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George Sandeman, the founder

It all started in 1790…

… when the 25-year-old son of a Scottish prosperous cabinetmaker asked for a 300£ loan from his father to set up as a wine merchant in London.

This ambitious young man was George Sandeman, the founder of Sandeman, who ended up establishing one of the world’s leading Port and Sherry wine businesses.

From early on Sandeman specialised in these two great Iberian fortified wines and, following a usual practice in those days, began trading not from own offices but from Tom’s Coffee house, on Birchin Lane, London. Business was agreed on a ‘gentleman’s word’ and George soon gained an impeccable reputation, characteristic of The House of Sandeman to today.


The first to ‘brand’ a cask

At a time when ‘brand names’ were unheard of and wines were shipped in barrels not in bottles, Sandeman literally started to ‘brand’ the wood casks with its initials – GSC (George Sandeman & Co.) – using a hot iron to give the wine a pioneering ‘signature’ that guaranteed its quality and origin.

This is also the year George Sandeman moved the business to 20 St. Swithin’s Lane that, built over where an ancient vault, provided dry and cool cellars ideal to the ageing of the wines. Instrumental in the building of the brand, this historical site housed Sandeman head office until 1969, when it moved to Albert Embankment opposite Tate Gallery.

Historic artwork by William Prater

The Sandeman Port Wine Cellars

Undeterred by the distressed times and wars, George Sandeman travelled extensively in Spain and Portugal, where he decided to purchase lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia for storage of the Port Wines before shipment.

His perfect choice was a beautiful arcaded building on the Douro riverfront across the city of Oporto, probably dating from 1797 and uniting earlier existing structures, where selected Port Wines have been ageing in ideal conditions for the last 200 years – The Sandeman Cellars.

These charming cellars are a must-visit place in the city, where we still find in its sombre halls and corridors more than 2,000 aging casks of Sandeman Port Wines.


The largest Port shipper

George Sandeman’s sagacity helped the company get through the troubled beginnings of the 19th century – Napoleonic invasions and wars in the Iberian Peninsula, economic problems in Europe, the year-long siege of Oporto!

By 1825 the company was trading to several countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia. In 1835, Sandeman Port shipments amounted to 4,580 pipes, about 12% of the total and ‘no other shipper even approached this figure’. The strong leadership continued throughout the century.

Historic artwork by William Prater
Historic artwork by William Prater

Long established Aged Tawny Port experts

In early 19th century the word ‘tawny’ still lacked today’s recognition but, by mid-1800s, Sandeman already clearly identified and shipped ‘fine old tawny Port, rare and scarce’, and was consciously storing and ageing premium wines in the company cool cellars to become exceptional aged tawnies.

Ever since, the superior expertise and the vast stocks of old wines kept in ideal conditions in these cellars are the source of Sandeman Aged Tawny Ports, the recognized benchmark for quality in this style of Port wine, and the most awarded in the industry.


The one and only Sandeman ship…

The Sandeman schooner ‘Hoopoe’ – an elegant 75-foot vessel – was built in 1865 and operated by the company for ten years. It carried wines from Cadiz and Oporto, directly supplying important cities in the East Anglia coast, and frequently acted as a collier ship – carrying coal from Newcastle. The ‘Hoopoe’ was sold by Sandeman to Charles Coverlay & Co. in 1875 and, unfortunately, lost in the English Channel three years later.

A century later, a graceful boat donned the Sandeman ‘Clipper’ aperitif dry white Port label…


Sandeman Collection of old English bottles, since 1650, on display at Sandeman's Port Wine Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal


One of the oldest Trademarks

In 1877, just one year following the creation of the first ‘Trade Marks Registration Act’ in England, the brand name ‘GSC George Sandeman & Co.’ (in Sandeman casks since 1805) was officially listed, being one the world’s oldest registered trademarks still in use.

With the evolution and standardisation of glass bottle manufacturing, the branded name passed from the casks to the labels as Sandeman was also among the first companies to ship bottled and labelled wines.


Sandeman Sherry Bodegas

The drift of wars in the South of Spain disturbed Sandeman Sherry business in the early years. Initially, the company associated with reputed James Duff and Lacosta & Lagarde, before establishing own offices in Cadiz in 1809… that succumbed to the local siege by Napoleon the following year. With Sherry sales recovering, other high-quality producers were selected, namely Julian Pémartin in 1822.

