Our History

We’ve been around for over 160 years, but we’re most excited about the future: an opportunity to make your experience discovering and enjoying great wines as straightforward and successful as possible.

The knowledge and passion for wine alongside the commitment to deliver the best possible service to our clients have remained constant since our 19th century beginnings. However, our founder, John Lay, could barely have imagined the world of wine with its internet orders, temperature controlled shipping or Robert Parker that exists today!

Would John Lay recognise us today? Well, he might lose his way in the trappings of twenty-first century living but we think he’d feel right at home when he heard the enthusiasm with which we talk about our product, the care we take to meet our customers’ needs and witnessed our tireless efforts to find the finest wines available.

  • 1854-1937

    John Lay acquires the business of Salmon & Son, Wine Merchants. Lay was secretary of the local hospital and became Alderman of the Borough. The Silhouette emblem of his father John Sarjant Lay became the company logo and was used until 2004.

    John Lay relocates to larger premises 10 High Street, Colchester, Essex. The business remained in these, or part of these premises for over 130 years, and for much of this time the building was also the Wheeler family residence.

    Lay's nephew George Wheeler, from an old farming family, joined the business, subsequently the business was renamed Lay & Wheeler.

    John Fredrick Wheeler becomes sole proprietor following the death of both John Lay and George Wheeler.

    The business relocates to 6 Culver Street, Colchester, Essex. These premises initially incorporated stabling for horse-drawn drays as well as a cramped bottling cellar, and subsequently commercial storage for goods marshalled for delivery to both trade and private customers.

  • 1938-1980

    Lay & Wheeler Ltd is incorporated.

    Wine cellared for customers for the first time. The widening interest in fine wine, and the building of modern houses with more efficient heating and without the need for cellars, led inevitably to the provision of cellarage and to what has become a Lay & Wheeler speciality.

    Lay & Wheeler's first national press tasting of Bordeaux' top wines. A depressed market in the early sixties, permitted an ambitious company to acquire stocks of the great 1961 vintage at favourable prices. It was Richard Wheeler's foresight to offer these to journalists to taste 'without the need to travel to Bordeaux'.

    Trade depot re-locates to purpose-built premises in Gosbecks Road, Colchester, Essex.

    Cessation of Colchester bottling of Lay & Wheeler labels. EEC regulations come into force marking the closure of one life-form of the wine merchant. Wine was now more safely bottled at source. Guinness continued to be bottled until 1982.

  • 1981-1995

    Three Lay & Wheeler wine shops open in Essex. As the demand for wine grew, the company took the initiative to build an enlarged customer base in the increasingly wealthy commuter belt of the south of Essex.

    Wine Workshop, Garrison Officers Club, Colchester, Essex. Rising star of wine journalism Jancis Robinson was invited to present 'Ten Great Vignerons', including Yquem, Vollrads, Mondavi, Prüm, Hugel and Ausone.

    Wine Market opens in Gosbecks Road, Colchester, Essex.  An entirely new concept of wine retailing was created, a wine warehouse attractive to customers seeking the most inexpensive, or the finest bottles. A tasting and dining room was integrated, together with a kitchen.

    Joint Winner, Wine Merchant of the Year. Since receiving this accolade, Lay & Wheeler has been the recipient of numerous important wine trade awards including on three occasions (1990, 1994 and 1995) Wine List of the Year.

    Large trade warehouse purchased on Gosbecks Road (John Lay House). Ever-expanding business demanded increased storage capacity, as did the need to house the growing staff roster.

    Lay & Wheeler's 140th Anniversary. A Special Victorian-style dinner, with guests invited in period dress, was held to mark the occasion in Colchester's Moot Hall.

    Sale of wholesale beer, spirit & mineral business to Liquid Assets Group. Changing market conditions dictated a policy of focusing on wine, a move which proved advantageous to Lay & Wheeler during the economic recovery of the late 1990s.

  • 1996-1999

    Business relocated from Culver Street to Gosbecks Park. Wine Market was renamed The Wine Centre. The extensively upgraded Wine Market incorporated a new 100 seat Tasting Cellar modelled on Bordeaux lines.

