A mere stumble from Bethnal Green station, Warwick Smith – a fugitive from the world of finance – is trying his hand at making wine. His project, Renegade, was London’s second winery when it opened last year; but this year has seen two more wineries added to London’s winemaking scene. All of a sudden making wine in London has gone from a solo mission to a movement.
While urban winemaking sounds oh-so-cutting-edge, London is relatively late to the party. The first city-based wineries started popping up in California in the 1980s, and today they are found across North America and beyond. In San Francisco, a city on Napa and Sonoma’s doorstep, producers such as Broc Cellars and Donkey & Goat are taking full advantage of the Golden State’s bounteous vineyards and the city’s vibrant way of life.
It made sense, then, when Roberson, the British merchant that specialises in importing North America’s best bottles, decided to introduce the fad to Fulham in 2013 with London Cru. The company hired Gavin Monery, an Australian, to make London’s very first wines.
It’s not about capturing the Big Smoke’s unbeatable “terroir” – although perhaps the fumes of the Number 133 do add a certain je ne sais quoi – it’s about flexibility, marketing and lifestyle. The theory is that – with refrigerated trucks to keep fruit cool – Britain’s best sites, or even Europe’s vineyards, are no further away than some New World vines are from their winery. Once you’re not tied to a particular plot of land – or in London’s case, a particular country – you have great freedom as to the styles of wine you can produce.
Over the years, London Cru has worked with vineyards in Italy, Spain, France and England; although, with their winemaker Monery having left to take charge of Vagabond’s exciting project in Battersea Power Station, they will be focusing on English wines.
The ambitious Renegade, meanwhile, is functioning as a bar or event space that just happens to be a winery, and the perfect excuse for Warwick’s experimental bottlings – from premium sparkling wine to Qvevri Bacchus.
The newest kid on London’s winemaking block is Blackbook: under the arches in Battersea, Sergio Verrillo’s first few barrels of English wine are lying in wait. For him, being so close to consumers is the key; and he’s determined to fill a gap in the market, making England’s best still wines. Bearing an impressive CV with vintages at some of the world’s most famous wineries, I can’t wait to taste the finished product.
With four wineries to date, it looks like London-made wine is set to stay. The wines produced thus far may not be world-class, but as competition increases, so too will the quality. Urban wineries abroad have proven it’s possible to excel in inner cities, and I have no doubt that London’s winemakers will do the same.
Three urban wines to try
2015 Broc Cellars, Valdiguié, Green Valley, California, USA (£29, Roberson)
Pronounced Val-di-gay, this grape was once known as ‘Napa Gamay’ – considered California’s answer to Beaujolais’s light and fruity styles. While most of the plantings have been pulled up, a few old-vine plots remain – and Berkeley-based Broc uses one such vineyard (with 60 to 70-year-old, dry-farmed vines) to produce this beyond delicious bottling. Headily aromatic, floral and spicy with layer upon layer of dark berry fruit, it is juicy and decadently gluggable with extraordinary purity. A wine I could drink all day, every day.
2013 Red Hook, Macari Vineyard Chardonnay (Abe Schoener), Long Island, New York, USA (£401.65 for 12, Stannary Street Wine Co)
Red Hook is a New York project where three winemakers work with parcels of fruit from around the state. One of the winemakers is a sultan of the natural wine movement, Abe Schoener (of California’s Scholium Project). This Chardonnay from the Macari vineyard is enjoyably odd. Don’t expect traditional Chardonnay, but if you like Jura whites, you’re in for a treat. It is layered with honey, peach, cooked apple (a little Chenin-esque), and a touch of oxidative minerality. There’s a little natural funk around the edges. Would be great with a slab of Comté.
2015 London Cru, Barbican Barbera, Piedmont, Italy (£14.99, Roberson)
London Cru’s bottlings are legally not allowed to carry vintage or grape variety, so this wine is technically ‘Barbican 19/09/15’, a London-inspired name for the grape and the date it was picked. The penultimate vintage made by Gavin Monery at London Cru, the fruit for this Barbera hails from Piedmont. It’s not the most complex, enchanting or age-worthy Barbera but offers immediate enjoyment. Bright and rich berry fruit is caressed by a slight sweet vanilla tone. Crushed Parma violets mingle with cooked strawberry, cherry and raspberry, while the vibrant acidity drives on to a long finish.