Henry Connell and Alex Thraves are uncommon winemakers. On the outskirts of the industry these two don’t own a vineyard, let alone a solitary vine, and if they followed the méthode champenoise like other English fizz producers then their beautiful cans would simply explode.
Yes, The Uncommon is exactly what it says on the can – a fairly unusual brand of wine. But it’s from these industry outskirts that change is being introduced to the UK. And first up it’s the traditional 75cl glass bottle that’s being rejected.
Imbibe caught up with the warm and affable duo down in Peckham, their current stomping ground and the future home for their first urban winery.
The Uncommon launched to the prestigious crowd that Selfridges attracts less than two months ago, with Thraves and Connell pulling long hours on the shop floor persuading people to try their first release – a gently sparkling dry white, just in time for summer and the start of the festival season. Coming in an elegantly thin 250ml aluminium can, making it the perfect sized single-serve, they’re challenged with getting consumers interested in both a canned and an English wine simulaneously.
Having seen the US canned wine industry flourish, especially in California, Connell says he knew he could create a market back in England and had the perfect business partner in mind, an old flatmate from his time in Dubai, Alex Thraves, who Connell describes has having the perfectly complementary skills to his own.
‘The Uncommon is more than a novelty item,’ says Connell. ‘Wine wastage is huge so a single serve option will help eliminate that. It’s light to carry around, recyclable and chills fast. It’s simply the more sustainable way to package liquid.’
In fact its packaging has a carbon footprint that is 80% less than glass and is itself 100% recyclable, unlike glass, which still produces waste.
Sustainable it may be, but The Uncommon’s packaging is also quirky and undeniably English. Thraves, with his background in graphic design, alongside an illustrator, has created what they’re labelling an ‘uncommon world’ in the form of a botanical wonderland. There's also different descriptions on the back of the cans as to what the wine pairs with, ranging from the 17.01 from Waterloo, to a festival mud baths or bonfires, BBQs and Brexit chit-chat.
Witty and sustainable, but what’s the juice inside like?
Connell and Thraves are describing their inaugural wine as crisp, sharp and fruity – one that is dry and not buttery like other sparklings that rely on a second yeast injection. Rather The Uncommon gets its fizz from a small amount of CO2.
Taking 18 months of development alongside Litmus wines, with 100% hand harvested English Bacchus grapes, the first wine will hopefully be joined by a red and a rosé, as well as The Uncommon’s own urban winery in Peckham, something the duo have just started crowdfunding for.
They’re hoping for a cool £25,000 to help launch the winery and a state of the art canning line. From there they’ll buy grapes on the open market from sustainable vineyards in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.
‘Wine is a traditional industry and we’d probably be institutionalised to the way things are done had we grown up in it. We’re not wine people but we’ve made a lot of effort to become educated in it, including doing our WSET level 3 – but we are outsiders,’ says Connell.
Outsiders, perhaps, but in its short lifespan The Uncommon is already doing well. After launching in Selfridges it's made the cut to the online store, and Connell and Thraves have already signed with some festivals and on-trade venues.
'We're hoping to be in places like farm shops rather than high street off-licenses, but we're lucky we have the option to be selective about where we're sold,' says Thraves.
The Uncommon's crowdfunding page will be open for donations for the next month.