Meet the crew

Henry Laithwaite

Henry’s winemaking experience extends to the Rhône, Bordeaux, the Ardèche and Australia including at the original RedHeads Studio in the McLaren Vale. He still returns every year to make his beloved Wilson Gunn. 

There’s quite a story behind Henry, eldest son of wine merchants Tony and Barbara Laithwaite! From a tender age, he was dragged around vineyards and wineries on so-called ‘family holidays’ for as long as he can remember. Not a surprise that he’s gone into winemaking in later life; poor guy never stood a chance!

At 13, Tony told Henry that the grape had the highest sugar content of any fruit! Naturally, being young and curious, he asked “What is the second, dad?” … and the answer: “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, 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 Dad’s cellar to do its thing. Which for most of the bottles was to explode and spread itself over the precious wine collection…! But never mind, it was all in the spirit of adventure!

Ask Tony and he will say they knew from an early age that Henry would be a farmer-cum-winemaker. At just two, he would clamour to sit on the tractor with dad and mow the lawn. Henry also loved to plant things. He learnt fast – through watching, never reading.

Along with his two brothers, they of course were dragged around wineries in Bordeaux to do the harvest … it was just part of family life. In the early 1990s at Château La Clarière (in Castillon, Bordeaux) with all three boys under 10, Tony kept back a small quantity of grapes, got the boys to tread them, ferment the juice and make their own cuvée … “Just laying the foundations,” Tony said. And for Henry, it did. By 17, he had made his own wine properly.

Following his mum and dad, he studied at Durham University, met his future wife there, Kaye, then went into winemaking full time … the Rhône, Bordeaux, the Ardèche, then finally Australia. Down Under, he worked at the original RedHeads Studio in the McLaren Vale, alongside great winemakers Michael Fragos (from Tatachilla, now Chapel Hill), La Curio’s Adam Hooper and Shed Godfather Phil Christiansen – whilst also getting to know a lot of the top growers in the area like Nat and Jeff McMurtrie.

Each March Henry comes back to Australia to make a few barrels of Wilson Gunn for RedHeads. Everything is done by hand in small, open-top vats, the finest oak, lots of love and care. He also has a 6.2 hectare vineyard and winery in Oxfordshire making sparkling wine (first release 2017) and tiny 4-hectare Château Verniotte in Bordeaux’s Castillon, but it’s always lovely to escape to Oz for a few weeks to create his sumptuous big red, Wilson Gunn.