The long relationship lasted several decades until 1879 when they dissolved and, supporting the growing business, Sandeman acquired all Pémartin’s assets, including the wonderful stocks of wines, vineyards, buildings, and the historic Sandeman Bodegas, in Jerez de la Frontera.


Success runs in the family…

George Sandeman, the founder, was succeeded in 1841 by his nephew, George Glas Sandeman, from whom all subsequent heads have been direct descendants. Their drive, enterprise and integrity – after all, the family motto is ‘Stat veritas’ (‘truth stands’) – built the company’s success in its first century of life and established a strong leadership in the business.

Several family members were involved in the firm, headed from 1868 by the prominent Albert George Sandeman (also a Director of the Bank of England and its 100th Governor 1895-1897), succeeded in 1923 by the shrewd Walter Albert Sandeman, who successfully brought the company, and to a great extent the Port and Sherry industries, into the 20th century.

Historic artwork by William Prater

The launch of a new era

Sandeman entered new century with a clear desire to reinforce its brand name, boosted by direct promotion actions, among other. The stand for ‘Porto Sandeman’ at the 1900 Great Paris Exhibition, for example, showcased very fine wines but also the Douro traditions, using modelled bullock carts and people displays to illustrate the winemaking, and call attention for Port wine. Direct sales to restaurants and other traders in continental Europe increased.

The Royal Warrant of George V was granted in 1909 and, for more than a century, Sandeman kept as purveyors to the Kings and Queen of England.


Defend wine origins!

Port wine’s growing popularity in the latter part of the 19th century tempted sneaky merchants to offer cheaper wines as ‘ports’, like reds from Tarragona. Laws protecting the wine origins still lacked when the firm legally pursued fakers for misusing the ‘Sandeman’ and ‘port’ names, a ‘good service to the Trade’ as noted by the press in 1904*, even if ‘hardly compensated for the trouble, annoyance and expense’.

The fight to defend consumers from frauds continued even after the protection of the word ‘port’ in England in 1914 and, later, the Portuguese Government expressed its gratitude to Sandeman for defending the good name and quality of Port (in 1920 and 1926).

* Ex: Harpers Wine and Spirits Gazette’, 24 December 1904 who also complained about the ‘powerful influences to supress reports of the case’ in the papers!


Advertising Pioneers

Always focusing on defending the reputation and identity of its wines, Sandeman was one of the first wine brands to label and advertise its wines.

Geo. G. Sandeman Sons & Co. signature on today's Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny Port bottle

‘Not original without this signature’

The leading brand, well-known for superior wines, Sandeman was often imitated. To ensure that consumers could identify the genuine Sandeman wines, the company added a signature – ‘Geo. G. Sandeman Sons & Co.’ – to all labels and capsules, and simultaneously ran press campaigns informing the wines were “not original without this signature”.

Clear ‘branding’ as a quality assurance was always key to the company and, still today, the ‘fire mark’ and this heritage signature continue to be part of all Sandeman wines.


Global network

Determined to preserve the overall reputation of its wines, in 1903 Sandeman appointed own agents in Ireland, selling its genuine Ports and Sherries. By 1914 the network was global, with agents in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Stockholm, New York, Montreal, Sydney, Wellington, Johannesburg, and Tientsin, as advertised in ‘The Times’.

Occasionally, these agents were merchant-bottlers for the commercial brands and their names also included on their labels, acting as a dual assurance to the consumer.


The first to ‘brand’ a cask

Sandeman was one of the first companies to bottle, label and advertise its wines. In the early 1900s wine advertisement was sporadic, apart from promotional listings of wines offered by the traders. From 1910 onwards, adding to a few charming black and white ads run in newspapers, Sandeman bought several paintings from artists of the day – ‘Sherryland’, ‘Partners’, ‘Pierrot’, ‘Picador’ – soon converted into posters, labels, menu cards, ads…


‘It makes men’s throats grow wistful’

In 1921, shortly after the dark period of World War I, Sandeman was up in lights in Piccadilly Circus, when its first neon sign was switched on atop the Café Monico. The animated billboard impressed many, including the London ‘Evening News’ – «It makes men’s throats grow wistful. First the full bottle and the empty glass, then the pouring; the glass is filled to the brim and the bottle disappears. Finally, in letters of a golden hue, you learn the name of the vintner».


