London's only winery? Mrs Wineloon would surely grant me an escape from the kids to West London to check that out, wouldn't she? Just to make sure, a quick introductory email to Alex at London Cru and I had been "invited" to meet Alex, have a look around and taste some wines the following Saturday.... "You've been invited to visit London's only winery? That's pretty cool, you should go."
I couldn't go all the way to West London on my own though could I. Another quick call and I had a co-pilot. "Should we make an afternoon of it?". Oh dear, this could get messy...
We made the 1 hour journey from beautiful South-East London to a rather rank West Brompton. "It feels a bit like Luton" was the most positive thing we could say about it as we left the station. Our spirits were raised when we arrived at our destination though.
At about 11am, Alex welcomed us into the cellar area, which felt eerily quiet, as the barrels rested. Only the occasional chug from the steel tanks holding the fermenting rose interrupted the silence. The equipment was all immaculate, gleeming in the morning light.
Winemaker Gavin Monery was not there today, but Assistant Winemaker Alex McNair showed real passion for the wines as he described the winemaking processes, relationships with the fruit suppliers and his experiences visiting the vineyards since he joined London Cru. Alex joined from Majestic 3 days after promotion to Assistant Manager when he got this job and chased his dream of making wine, not just selling it.
He describes the creation of London Cru as a good idea coming out of a drunken conversation. He thinks the idea came from a conversation about the craft beer movement but I think the guilty parties were too drunk to remember the details. In any case the deal was done, a passionate winemaker and someone with some cellar type space was all that was needed. Next requirement was some fruit...
The fruit is sourced from across Europe with the parcels designed to land in London from August to October each year. So the parcels were selected from sites where the ripening of the fruit allowed transportation of a different batch every two weeks over that period. Once the connections were made, they work closely with the growers through the year, taking control over key decisions in the vineyards from stemming to yield levels.
The wine making philosophy is clear. They look for freshness and balance in the wines. This really came across in the tasting. Here are my thoughts on the wines:
Albarino, 2015 (barrel sample) - still about 2 months to go in cement tanks for this but already a really aromatic nose of flowers and peaches. Nice body from the 30% oak followed by steely acidity on the finish with obvious grip. Even a tthis stage, this feels like a really well made wine.
Chardonnay, 2014 - sourced from the Rousillon, this is a really elegant wine. Oak is there but restrained. Aromas of lemon curd on toast. Really smoooth with flavours of baked apple and custard. Really long finish. This is an excellent wine.
Barbera, 2014 - I think this was probably my favourite of the reds. The fruit is sourced from Codera in Alba, Piedmont. Dark fruit and vanilla, real body and a smooth finish. The concentration is really impressive and the acidity on the finish gives real balance.
Grenache, 2014 - The fruit is sourced from 3 different sites in Calatayud, Spain. Deliberately long ripening 90 year old bush vines. Rich aromatic sweet nose of dried fruit, spice and pepper. A bit of liquorice on the finish. Not as refined as the barbera but very welcoming.
Syrah, 2014 - also from Calatayud, this time from a single site on brutal granite soil. Spicey and aromatic with sweet berry fruit and nice acidity. Really good.
Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 - fruit sourced from Puimisson in the Languedoc. It had all the classic Cab Sauv flavours of blackcurrant and menthol and i got a strong aroma of olives on the nose as well. Strong tannins made it feel quite young. This could age very nicely indeed.
All the wines retail at between £15-20.
At the start of the tasting Alex did mention that they had made an English Bacchus in 2014 but he had forgotten to chill it overnight and he'd just thrown one in the freezer for a blast chill. However we forgot about it as the first cellar tour of the day arrived. It was only a couple of hours later in the pub we remembered. Here's hoping there were no explosions in the freezer!
Tours are available every weekend, hosted by Alex. I would thoroughly recommend them. For £15 you'll get a very informative and passionate tour and of course taste the wines.
As for making an afternoon of it, we did..... returning home from the pub about 5 hours later, shortly after a craftily worded text message from Mrs Wineloon, "where are you?". Rough translation of this is "you've been in the pub for 6 hours. Get home and deal with your kids now".