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by Fred McMillin
for July 25, 1997

Wonderful wine, fabulous food, gourmet gifts from Virtual Vineyards. Click Here.


Winery of the Week

The House That George Built


  • 1790—In Scotland, 25 year-old George Sandeman borrows 300 pounds sterling from dad, saying it may take him as long as nine years to make a modest fortune before he returns to retire. with the money he bought a wine storage vault in London and founded what would become the great House of Sandeman. with such a limited budget, he conducted his business in Tom's Coffee House on Birchin Lane. At the time there was a budding insurance business working out of another coffee shop named Lloyd's (you know the rest of THAT story). The game plan was to bring import bulk shipments of Port wine to sell in London.

  • 1809—By now a master of Port, George Sandeman is a frequent dinner guest at the table of the "Iron Duke" of Wellington, who at the time is driving Napoleon out of Spain and Portugal. During dinner, George mentions that the 1797 vintage in his vaults is the finest Port ever known. Wellington's General Calvert buys two pipes (equivalent to 1,400 bottles) on the spot.
The Rest of the Story: Well, George made his "modest fortune" alright, establishing vast shipping lodges in both Portugal and Spain, which kept him too busy to take that early retirement in Scotland.

As to his wines, I've not been able to get hold of a bottle of the 1797, but I did serve a 1991 to my class at S.F. State (College of Extended Learning). It was young and lively, like any six-year-old, with a fine future ahead of it. Did the class agree? Eighty five percent rated it very good or excellent, which is an exceptional endorsement. That's the Sandeman Late Bottled 1991 Vintage Port, $23.

Just the Facts

Name George G. Sandeman & Co. Limited
Founding 1790
Location London (plus Portugal & Spain)
Principal Wines   Ports and Sherries
Owner Seagrams
USA Contact Evan Goldstein, Director of Public Relations, (707)942-3356, a marvelous Master Sommelier...I've taken some of his classes. Another excellent contact is Paul Wagner, Balzac Communications, (707)255-7667...also very knowledgeable.

Postscript: Was that 1797 Sandeman really as good as claimed? Well, General Calvert's son discovered 200 dusty bottles of it 80 years later. It drank so well London wine merchants snapped up all he would sell them. I rest my case. (Source: H. Warner Allen)

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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