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The UK may not be among the world’s top wine-producing countries but you can’t fault its innovation and ambition when it comes to all things vinous. It’s no coincidence that one of the largest markets for wine in the world can now count its capital as the trail-blazer in a new wave of wine culture. In the last decade, London has seen a steady growth in wine bars that put independent producers at the forefront, as well as the launch of London Cru, the city’s first urban winery. So how did this city become such a fertile breeding ground for wine culture?
‘Experimenting’ with wine tasting never used to be something that was accessible on your average night out in London, unless you were matching your rather expensive tasting menu in that rather expensive restaurant with their equally expensive wine list. But in 2008, the first in a new breed of wine bars opened in Covent Garden – Terroirs put the wine rather than the food in the spotlight, letting customers enjoy offerings by the glass from independent, natural and biodynamic producers. Similar operations such as 40 Maltby Street in Bermondsey and Sager & Wilde in the East End followed suit, satisfying a strong demand for the ever-expanding knowledgeable palates of London’s wine enthusiasts.
So what other avenues is this developing wine culture going down? In September last year, London’s first urban winery, London Cru, took delivery of its initial shipment of grapes, direct from top wine regions in Bordeaux, Languedoc and Rousillion to start the process of creating the very first ‘London vintage’. Cliff Roberson, the man behind the project and the founder of award-winning merchant, Roberson Wine, has enlisted winemaker Gavin Monery to help with this vision. A warehouse in south-west London may be a slightly less romantic location than the vineyards of Margaret River in Western Australia where he learnt his craft, but Monery hopes that London Cru wines embody the ‘made in London’ spirit typical of the many micro-breweries and distilleries that have multiplied in the capital in recent years. Another thing that the London Cru project can offer is the chance for Londoners to visit a working winery on their doorstep, something that will more than satisfy the most curious of oenophiles. Although the fruit might not originate from the city, it seems fitting that the melting pot of London life can be presented by the creation of something quite unique from a variety of components and influences.
Provenance and origin are the new foodie buzz words and in a city that boasts not one but two fairs devoted to natural wine, it should come as no surprise that Londoners are seeking new ways to make their own mark. London Cru, along with micro vineyards planted near Kings Cross and Forty Hall Vineyards near Enfield, is picking up the baton of wine culture in this thirsty capital. Perhaps this is an entirely new chapter in the wine culture revolution but, given London’s past relationship with wine, not a wholly unexpected one.
By Carlo Pandian
Carlo Pandian is an Italian expat that loves writing about London, wine and hyper-local food. You can find him on Twitter @carlopandian.