Ahead of its hotly anticipated launch last night, ex marketer and Renegade London Wine co-founder Warwick Smith sat down with us to talk about what an urban winery means for him and London.
‘Many of us drink wine, but very few of us really know how wine is made,’ Smith told Imbibe. ‘It is a blend of agriculture, chemistry, the weather, uncertainty, back-breaking hard work, and a lot of love. Most people who work in the wine production game do it simply because they love it. It is unbelievably hard work.’
Located in Bethnal Green, Smith and New Zealand winemaker Josh Hammond’s Renegade London Wine is ready for the back-breaking work and hop nes to remove the stigma surrounding wine. The first way it plans on do this is by banishing the rule book.
‘In many parts of Europe winemaking is a very traditional business. You will often hear the phrase “it has always been done this way so why should we change?”. The great advantage we have is that there is no tradition of winemaking in modern-day London. We can do what we want and try new things,’ Smith says.
‘London is a fantastic city for innovation. People have open minds and are keen to try and taste new things.’
UK wine world
It might have thrown out the rule book, but where does its wines and the winery itself fit into the English wine scene?
‘In all honesty, making our 2016 vintage has been so all encompassing, that we haven’t really had time to look around and appraise the wider UK industry,’ Smith candidly says.
‘We are big advocates of UK made wines so it great to see more vines being planted and more people learning about and enjoying the wines that are made on these shores. These are mainly sparkling but there are also some great still white wines out there. There are a number of grape varieties that grow really well in the UK and most of them people have never heard of such as Madeleine Angevine.’
Smith thinks and hopes the UK wine scene will become ‘more inclusive’ and ‘less pretentious’ in time. ‘Wine is just fermented grape juice, so there is no need for poncey-ness,’ he adds. ‘Most of the people we see on TV who talk about wine have nothing in common with your average wine drinker. We really have to bring it down to earth and make it more accessible to all.
‘What we are doing here at Renegade doesn’t really have a traditional bucket or market segment to slot into. It’s a new style of winemaking and what we hope to make this 2017 vintage may be even more differentiated when compared to traditional wines that you’d find in a supermarket or off licence.’
For their first vintage, Renegade has tried to make ‘quality but approachable’ wines such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Sauvignon Blanc.
‘We have taken a fairly low tech and low intervention approach for the 2016 vintage. We don’t have the highest tech press, tanks, temperature control and pumps but we’ve concentrated on the fruit and bringing out the best it has to offer. We have used a few unconventional techniques for the 2016 wines but people shouldn’t be intimidated by the wines we’ve made. We think they’ll be surprisingly impressed.’
The winery isn’t doing the conventional thing when it comes to the consumer experience either. Three words: winery tap room.
‘Think brewery tap room atmosphere but with wine,’ Smith says. ‘We are right next to Bethnal Green tube station in a renovated railway arch. We will be open Friday evenings and Saturday afternoon/evenings to start with. If people like what we’re doing, we could open more. We’re going to play it by ear. Our main business is making the wine but we think the winery tap room will be an interesting addition to the London wine scene and local area,’ he says.
Smith’s wine offering extends beyond his own creations, ‘we will have our wines available by the glass and bottle as well as the occasional guest wine, some English sparkling, a couple of local beers, and UK cheese and charcuterie,’ he adds.
What does an ‘urban winery’ mean to you?
‘It means bringing winemaking into the city. It means letting people who live in the city enjoy, sample and learn about winemaking and all that goes along with the industry.
‘Historically, an urban winery located far from a vineyard just wasn’t possible. You need to be able to harvest and transport the fruit quickly, gently and effectively. Cold chain logistics play a bit part at harvest time when it comes to delivering a great product into London. We use refrigerated lorries to bring the fruit in overnight from the continent.’
Do you think there is an over use of the word ‘craft’? What does ‘craft’ mean to you?
‘There probably is. There is no law on the use of the word so I would presume many who use it, use it very loosely for marketing purposes. I think we use it. If we don’t we probably should.
‘Craft by definition means ‘an activity involving skill in making things by hand’. Our wines use grapes that are hand harvested. We hand press, small batch ferment in oak and stainless steel, hand bottle, hand cork, hand wax and hand label. It is a very manual process. By this definition, I think we can safely say we’re a ‘craft’ business.’