine Buyer
Javier Domeque is the head winemaker at Bodegas San Valero in the DO of Cariñena, in the region of Aragón. Though Javier Domeque speaks little English, his charm is apparent to the many customers who stop and talk to him at the San Valero stand at our Vintage Festival which San Valero attend every year.
In the early 80s Javier spent time in several bodegas in Penedès the home of Cava. In 1984, he started to make Cava at San Valero, he still does. As well as a full range of reds, whites and rosés in several distinct styles that are sold in increasing numbers around the world.
Bodegas San Valero had been set up back in 1945 uniting 60 local growers. With winemaker Javier Domeque and a thoroughly professional team at the helm, Bodegas San Valero has developed, expanded and generally became a far slicker outfit, than we had known when we first worked with the winery back in 1987. Since then, customers have enjoyed many wines tailor-made by Javier Domeque and the San Valero winemaking team.
Javier Domeque oversees the making of customer favourite El Bombero of course, La Cantera and Gran Bombero (El Bombero's Gran Reserva big brother).
Based in the southern part of Burgundy - Mâcon, Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint-Véran
Close friends with his partner, viticulturalist Cristian Collovray
Also produces wines in Aude and Limoux - known for high-quality Burgundy-style Chardonnay
Jean-Luc Terrier grew up in the small village of Davayé, surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in the Mâconnais, close to Pouilly-Fuissé.
In 1986 he got together with his childhood friend Christian Collovray to create their own domaine. The two became even more closely linked when they married two sisters. Jean-Luc is the official winemaker at the estate, which is jointly owned by Jean-Luc and Florence Terrier and Christian and Brigitte Collovray. They are based on the edge of the Saint-Véran appellation near where they grew up.
Jean-Luc's cellar is equipped with a pneumatic press for gentle pressing of the grapes, plus temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks and oak barrels. Jean-Luc ferments the Saint-Véran and Mâcon entirely in stainless steel while most of the other wines he vinifies partly tank and partly in oak barrel. The cellar has around 350 barrels for maturing the wines.
Jean-Luc was the first in his family to go into winemaking. In fact, his father Léon Terrier was the village blacksmith of Davayé - so he would have forged Heni Collovray's iron ploughs and shod his horses. Growing up in such an atmosphere, Jean-Luc Terrier undertook agricultural studies and decided to devote himself to the vine.