DIY disgorging: Warwick Smith, Renegade Urban Winery, on his latest sparkling grenache

Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken

30 April 2020

We talk to Warwick Smith, founder of the east London winery, to find out why he's selling DIY riddling and disgorging bottles to customers

Over the last month or so, our industry has seen drinks makers, distributors and venues adapt at a remarkable rate in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And one that caught our eye was Renegade Urban Winery, whose Instagram is awash with videos of its customers attempting to disgorge a bottle of its 2019 Sparkling Grenache while in lockdown.

Founder Warwick Smith and his team launched the product in response to the crisis, as a way of getting their new offering to the people. They made just 1,000 bottles (with 10% of sales going to Hospitality Action) and when Imbibe spoke to him, they'd already shifted half of them.

We spoke to Smith to find out about how the wine came about.

Talk us through the wine itself

This wine as a product has been fluid from the start – it wasn’t a plan to make a sparkling wine, it was [to make] a still.

The vineyard in Valencia where we buy these grapes from... picked [the grapes] too early and that meant that they had a higher natural acidity and we weren’t confident it would be good enough quality as a still wine. The chemical composition of the grapes meant it was more suited to a sparkling, so we thought sod it, let’s make a red sparkling.

The grapes are Grenache Noir, and it’s an unusual grape in that it has red flesh and red juice. We ferment it on the skins, then do a second fermentation. It's also technically a wine on the lees so has all the dead yeast cells in the bottle.

What was the reasoning behind offering the 2019 Sparkling Grenache in this format?

It was never the plan. One of the things with the brand is to try and do things differently, and because there is no real history of winemaking in London, no-one is going to have a go at us for doing something different. So we thought, what can we offer people that is different and will allow us to get one of the 2019 wines out quickly?

When does the consumer ever get the ability to decide what style of wine they drink?

Warwick Smith

It was a bit fun, and we often do hand disgorging at the winery which is always quite funny. The irony is that even though I thought it would be a bit of a gimmick, the wine is actually really great.

How does it work?

So it comes in the bottle with a simple label that we printed on our office printer. If you want to age it, leave it on its side in a cool, dark place. If not give it a good shake, put it upside down. Quite quickly it is goes almost glittery because all the tartraits, so you want to settle it, storing it upside down in the fridge at least for a day.

Then you have to do the disgorging bit, which is essentially taking out the crap while trying to keep as much clear wine as possible. This one is surprisingly easy to do, because sometimes these bottles can be really aggressively sparkling, but this one is remarkably pleasant.

What does it offer customers other than the disgorging element?

The most interesting thing that has happened is that it gives the customer more control over the style of wine they want to drink. If you like a fruity, fresh style of red wine, drink it within two months. If you’re interested in seeing how it changes, leave it longer on the lees. It’s like your ageing your own Champagne-style wine. When does the consumer ever get the ability to decide what style of wine they drink?

We have no idea how long it will be good for (definitely a year or two), there isn’t much research on traditional method sparkling red. 

What has consumer reaction and uptake been?

Really good, based on the videos [we get sent]. It has been interesting seeing the reorder rate, which has been higher than other [wines]. People buy it as a bit of fun, then realise it’s really nice. People also buy a bottle and aren’t happy with their performance so want to do it again. 

How do you think members of the trade will see the DIY concept?

My first reaction is I just don't care. We have never dealt with wine critics ever because what we do doesn’t appeal to purists so we’ve never tried to. Ironically, without trying to appeal to them, lots of them really like us.

It gives the customer more control over the style of wine they want to drink

Warwick Smith

Before I stated this business I was just a punter, and now I’m in [the industry] I know all these names, but you have to remember that’s not how most people think. I... try to think more like a consumer. I try and spend a lot of time in the supermarket, Lidl and Aldi, and watch people and what they’re buying. 

We’ve made wine for four years now, and we found in the first year or two people in the wine trade were very dubious, but now they realise we make high-quality wines. 

Is it something you think you will continue once lockdown ends?

I don’t know, this is the only wine we can do this with because everything is in barrel and tank so if we do it again it will be next year. People have been saying they want to make it an annual tradition. I love sparkling red and this one just seems to work so I’d really like to do it again.

Nab yourself one of the remaining bottles over on the winery's website.

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