A revisit to London Cru, London’s original and first urban winery, was long overdue for me. Almost four years ago, London Cru was the first UK-based winemaker that I wrote about under the banner of Great British Wine. A lot has changed since my last visit, most notably a new focus on English wine, rather than wines made from imported European grapes. It’s true that London Cru’s wines have always impressed but, previously, it was felt that their English wine was more of a token gesture amongst the former line-up of French, Spanish and Italian wines. Last year saw the start of this refocus, and this month saw things take a step further with the launch of their 2018 vintage wines.
I had the chance to meet up at the winery, just before the new wines were released, for a tasting and a talk with assistant winemaker Alex Hurley, who only recently started at London Cru following previous English wine experience at Gusbourne in Kent. Alex brings a huge enthusiasm for English wine to London Cru and, sharing my appetite for wine with great acidity, appears to have found a perfect home. He's a big champion of our adopted grape, Bacchus, a variety that's really started to show potential over the last few years. London Cru's latest Bacchus, Baker Street 2018, is a classic example of just how striking the grape can be. It's a super-charged, high-octane example of Bacchus that is wonderfully aromatic thanks to the use of selective yeasts that provoke volatility during fermentation, helping to release the aromatic compounds.
The winery itself has changed significantly since my last visit a few years back. For a start, due to the shift to English wines, and the defocus on red wine from imported grapes, there's a lot less oak around. Instead, a small selection of barrels is present, predominantly as a winemaker’s tool to add texture rather than flavour. There's quite an array of steel fermentation tanks, with a focus on a smaller-size batch for varietal experimentation. The winery is also still home to an array of concrete fermentation tanks. Whilst these weren't used in the production of the 2018 vintage wines, they will allow for further innovation a little later down the line. With a small one tonne press capable of processing three cycles a day, the capacity of the winery currently stands at approximately eleven thousand bottles in stainless steel and four thousand bottles in concrete tanks.
The winery is still wholly owned and operated by wine merchant and distributor, Roberson Wine, who have recently furthered its English wine repertoire through a distribution partnership with Simpsons Wine Estate. Another new innovation that will appeal to Londoners who wish to learn more about English wine, and winemaking in general, is the 'Crush Club'. This limited subscription only club (priced at £195 annually) will see members participate in the sorting and pressing of the grapes following harvest, through to blending and eventual launch of the wine in the following year. It's a great way to learn about the key stages of winemaking in the heart of London, and builds on the winery's already impressive array of public events. More details on the Crush Club, and other events, can be found at the London Cru website here.
I took the chance to ask Alex a few questions about his thoughts on English wine at this particularly exciting point in time:
Alex: I couldn't have had a better reception to the UK wine world. Obviously, the grape quality was exceptional, but what I've really enjoyed is the openness and comradery from everyone I've come across in the industry. The UK is the most exciting place in the world to be making wine.
Alex: My path to wine wasn't exactly direct. I was working as an exploration geologist for seven years. My passion and spare time were focussed on wine, where I travelled all over the world with my wife tasting and exploring wine regions. This interest eventually took over, and I quit my job and started working at a winery near Melbourne in the Bellarine Peninsula. Lethbridge Winery was an absolute revelation for me; I had a great mentor, drank the best wines of my life, and was surrounded by passionate and experimental winemakers. This firmed up my commitment, and I decided to go back to university to get the science under my belt.
Over the last few years, I've worked for GD Vajra in Barolo, Le Grappin in France and Gusbourne in Kent. However, back to my time at Lethbridge, one of the winemakers I worked under was constantly exploring how he would open an Urban Winery in Melbourne. Noisy Ritual was born to great acclaim and, over the last few years, I've followed the stories and wines, and really appreciated the way they bring winemaking to the city. When I knew I was moving to London, this is something I really wanted to bring to London. I approached Roberson Wine, and the rest is history – so here I am, very happily planning the new vintage, and aim to bring lots of new novel events and experiences to London Cru.
Alex: I'm passionate about cooler climate wines, and essentially moved to the UK for this quality. Whilst I love wines from all climates, I really look for wines with great balance which in my opinion need a backbone of acidity. This is a feature of my palate my wine mates constantly joke about. I love acidity, red, white or rosé. I'm always searching for the balance it brings to a wine. One of the reasons I love Bacchus is this zesty crispness which you get, even in a warm year like 2018.
I'm passionate about low intervention, and low pH and acidity in my grapes brings minerality, allowing me to have much lower SO2, and essentially means I don't have to play games with my wine. From London Cru, expect wines with great balance, serious and textured, completely dry crisp wines, representing the cool climate they come from. These will definitely have a great gastronomic potential as I'm a passionate cook and diner, and, importantly, the majority of our London Cru wines are sold to, and listed in, some of the best restaurants in London.
Alex: Crush Club is my version of what my mates in Noisy Ritual achieve in Melbourne. This is something I'm excited to bring to Londoners, through three exclusive winemaking events- THE CRUSH, THE BLEND, THE LAUNCH PARTY.
There are no presentations, no lectures; this is hands-on, touching and tasting. Nothing is put on, nothing for show; this event gets Londoners in our cellar with me making commercial wine with our winemakers. The event is an opportunity to learn how great wine is really made, surround yourself with passionate wine people and great music, and taste a range of tanks, barrels, great wines and beer!
Alex: Bacchus is something I want to experiment with. This is the grape London Cru will focus on in the coming vintage – the UK climate suits this grape so well it is irresistible. There are also lots of exciting Bacchus examples popping up in the UK right now. 100% barrel-aged, skin contact, bubbles, sweet...once the grapes come in we will certainly have some exciting wines coming in the future.
I'm also hunting for grape growers to partner with right now that have high-quality Seyval Blanc, Madeleine Angevine, Pinot Noir Précoce / Frühburgunder, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. All these grapes excite me for different reasons, and I know they have the potential to make exciting English wine.
LDN CRU Baker St Bacchus 2018
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Bacchus
The latest release of Baker St Bacchus 2018 feels like a 'coming of age' for London Cru amidst the change of focus and winemaker.
It's made from fruit sourced from both Kent and West Sussex that is hand-picked and then transported over to the winery in Fulham for pressing. It's partially oak-fermented (10%) for texture only, as well as being aged on lees for five months.
The resulting wine is wonderfully aromatic thanks to the selection of yeasts that accentuate the grape's best qualities. It's super fresh on the nose, with a fusion of green citrus fruits, bright floral notes and lovely, open aromatic qualities.
The Baker Street Bacchus has a super-punchy palate, bursting up front with zesty lime and pink grapefruit energy. I really enjoyed the textural qualities and intensity of this wine which feels perfectly placed as a showcase Bacchus for the on-trade as a versatile food-pairing choice.
- Buy from London Cru £15.00
LDN CRU Rosaville Rd Rosé 2018
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Pinot Noir
The Rosaville Rd Rosé was made from 100% Pinot Noir that was sourced from Surrey.
This wine has a lovely blush colour, with a classic strawberries and cream nose as well as hints of red cherry and blossom.
It opens with vibrant acidity and lots of tangy red berry flavours, with ripe strawberry and raspberry flavours on the mid-taste.
Nice balance between the striking freshness and the smoother textures brought about by malolactic fermentation.
- Buy from London Cru £15.00