Patrick Sandeman – a bright light extinguished


See the more detailed tribute, Saluting Patrick Sandeman.

Many of us in the UK heard vaguely in the national news of a most unusual collision of skydivers, one in his 50s and one in his 20s, on Saturday at Sibson near Peterborough. The tragedy, and this word is not an overstatement, is that the man who died was the much-loved wine merchant Patrick Sandeman of the hugely distinctive Lea & Sandeman. The diver in his 20s is still in a serious condition in hospital and we must all hope that he recovers from the accident which took place not far above ground level.

I’m sure I am not alone in having found Patrick one of the most appealing and entertaining characters in the wine business. A total ornament to the British wine trade, he was a member of the Sandeman family of port and sherry fame, managing to be devastatingly handsome but not intimidatingly so. Charming but not oleaginous. Well informed but engaging. Great company, in a word – and extremely talented in his ability to hand-pick great wines from, particularly, Italy. He occupied a unique place in the world of wine.

I had long admired the range and ethos of the small group of upmarket independent wine shops Lea & Sandeman that he and Charles Lea had, over many years, managed to establish and I had always enjoyed his company. But the only time I spent a sustained time with him was a couple of years ago when he drove me around for the research necessary for A Tuscan search for finesse. He was great company throughout our few days dashing up and down the Tuscan coast and inland to Montalcino – and I don’t feel personally implicated in the speeding tickets he apparently garnered during our few days in Tuscany.

I was dimly aware that he was keen on derring do, but he certainly didn’t ram it down my throat. He was a thoroughly benign, modernising member of the Vintners’ Company, and I have to say that this is the very first death in the UK wine trade that has come as a complete and affronting shock to me, and doubtless to many, many others.

Our very deepest condolences to his equally delightful wife Katie, who also worked at Lea & Sandeman, and their children. I remember that he signed up enthusiastically for our Wine Relief dinner at Clarke’s in early 2009 and generously shared a great magnum of 1963 Sandeman port – probably the wine of the night.

A very bright light has been extinguished.

27 Sep – In memory of Patrick, his family have chosen the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust as the most suitable charity to channel donations. They will provide funds for spinally injured people to improve their lives generally and enable them to achieve their dreams. For donations please go here or you can donate by post to: Patrick Sandeman, Funding Extraordinary Journeys, c/o Southern Spinal Injuries Trust, 21 Chipper Lane, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 1BG. Cheques made payable to SSIT. 

Julia adds: I got to know Patrick a little better on a short trip to Italy, in this instance to Piemonte last February with Emily O'Hare of the River Café. I was particularly keen to go as I had no doubt that Patrick would make a great travelling companion and guide. He was the sort of man you wanted to spend time with, having all the best qualities of an English gentleman without any of the unwanted stuffiness, plus a great ability to affirm other people just by the way he was. He seemed to smile a lot too, and it suited him. When I saw him at the Bunch tasting in London last week, I felt rather shamefaced that I had not yet written about the wines we tasted on that trip (see the Lea & Sandeman blog for Patrick's account). When I confessed this to him, he replied that there was still time.