Clark Foyster Wines Ltd – a short history

If you look on Companies’ House you will see that we were incorporated in 1994. In fact the company began as FWW Wines (UK) Ltd, founded as a hobby venture by insurance specialist John Speller to share his love of Austrian wines. When John retired in 2001 we bought the company from him and we changed the name finally in 2006.

But we feel we really began on the 1st January 2003. Lance’s previous job (he’d only ever worked in wine) had come to an end when the company he worked in was sold to Berry Brothers and Rudd. He (very) briefly toyed with the idea of joining Berry’s, but their dress code really did not appeal. Isabelle, a Chartered Accountant, was working as finance director for a property company in the West End. They had two daughters, a six month old and a three year old.

So the business began from home, managing the young kids and working late when they’d been put to bed. Isabelle continued her paid job, and her salary supported the family and paid the nursery fees and mortgage. This left Lance to ‘play at wine’ which was realistically the only thing he was much good at. He’d passed his MW in 1991.

A foray into Austria – resurgent after the 1985 di-ethylene scandal – had begun in Lance’s previous job, so there was an existing group of customers and a portfolio of Austrian wines and producers to make up the nucleus of the new venture. We had met and been buying wines from Michael Moosbrugger at Schloss Gobelsburg, Gerhard Pittnauer, Franz Hirtzberger, and Roland Velich since 1998. For many of our customers, it is still Austria which they most associate with us. But there were wines from elsewhere too. From Portugal we had met Carlos Lucas in Dao (on the MW trip in 2000) and Manuel Campilho at Quinta da Lagoalva in Ribatejo. There were also some producers in Burgundy which had come as the result of a very handy tip off from Clive Coates: Sylvain Cathiard in Vosne Romanée, Jean-Marie Fourrier and the Heresztyn family, both in Gevrey Chambertin. The nucleus of the list has not changed, and we still work with all of the above. The selection of great wine is of course of crucial importance, but the relationships and friendships we’ve formed over the years are equally valuable to us. In many cases there has been a generation change since we began the partnerships. We feel so lucky that our love of wine is not restricted to the liquid in the bottle, but enriched by our now long associations with many of the producers we still work with. Shared experiences, laughs and occasional traumas along an often winding road over twenty years.

Bénédicte Lacour joined us in June 2004, and we celebrated her 15 years with us in June 2019. Isabelle quit her job in property in 2008 (perfect timing just before the crash!) and we moved out of the back sitting room in 2010 to our first real offices down the road. The business has grown slowly and there are now nine of us, working from offices just opposite Ealing Broadway Station.

The portfolio has grown too. Another half dozen Austrians joined the initial nucleus, more Portuguese, and more from Burgundy. We met Australian Mac Forbes in 2005 while he was earning money in Austria to fund his first vintage back in Yarra. He, together with our Belgian friends in New Zealand, Marguerite and Jean-Charles Van Hove, remain our only non-European suppliers.

In recent years we have put our love and knowledge of Greece – ancient and modern – to work. We began in Santorini and spread across the Aegean, so there are now seven Greek producers on the list too. Most recently, on another MW visit to Georgia, Lance was surprised to find that Gogi Dakishvili, an influential winemaker and consultant throughout Georgia, had no UK importer for his own small winery, so we added these.

If we’re honest, there hasn’t really been much of a strategy to the building of the portfolio. It has come together as a rather eclectic mix. In many cases the additions have come by chance. But all the wines are linked by having a certain lively freshness to them, and many show the wonderful personalities of their producers behind them. The styles of some have changed dramatically over the years, while others have followed a clear single vision. And we feel very lucky that our own leaning towards wines with freshness and lightness of touch seem to be increasingly popular and sought-after by our market.