Meet The Winemaker!
Published by Alex Hurley on 27/07/2020
This week saw the launch of the brand new, 2019 vintage of London Cru. For this vintage, London Cru created a new twist on the classic English Bacchus, produced it's first ever English red wine (a Pinot Noir Precoce) and experimented with a limited production of delicious, lively Pinot Gris Pet Nat. To celebrate these new wines, we decided to sit down with our amazing London Cru winemaker, and introduce you all to the man behind the bottles.
Hey Alex, tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m Alex the winemaker at London Cru. I’m originally from Melbourne, where I got my first wine gig working in the Bellarine Peninsula, with a winery called Lethbridge Wines. Ray and Marie, the winemakers here, are hugely inspirational, exciting and passionate. Randomly, at the time I was also working with Alex Byrne who opened Melbourne’s first urban winery called Noisy Ritual. These guys played a big part in my winemaking, and why I came to work at London Cru.
Since this kick-off I spent a few years studying winemaking and working in Italy and France, but finally landed in the UK to sate my love of cool climate vino!
What made you decide to become a winemaker?
Wine has always been a big part of my life. I grew up in a wine loving family, organised every holiday around visiting wine regions and even got married at a winery. There came a point when I realised this is what I should be doing…the passion took over and here I am.
Tell us a little bit about where you worked before London Cru?
As with most winemakers I started my career doing short term stints in different wineries. As I mentioned earlier, things kicked off with Lethbridge Wines in the Bellarine Peninsula. Here I fell in love with making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, yet what stuck most was Ray’s experiential ethos.
While being on the low intervention end of the scale, Ray is a master of blending and building components for a wine. From skin contact and extended lees stirring, to cold maceration and Pied de cuve, Ray literally had everything going. Firing on all cylinders all the time. This is thoughtful and playful winemaking – each wine will be different, each vintage will be different. A truly exciting and inspirational place to learn the trade!
GD Vajra in Barolo was also one of my most memorable places to work. Stunning fruit – I can’t stress this enough. Their vines are some of the most manicured examples I’ve ever seen, every leaf and bunch exactly where they should be. The vineyard team are the heart of this winery. These vineyards also have a huge number of different varieties which was great fun; Freisa, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Riesling…to name a few. This was a winery where you learn focus, to really focus on the little things, with zero compromise. It’s these tiny little extra things, that take a wine to the next level.
Then came Le Grappin in Burgundy 2018. Here I learnt that despite how hard I thought I’d worked in the past, I was but a babe! I was about to run a winemaking marathon every day, for two months. These guys invest so much love and passion into small batch, physical, hands on winemaking. 5am drives to the picturesque hills of Fleurie in Beaujolais, running up steep vineyards picking fruit, processing the fruit until 10pm, then finally home to a delicious natural wine filled Michelin quality dinner. Now wake up at 5am and repeat. These guys know how to make exciting wine and leave you with a lasting experience.
Closer to home I worked for Gusbourne in Kent. This is the most well-oiled operation I’ve ever worked for. From the minute you step into the team– everything – literally everything – has been organised, thought of, planned, which makes the job amazingly smooth sailing. Turns out this ‘planning’ magic also helps to establish one of the most exciting brands for still, and sparkling wine in the UK. Fruit quality was astounding good and completely convinced me that the UK was a force to be reckoned with. This winery sealed the deal – I was instantly excited about making wine in the UK. After working for Gusbourne I was hooked.
What’s the best part about your job?
I love sharing a wine I’ve just recently finished, with my wife and any friends who happen to be around. It’s good to be a winemakers pal! There is always a wacky experiment going on which just has to be put to the test. On a personal level there is something hugely satisfying about getting that first honest impression. I really should wait a few months, but after all the work harvesting, fermenting, barrel ageing, hand bottling I sometimes just HAVE to pop a cork to see how it all landed. A tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
What have you been working on?
The last few months I’ve been preparing the wines we’re releasing on the 27th July. Excitingly – the Pinot Noir Precoce is the first red London Cru has made from English fruit, and Petticoat Lane is our first PetNat.
You've been working hard to open the London Cru cellar door again. What are you most looking forward to about this?
Being an urban winery without visitors and tours is very strange. The main attraction of working in a city winery, is we can have great ties to the London wine scene, wine bars and local community. Bringing accessible winery experiences to Londoners is a big part of what makes London Cru tick. Our regular tours and winemaking experiences are likely to kick off again in August.
Who are your favourite vineyards and producers to visit in the UK?
Gusbourne offers a truly glamorous experience.
London is home to several Urban Wineries now - apart from London Cru, which are your favourites?
Urban wineries in London are in a great place. Blackbook and Renegade both bring something a little different to the scene. Sergio at Blackbook made a Chardonnay in 17 which I personally thought was one of the best around. Cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot with a low intervention ethos is always going to be exciting.
Renegade is a cool spot to grab and drink. I’m really excited to see what their new winemaker Andrea, pulls out of his hat. A mix of English and European sourced fruit keeps these guys mega exciting to watch. Sparkling red, skin contact Bacchus and amphoras, all in a little bar in Bethnal Green!
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