    Winner of Independent Wine Merchant of the Year, Best Mail Order Merchant and Burgundy Specialist Award. A special year for the company, marked by a special dinner for staff hosted by the directors of the company. Johnny Wheeler appointed Managing Director.

    Joint venture in Clayvin Vineyard, New Zealand with Georg Fromm. A telephone call out of the blue from Marlborough, South Island, was received enthusiastically, leading to a unique venture from which benefits continue to flow.

    Acquisition of Howells of Bristol Ltd and the Bin Club. A near-perfect fit with existing Lay & Wheeler provisions, the Bin Club offered a bespoke wine service dedicated principally to the requirements of British expatriates.

  • 2000-2005

    Establishment of the city wine bar, 33 Cornhill, London. Following two highly successful joint-ventures, the company took the decision to 'go it alone' with a flagship winebar and restaurant in sight of the Bank of England.

    Purchase of large bonded warehouse in Burton-upon-Trent. An inevitable consequence of the integration of the Bin Club wine storage (40,000 cases of customers' wines) with that of Lay & Wheeler. Subsequently upgraded and re-styled Vinothèque.

    Acquisition of the Peldon Rose Inn, near Mersea Island. The purchase of this famous local hospitality spot gave critical mass to the company's 'leisure retailing' division.

    Head office relocates to Holton Park, Suffolk. Wine Centre renamed Colchester Wine Centre. The increasing sophistication of the company's operations, together with the desire to modernise working practices, demanded an upgraded facility. Holton Park is in Holton St Mary, just across the county border in Suffolk.

    150th Anniversary celebrations, including Gala dinner at the Château du Clos de Vougeot, Burgundy. With its managing director a Chevalier of the Confrérie du Tastevin, the company enjoyed privileged access to one of the most spectacular settings in the world of wine.

    Winning the 2005 Creativity Award. Each year, the judges are given the option to make special awards if they think they are deserved. This time, Lay & Wheeler was singled out for its sale of the contents of a single European cellar, with fine Bordeaux ranging from 1928 to 1990. Winning the 2005 Regional Wine Merchants Award. The duel between Adnams and Lay & Wheeler for this award is an annual tradition. Always a fight to the death, this time victory went to Lay & Wheeler, which impressed the judges with the quality of its range.

  • 2006-Present

    A year dominated by the 'campaign' for Bordeaux 2005, a profound vintage, which generated enormous interest from the start. Lay & Wheeler's buyers visited the region three times to assess the wines, a total of over a dozen individual visits. Customers were introduced to the sheer quality of 2005 at a Vintage Briefing presented by the team, held at Savoy Place, London. Other 'en primeur' offers made in 2006 included 2001 Barolo, 2004 Rhone, 2005 Mosel and 2004 Rioja. 

    Lay & Wheeler becomes a subsidiary of Majestic Wine Warehouses Ltd. The acquisition of Lay & Wheeler is part of Majestic’s strategic plan to increase fine wine sales. Lay & Wheeler ranks as one of the UK’s leading independent wine merchants, given its key strengths in the areas of en primeur and in bond offers, broking, portfolio management and cellarage services. It is this fine wine expertise that proved so attractive to Majestic Wine; indeed, it is those key areas that perfectly complement the services offered by Majestic. 

    Lay & Wheeler’s first Rhone Growers’ Tasting held at Glazers’ Hall in London. A highly successful event, with over 200 customers flocking to taste the excellent 2007 vintage and to discuss the wines with the producers. 

    Lay & Wheeler’s preferred carriers, London City Bond, received the prestigious Drinks Business Award for the Best Logistics Company of the Year at the 2009 London International Wine Fair. 

    The highlight of the year was the fabulous 2009 Bordeaux vintage ‘en primeur’ campaign. A combination of superb quality and high demand meant it was the most successful offer to date at this point, with around 2,000 new customers joining us during this campaign alone.

    The 2010 Bordeaux en primeur campaign is the second largest ever, after 2009. Despite the world economic downturn our increased emphasis on selecting the best wines from less-exalted regions pays off, with successful promotions in the Rhône, Austria and especially Piemonte and Brunello di Montalcino from Italy.