Polemic? ‘The Partners’ respond!

Holding true to its values, Sandeman positions were often controversial – wine advertising, proprietary brands at fixed prices, defending wine origins – and, in 1926, a new series of press advertising tackled these polemics. For months, with fun and wit, ‘The Partners’ – two fictional characters, one senior and one junior – discussed the themes of the day, sharing with Britain the distinctive combination of tradition and innovation that makes Sandeman unique.

Trade support and marketing services – offering mixed cases of own selected wines ‘delivered to customers door’, visual merchandising, window dressing services, advertising previews or pre-sells – were also generally offered by the brand.


A devilish ‘Centaur’… leaves a lady in distress.

In 1926, working for the famed Vercasson printers in Paris, Jean d’Ylen created for Sandeman several posters, including the fantastic ‘Centaur’. The daring image gained recognition… but also upset Mrs. Smith of Leicester, who said it «looked diabolical and lustful» and wondered whether a lady was required to «climb the devil’s back for two bottles of port?».

Her complaint letter to the company inspired an amusing limerick, kept in the archives: «It seems there’s a young lady from Leicester, who would not say no if you pressed her, but the trollop who rides, on the wild horses sides, has put her off port and depressed her».
Predictably, Sandeman’s reputation for commissioning innovative works continued to grow…


‘The Don’ iconic image

Sandeman iconic image – ‘The Don’ – was created in 1928 when a new poster was acquired. The dramatic dark figure in Spanish hat and Portuguese student’s cape, holding a ruby glass and silhouetted against a yellowish-green background, was painted by George Massiot-Brown (working for the Lochend Printing Co. in London). French artists were in vogue at the time and, perhaps camouflaging his Scots origins, he signed the poster as G. Massiot…

A symbol of Sandeman’s Iberian identity, the image entered the brand’s national advertising in 1930 and is part of the labels since 1934. It soon inspired ‘Don’ figure decanters (the first were made by Royal Doulton in 1931) and before long shined in a new sign switched on in Piccadilly, in 1938. After appearing on the ‘Dry Don Port’ labels, in 1935, it started to be called ‘The Don’.
Possibly the first true wine logo, ‘The Don’ is as an essential part of

Sandeman identity and one of the most iconic trademark images in the drinks business worldwide.


‘The Jubilee Vintage’, the first in-house bottling

(decide year of harvest/bottling)

At a time when wines could be bottled by multiple agents in different locations, the trade was surprised in 1937 by Sandeman’s announcement that its ‘1935 Vintage Port’ was to be entirely bottled by the firm itself, ensuring that «perfect uniformity of bottling is secured».

The innovation was disliked by many in the sector but also acknowledged as the beginning of the end of merchant-bottling of wines. Today, all Port wines are bottled at origin.


Post-War and the Vintage of the century

Business was in a crazy rollercoaster in the early years of the 20th century – the ups of ‘belle époque’ or the ‘crazy 20’s’, and the downs of the 14-19 War, Prohibition, Great Depression. Sandeman later endured the II World War… and even the London cellars survived the air raids! 

Coinciding with the end of war, one of the finest Vintage Ports of the century was born, the Sandeman 1945. A decade later, the Sandeman 1955 was the last Vintage Port bottled by hand and closed using the ‘boot-and-flogger’ corking system, a couple of years before mechanised bottling begun in 1959.


‘Port and what?’

… asked many sceptics when Sandeman launched ‘Porto Branco’, a new white Port, in 1964. New releases by the trade were normal (this was a reserve Port in a beautiful design-awarded clear glass bottle) but, in the words of the London ‘Evening Standard’, «What is likely to produce apoplexy among confirmed port drinkers is that the shipper [Sandeman] recommend that it should be served on the rocks with soda or tonic, or dare I mention it? As a cocktail with gin and a twist of lemon».

A firm believer Ports are for all occasions, Sandeman suggested multiple ways to enjoy it! - simple, chilled, on the rocks, in a long drink with tonic. Still, it took decades before White Port + tonic (‘Portonic’) was seen as a refreshing, flavoursome and easy to make low alcohol drink.

Despite the old heritage, Port mixed drinks and cocktails were largely overlooked in the 20th century, especially after Prohibition. Sandeman has been actively engaged in their renaissance, working with and challenging bartenders, mixologists and chefs for the past decades.


