London Cru is an urban winery set in an old gin distillery in west London. I was fortunate enough to visit last week and got the opportunity to talk about and taste wine with wine maker, Gavin and winery assistant, Alex. Both guys were incredibly engaging, enthusiastic and energetic about all things wine. Perfect company.
Gavin briefly explained the premise behind how London Cru operate. Clearly London is not the viticultural centre of the world – people struggle to maintain pot plants let alone grow grapes – so what London Cru do is carefully source their grapes from selected producers around Europe. Grapes are hand harvested (Gavin impressed the importance of this in order to maintain a level of gentleness and discrimination that could not be achieved using a machine), refrigerated immediately (to prevent any fermentation and to retain freshness), and delivered to the winery within 36 hours. Normal wine making protocols with regards to destemming, pressing, fermentation etc are then applied (the London Cru website is excellent at explaining the specifics http://www.londoncru.co.uk/about/the-process).
Whilst we were sampling the wines the three of us discussed numerous topics of interest. What was clear is a striking happiness and buzz from both Gavin and Alex at being part of the London Cru adventure. Gavin explained that 2 years in things are going exceptionally well: around 1250 cases were produced in 2013, 2500 in 2014 and plans for 3500 in 2015; on trade connections are great (the wine is sold at excellent restaurants such as Kai Mayfair, Harwood Arms and Craft and top wine bars such as Sager and Wilde and Vinoteca); and feedback from top tasters is very positive (notably from Jamie Goode, Victoria Moore and Richard Hemming). They are heading in the right direction for sure.
When I asked Gavin why he initially wanted to be involved with this project he broke it down into two key aspects:
- A clear focus and appetite to produce wine of the finest quality – this would be no “London” gimmick.
- The ability to work with different grape varieties – given London Cru meticulously source their grapes from growers around Europe they can pick and choose what styles they are looking to produce on a yearly basis. This gives Gavin a wonderful opportunity to ply his trade at making a number of different and incredibly interesting wines.
Overall, it is a very exciting time for London Cru and I am certain that once you try their wines you’ll agree. I am really looking forward to seeing these guys develop and continue to make impressive wines over the coming years. Now, onto the wines I sampled:
Alex explained how 2014 had been an excellent vintage for English wines. A warm, dry September ensured an early harvest with excellent fruit quality and good ripeness and when the opportunity presented itself to get hold of some Bacchus grapes from Kent, London Cru bit the grower’s hands off. On the nose the wine is fresh with notes of elderflower and a herbal pungency reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp acidity and almost grassy on the palate this wine is ideally suited to summertime drinking and is a perfect aperitif wine.
Peachy, creamy and subtly toasted oak notes shine through on the nose. On the palate, there is some butteriness from malolactic fermentation (conversion of harsh malic acid in softer lactic acid), but a stone fruitiness and delightful level of acidity demonstrate themselves well. This would work gorgeously with salmon fishcakes but has sufficient brightness and acidity to enjoy on its own.
Whilst Gavin is an Aussie, he decided to adopt a more Northern Rhone style delicacy to his Syrah 2013 as opposed to a more in-your-face Australian Shiraz. Fresh and floral on the nose with additional peppery notes it is the juicy red cherries and raspberries that grab your attention on the palate alongside incredibly delicate tannins. A very approachable, easy drinking, knock-it-back style wine.
Alex introduced this as a “serendipitous” wine since it hadn’t been part of the original plans but London Cru must be very thankful that they ended up making it! Textbook sour cherry and savoury notes from this Italian gem. Cutting acidity ensures a real freshness and perfect pairing for local hams (to the North West Italy that is!). Interestingly, the grape grower also raises cattle to make homemade salami! Delicious.
Bottles tried, now it was time to sample from the barrels:
Up first, we tried a Garnacha from Calatayud, located approximately two hours north of Madrid. The grapes come from 90 year old bush vines at an altitude of 1000m. The vine age ensures a deep concentration of flavour whilst the altitude ensures a long growing season. Excellent conditions for producing top wine. Lifted aromas of black cherry and plum work alongside an almost leathery note. I can tell that I am going to love this wine – sign me up for some now!
We then tried some of the Syrah 2014 which was showing more intense, deeper and darker fruit notes than the 2013 (notes above). 40% of the wine had not been destemmed but it is clear that the stems were fully ripe and therefore didn’t impart any greenness into the wine. Soft, well integrated tannins and a fruity nature mean this wine will be approachable upon release but it is clear that if you can restrain yourselves and let it lay for a while a whole new world will open itself up.
To finish with we sampled a Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown by Jeff Coutelou in the Languedoc. The wine showed classic Cabernet notes of blackcurrant/cassis with a menthol edge. Big flavours and big bold tannins suggest that this wine is going to develop into a star.
I’d like to thank Gavin and Alex for spending the time to show me around the winery and to explore some of their wines. I suggest that if you get the opportunity to visit these guys then you definitely go for it. I will certainly head back to see them and help with bottling later in the summer. In the meantime, please do check out their website http://www.londoncru.co.uk/