In Conversion with Alex - London CRU's AWARD-WINNING Winemaker
English wine has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade. One particularly exciting development is the crop of Urban Wineries now operating in London. As part of English Wine Week, I popped downstairs from our Earls Court offices into London Cru to speak with Alex our award-winning winemaker to discuss all things Urban Winery.
Firstly thank you for inviting me down to the Winery. It is an amazing space but obviously we are in central London, is it challenging making wine in a big city?
Making wine in the cellar at London Cru is really like working in any other small winery, the main challenge is getting the fruit from the vineyard to the cellar in a timely fashion. Our growers are typically located in Kent and West Sussex so this normally takes around 90 minutes door to door. Once in the building our winery is just like any other modern little cellar. We make small batch wines – so normally no more than 3,000 bottles of any wine. It is labour intensive and tiny, very hands on, and we rely on a lot of lovely support from friends of the winery.
Being right in the heart of London must have its advantages then?
Without a doubt the advantage of an urban winery is accessibility. Londoners come spend an afternoon learning about English wine. It just makes the whole experience that much easier and more readily available.
Another huge advantage is that I have flexibility of sourcing from different growing regions in the UK. We can move grapes quickly in to London from some of the best sites in the UK. This allows me to be adventurous working with different grape varieties and experimenting with different wines.
Being just an hour from the vineyards I truly feel our London Cru wines tell the stories of the places where they are grown. My Bacchus this year was made from a single vineyard in West Sussex and we are proud of that. The climate there is different from vineyards in Kent and Essex. We are well placed to make some of the best English wines here at London Cru -transporting fruit one hour is simply a non-issue, it is actually very very normal and doesn’t negatively impact the quality of the wine when done right.
All the grapes at London Cru are now sourced from the UK. Is that important to you as a winemaker? What drove that decision?
Absolutely, this was very important to me. As we don’t grow grapes ourselves, we must place a huge amount of trust in the skills of our grape growers. I love working closely with them to achieve particular wine styles each year. Over the last two years I’ve worked with mostly the same growers, we have great relationships and work together to make great wine. As our growers are just an hour out of London I can always drop down for a chat, walk the vines, help out as needed. It's a really hands on, personal partnership.
Urban wineries seem to be popping up all over London – how do you see this developing over the next 5 years?
With a few of us now producing in London I think the surprise has been the variety of exciting wines coming out London's urban wineries. Not having vineyards or being tied to one place offers flexibility for experimentation.
I think over the next few years we might see more urban wineries pop up, perhaps out of London, in some of the wine regions in the south. This can only help the overall industry as urban wineries are an accessible entry point for many people.
Some people might say that an urban winery is a bit gimmicky, but something is clearly driving their success.
There are urban wineries which are a bit gimmicky, which don’t make very good wine. They can still be fun places to visit, but in my opinion they don’t really help build the wine scene they are part of. On this point, I think some of the most exciting English still wines are being made right here in London - the serious urban wineries are no gimmick.
Are other countries starting to see Urban wineries pop up?
Plenty of countries have Urban wineries, with Broc cellar in California and Noisy Ritual in Melbourne being some of my favourites. Making a winery which is easy to get to, fun, and also that makes good wine just makes sense!
I also don’t think that Urban wineries are exactly a new thing. My good friends who produce in Gols in Austria are based in the middle of their town as well as many producers in Beaune in Burgundy. I guess the term Urban winery may be new, but the idea of having the winery in the centre of a town or village isn’t a new one. It is however certainly new to London!
So finally tell us about any exciting developments here at London Cru....
The next few months are actually very exciting for the winery. We are releasing a bunch of our 2020 wines and LDNSPRITZ cans. The Bacchus 2020 has just launched on Roberson's website, this will be followed by a Pinot Gris PetNat, and later in September our red Pinot Noir Precoce (which just scored 91 with Decanter!). There also might be a surprise of some bubbles some time closer to XMAS if I find the time to get the bottles disgorged!
This all sounds very exciting I look forward to trying the wines!