Very interesting visit yesterday to Direct Wine's new cellars in Castillon-la-Bataille, a pretty town along the Dordogne river, not far from Tony Laithwaite's own property, Chateau Clarière-Laithwaite, in AC Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux. Reflecting its location, this is called Le Chai au Quai (the winery on the river), and is due to fully open in early June, when it will become a great wine tourist destination for the region (and a good addition to his nearby restaurant, Le Comptoir de Genes, which I wrote about a few weeks ago).
This is the French base of Direct Wines/Laithwaites Wine, that is now a huge international company specialising in all things mail-order, wine clubs, internet sites - in all, they deliver wine to over 750,000 customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Asia and the US.
Until now, their French base (which is where is all began, when Tony was spending his summers as a student working in vineyards) has been in a small office at his estate, but they are now renovating and moving into a former negociant building in Castillon. It has not been used for 40 years, but was where Tony spent a few summers washing bottles apparently, and the same (retired!) owners have now agreed to a long lease on the building to Direct Wines.
The winery part has been up and running for four vintages now, and follows very much the old-style negociant practise where the negociant puts his own stamp on the wine - so this year, there are three AC Castillons in production that will have both the producer name, and the stamp of Le Chai au Quai on the bottle, for example. In total, around 95% of the wine made here will end up being sold through Laithwaites Wine, most commonly from their UK base. What makes it really fascinating for the area is that, because of their merchant status, they can make wine not only from Castillon, but from many appellation of Bordeaux - and also plenty of wine from elsewhere. There are around 30 differnt wines in production here, including bottles from the Languedoc, Limoux, Spain wine, and a number of other small plots from further afield.
Once the boutique, tasting room and receptions rooms are open, they hope to make it a destination for their clients, who are being given the chance to become Key Holders. For this, they undertake to receive four cases of wine per year (from anywhere on the list, not just Bordeaux), and will be able to come to visit the cellars at any point, and take part in various events that are planned. I imagine they are looking to start something similar to The Wine Society's base up in Montreuil, in the Pas de Calais - definitely something interesting to follow over on the Right Bank of Bordeaux.
7-9 Quai Camille Pelletan
Castillon La Bataille