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Charles Lea got into the business by mistake, catching the wine bug while working in Paris after leaving school. He went on to work at Château Latour and Moet & Chandon among others, followed by stints at Majestic and at Laytons, where he was buying director, before founding L&S with Patrick Sandeman in 1988.
A full-service wine merchant, L&S has just launched a private client team focusing mainly on customers who wish to make en primeur purchases and those unable to visit the shop in person. The business imports nearly everything directly from growers, buying from small estates producing ‘high-quality wines with individuality and character’, many of which are organic or biodynamic.
L&S is devoted to quality, often waiting years to persuade chosen producers to work with it. ‘We don’t buy wines in a box-ticking way – if we can’t find a Sancerre we really like, we won’t buy one we think merely “adequate” just to have one,’ Lea explains. ‘It really is a “grower’s cellar to your cellar” end-to-end service, and we really can guarantee this provenance for all the wines we import.’
Italian reds, especially from Tuscany and Piedmont, are consumed regularly in the Lea household, he says. ‘But then sometimes only Pinot Noir will do. Otherwise, there is great value in Bordeaux, despite the high prices of the most sought-after wines – I’m especially proud of our £10-£35-a-bottle range.’