The taste of Lon­don

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

This is odd. One mo­ment I’m walk­ing to­wards West Bromp­ton tube and turn­ing off down Sea­grave Road to­wards The At­las pub. The next I’m in a win­ery. Can this be right, in cen­tral Lon­don?

Stain­less-steel tanks, check. Row of nice old oak bar­rels from Bur­gundy, check. Con­crete floor with drainage chan­nel, check. Con­veyor belt for sort­ing grapes, check. Aus­tralian in wellies peer­ing at a vat of bob­bing syrah grapes eas­ing their way to­wards fer­men­ta­tion as Cit­i­zen Cope echoes around the room – check.

“Yeah,” says the Aus­tralian, who is called Gavin Mon­ery. “It does feel a bit weird. I live 10 min­utes away and I’m used to be­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere to make wine.”

This is Lon­don Cru, Lon­don’s first win­ery. It’s quite a project. The idea is to make wine from grapes grown in France and trucked here in re­frig­er­ated lor­ries.

The first batch – four tons of chardon­nay – ar­rived a cou­ple of days be­fore my visit and has al­ready gone through a bas­ket press and into bar­rels. “We picked early be­cause I wanted nat­u­ral acid­ity and to get away from that trop­i­cal spec­trum,” says Mon­ery, lift­ing the top of a shiny vat of the “last press” juice, which is kept sep­a­rately be­cause it con­tains more solids. It looks like very good chicken gravy and has the gen­tle fra­grance of fresh pineap­ples.

By the time win­ter be­gins the whole place will smell of young wine, as sau­vi­gnon blanc from Touraine in the Loire, syrah and chardon­nay from the Rous­sil­lon, mer­lot from Jac­ques Lur­ton in En­tre Deux Mers in Bordeaux and caber­net sau­vi­gnon from one of the Mas Coutelou vine­yards near Béziers in the south of France all gets go­ing on the trans­for­ma­tion that will turn sweet, lus­cious grape juice into al­co­hol.

But isn’t this all just a bit of a gim­mick? I spend my life lis­ten­ing to wine­mak­ers talk­ing about the care they take to get grapes – es­pe­cially white ones – to win­ery as cool and as quickly as pos­si­ble, to main­tain qual­ity and pre­ci­sion. Is it pos­si­ble to make good – as op­posed to de­cent but essen­tially medi­ocre – wine in a one-time gin dis­tillery, now a wine store, in SW6? And why bother try­ing when the odds are stacked against such a ven­ture? It isn’t ex­actly cheap af­ter all – the sort­ing ta­ble, crusher and de-stem­mer alone cost £27,000. The lovely bar­rels from Chas­sin in Bur­gundy are more than £500 apiece.

“We got talk­ing about it in the pub over the road,” says Mon­ery, who grew up in Mar­garet River in Western Aus­tralia and spent time work­ing there as a cel­lar hand. “What could and couldn’t be done. I’ve seen com­mer­cial grapes trucked for eight to 10 hours in Aus­tralia – with­out re­frig­er­a­tion, which we’re us­ing. They do this sort of thing in New York and San Fran­cisco, I thought there was no rea­son why we couldn’t too.”

His am­bi­tion for qual­ity is high. I’d ex­pected the aim to be an £8-ish wine that would ac­tu­ally sell for £10-£12 (think of the up­lift of­fered by scarcity value). But Mon­ery says the in­ten­tion is to pro­duce wine that can sell for £15 a bot­tle, which is another mat­ter al­to­gether.

“I’m try­ing to get a good rep­u­ta­tion my­self, so my main stip­u­la­tion was that this not be a gim­mick. The last thing I want is cat­a­strophic fail­ure.”

As for the last ques­tion, a few min­utes among the tanks is enough to make you think – well, why not give it a go?

The ven­ture is be­ing backed by Cliff Roberson, of Roberson wine mer­chants, at the Olympia end of High Street Kens­ing­ton, along with a pri­vate in­vestor. Mon­ery takes takes two months out of his day job at Roberson ev­ery year to make wine; he has worked at Chave in the Rhône, too, and with choice Bur­gundy producers. Cliff Roberson owned the space al­ready: he freed it up by shift­ing some wine out into stor­age else­where.

As for the grapes, they come from trusted producers, all of whom are long-time sup­pli­ers to Roberson.

“There were no con­tracts,” says Mon­ery. “It was all done on a hand­shake. But that’s how it is some­times. When I made my own wine in Bur­gundy I didn’t know un­til two days be­fore­hand if I was get­ting any grapes. I’ve worked for peo­ple there who didn’t know for sure un­til the grapes turned up in their drive­way.”

Mon­ery says he’s off to a fly­ing start. There was a ner­vous-stom­ach mo­ment when the doors of the re­frig­er­ated truck were opened, “But the grapes were all in beau­ti­ful con­di­tion, thank good­ness.”

This does of course raise an im­por­tant point. How good will Roberson’s re­la­tion­ship with its grow­ers re­main if Mon­ery makes a bet­ter wine than they do, us­ing their own grapes?

Mon­ery grins. “There is the pos­si­bil­ity that could hap­pen. I’m sure I can.”

No gim­mick: Gavin Mon­ery, main pic­ture, checks on what he be­lieves will be a bet­ter wine than the French pro­duce. Above, the syrah grapes that make up Lon­don Cru’s first city-pro­duced batch

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