Founder Sunny Hodge commissioned Harvest 1 from Puglia's Morasinsi Winery, as his south London wine bar pivoted to retail during Covid-19
'Before Covid, retail was around 2%-3% of my sales. Suddenly, [my business] had to survive on that,' Hodge told Imbibe when we went to visit the Elephant & Castle bar.
So Hodge, a seasoned wine expert and former assistant restaurant manager at Margot, turned to his flatmate Ricky, whose father has been making 'shed wine' on his olive groves in Puglia. 'I wanted to find a way of making that wine legally, so I got in touch with [nearby] farmer Sveva Sernia [from Morasini Winery], who had been experimenting with making natural wine. I basically proposed that I would give her a wine spec and she would work to it.'
The result is Harvest 1, a natural white wine made using a field blend of 50% Moscato, 40% Manzoni Bianco and 10% Chardonnay, which spends a total of two hours on the skin and resulting in a hazy, straw-yellow hue.
On the nose, gooseberries, yellow grapefruit and floral notes (rose, elderflower) shine through alongside some recognisable Riesling characteristics (Riesling is one of Manzoni Bianco's parent varieties). On the palate. good acidity with green fruits and a vegetal edge, with a slightly bitter finish. It's elegant, easy-drinking and delicious, and with not too much funkiness a great gateway wine for natural-wine newcomers. 'We don't make a huge margin off it,' explains Hodge, 'but for me it's more about getting people in the building and habit forming'.
Having noticed that customers using his 'sommelier at home' service were more likely to buy wines at the end of the week, Harvest 1 (at just £10-£11 a bottle) solved the issue of providing its customers with an early-week wine option. And for just £5 a glass on-site, it's an incredibly good-value natural wine compared to others on the market.
Creating his own wine was also an endeavour that Hodge never thought he'd embark on, but one that has sparked a number of new initiatives for Diogenes. Work is already underway on a red house wine (Harvest 2), with Hodge going out to Puglia mid-September to help with the harvest and an aim to have the bottles ready in early 2021. There are also plans for a second site, focusing on natural wines with Harvest 1 also being its house serve.
Being field wines, once each harvest has run out, new ones will be created and the old ones will be treated 'like vintages'.
Harvest 1 arrives in Elephant & Castle in 20l boxes (meaning no air contact during storage) and customers can come in with a bottle and staff can fill and cork it (£10) using leftover corks from spent bottles. It is also bottled in house using recycled wine bottles (£11).
Head to diogenesthedog.co.uk to find out more.