‘Find the Don’ TV commercial

‘The Sixties’ saw mini-skirts, the man in the moon… and the first moves of ‘The Don’ as the mysterious character starred in a memorable 1965 Sandeman TV commercial, that made all want to ‘Find the Don’ and its wines.

Multiple promotional films followed that, with humour, mystery and seduction, revealing appealing contemporary wines, to be enjoyed with pleasure – Sandeman.

As rich as your imagination" campaign

Sandeman Bicentennial

Hubble’s launch to space in 1990 is a fitting coincidence with Sandeman’s bicentennial and its reveal of new horizons. After some drifting years, the brand launched a new global campaign (as usual, not consensual), rebranded its entire portfolio and revamped ‘The Don’ logo. Sandeman wines excelled at tastings, as an omen to the company’s regained vitality.

The Bicentennial marks the handover to the 7th generation of the founding family as, following the worldwide celebrations and his father retirement, George Sandeman assumed the general management of the company in Porto, and is today one of the most respected figures in the international drinks business.


Sandeman joins Sogrape

Sandeman is since 2002 under the ownership of Sogrape, a leading family-owned fine wine company, founded in 1942 in Portugal, and operating in five continents. Sandeman has profited from its know-how, investments and footprint, namely in the Douro, where Sogrape is a prime land owner and leading player in the industry. The many prizes and awards received by Sandeman Vintage Ports are a reflection of the excellent work done in the recent years.

Sandeman was in the founding family from 1790 until 1952, when it became a public company, before Seagram took possession in 1980. In 2000, when Seagram beverage business was sold, Sandeman briefly passed to Pernod Ricard prior to its acquisition by Sogrape in 2002.


The unique Quinta do Seixo!

In the heart of the Douro region near Pinhão, Quinta do Seixo is an historical estate home to some of Sandeman greatest wines, including a namesake Vintage Port. In 2007 this exceptional centuries-old estate opened a new winery, combining cutting-edge technology and versatility.

Perfectly integrated into the landscape, the winery gives winemakers all options to produce high-quality wines respecting the diversity of the estate’s 70 hectares of vines – with only traditional grapes, planted separately in modern plots with different aspects or field blended in multi-faced century-old terraces.

Quinta do Seixo includes an awarded wine tourism area that helps visitors discover the Douro region, its vines and wines, accompany field and winery works, and enjoy Sandeman wines while gazing at the absolutely stunning views.

George Sandeman, 7th generation of the founding family, and Luis Sottomayor, winemaker, toast with Sandeman Cask 33, Limited Edition

Let’s celebrate the 225th Anniversary!

… And have a perfect excuse to show the superb ‘Sandeman Cask 33, Very Old Tawny Port’! Celebrating Sandeman’s multi-generational expertise, this is a limited release of just one cask, #33, from a fantastic collection of 40 casks containing very old Tawny Ports, laid down in the early 1960s and including wines of up to 70 years of age. Each of the 685 bottles is unique, numbered and individually handblown as a replica of a 1790 bottle from Sandeman collection.

The rich history of the brand also inspired the ‘Sandeman 225th Anniversary Collection’, a 6-bottle set of 2000 Vintage Ports, which celebrates the people, the vision, and the stories of Sandeman. Certainly, a wine to celebrate with in 2099, at the dawn of new century…


The first world’s branded hostel

‘The House of Sandeman Hostel and Suites’ is the first world’s branded hostel, opened in 2018 in the Sandeman bicentennial building atop the ageing lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. With dazzling riverfront views, it combines charming suites and hostel rooms, friendly hospitality, and delicious cocktails and food at the ‘Terrace’ or ‘The George’ bar and restaurant.

Result of a partnership between Sogrape and The Independent Collective, this multi-awarded location is a highly coveted spot, among the ‘Time’ magazine places to visit in 2020.


100 Points! Perfect score for a perfect wine

At release in 2019, ‘Sandeman Quinta do Seixo 2017 Vintage Port’ was awarded a perfect score of 100 points by ‘Wine Enthusiast’ in the United States.

Produced exclusively from selected grapes grown at the namesake property, ‘Sandeman Quinta do Seixo’ is a superb Vintage Port, produced only in years that show the highest quality and the unique terroir identity of this centuries’-old estate, in the heart of the Douro region.

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