Of all the things likely to open up in London, a winery has to have been pretty far down on anyone’s list of predictions. But that’s exactly what happened last year, with September seeing London Cru begin the production of what will become the first ever commercial wines to have been made in the capital. This weekend, we called by for a look around, a chat with winemaker Gavin Monery and a chance to try our hand at wine blending.
Where is this winery?
Not in the outer zones that you might expect. It’s just a two minute walk from West Brompton tube, tucked discreetly away in an estate-flanked cul-de-sac across the road from The Atlas pub on Seagrave Road. It’s easy to get to but tricky to find, with the only clue to its whereabouts being a wall enlivened with a bright graffiti image of a wine bottle (see above) that would feel much more at home in Hackney.
And how did this mad idea come about?
Well, the idea isn’t entirely new as there are already successful urban wineries in a handful of cities around the world, including New York, Hong Kong and Vancouver. Given this London venture has the backing of High Street Kensington-based wine importer Roberson Wine, as well as private investment, perhaps it’s not that mad either. Australian winemaker Gavin Monery is the man in charge of the wines, and he comes with extensive experience both Down Under (starting in the renowned Margaret River wine region) as well as closer to home in Burgundy and other areas of France.
What does it look like?
It’s a fairly basic white-washed warehouse space, previously used for storage, and it feels very new. There are several shiny stainless-steel tanks, probably each around 7ft tall, and a side room full of stacked barrels, plus some high-tech looking filtering equipment. Despite its location, it certainly looks like the real deal.
There’s no vineyard, presumably?
No. Instead, London Cru works with high quality producers in Europe and buys grapes from them, driving the fruit into SW6 to turn them into wine. While this does present logistical issues around maintaining quality, Monery points out that in Australia and many other large wine producing countries it’s not unusual to drive grapes for ten, twelve or more hours to their destination; although it’s a different country, driving from France to London takes no longer. Looking ahead to next year, Monery is also eyeing up some English grapes.
Do the wines taste different for being made in London?
There’s no reason for them to, no. Monrey is predominantly creating classic wine styles of the sort that could come out of France or elsewhere; the winemaking process will not be directly affected by the winery’s location.
What’s the point of doing it in London, then?
If you look at it that way, you need to ask the same thing of a brewery or a distillery. No one expects the Kernel Brewery in Bermondsey to grow the hops used in their beers in Southwark, or for Hammersmith-based Sipsmith to grow the juniper berries for their gin on Shepherd’s Bush Green; the creative part of making the drink is still being carried out entirely in the capital. In fact, buying in grapes from multiple locations allows London Cru the freedom to blend together varieties from different European countries in a way that is not often done. Throw an Australian winemaker into the mix, and there’s the potential for some quite quirky, international wine styles that would feel very fitting of London. Monery tells us that he’s keen to be quite experimental, but needs to bed-in initially, so anything too wild is definitely on hold for a year or two.
So is it all just a bit of a gimmick?
We don’t think so, and Monery is certainly determined that it isn’t the case. He tells us: “The winery being in central London will get people in once, or get them to buy a bottle once, but it won’t keep them coming back and we won’t succeed. What will make us succeed is making really good wines.”
Is the wine any good?
It’s too early to say. But on our visit we got to taste a number of samples straight out of the barrels that they’re being aged in, and there was some very drinkable stuff among it. A really smooth, peppery Cabernet Sauvignon and a luscious and creamy Chardonnay were our highlights; given they’re already drinking well several months before being ready for release, it’s a very good sign.
When can we try the wine?
In the second half of this year. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Barbera and Syrah are all in various stages of production and there should be bottles coming out around September. Monery is looking to sell the bottles at £15 a pop, and aims for the quality to be such that this is a good deal.
Can the public visit the winery?
Yes. In fact, getting people into the winery is a big part of the game plan for London Cru. There are regular ‘meet the cru’ hour-long weekend tours for £15 each, including a walk-through of the whole winemaking process, as well as tastings from the barrels. There are also monthly ‘winemaker for a day’ experiences priced at £125 which last for around five hours and include welcome drinks, a winery tour, tastings and a two-course lunch in gastropub The Atlas across the road. Most excitingly, there’s also the chance to blend single variety wines to create your very own vino and take a bottle of it home with you. We had a go at this and it really is a fascinating experience, showing not only the influence and characteristics of different grape varieties, but also the impact of adding extra tannins, sugar or acid into the mix in order to create the style you’re after. You can see all the upcoming events on the London Cru website.
Will it start a trend for more wineries in London?
It’s certainly not out of the question. With a recent spurt of new craft beer breweries and gin distilleries, plus London’s first foray into the world of whisky making in over 100 years, making drinks in the capital seems to be bang on trend. Winemaking is a longer and riskier process than beers or spirits, though, so maybe people will wait to see how this one does first. Who knows, with this vineyard in Enfield also going from strength-to-strength, maybe London Cru will even be using London grapes at some point in the future...
London Cru is at 21-27 Seagrave Road, SW6 1RP.