Date Visited: Saturday 13th June 2015
Location: London SW6
Tour Price: £15.00
London Cru is the first urban winery to be opened in London. Urban wineries are a little different to your traditional winery. Set in busy metropolitan areas and cities, they do not grow any grapes. Instead, grapes are imported from various locations across Europe, working with the winemaker from harvest before bringing the grapes back to UK for vinification. It’s an interesting prospect, allowing the winemakers to cherry pick the best grapes and regions.
Tours of London Cru are generally conducted in small groups of 15. The winery is set off the main street on a slightly tatty alleyway. Simple signage and the old building give the winery a real ‘artisan’ feel. We ring the bell on the simple black door and are greeted by Winery Assistant Alex McNair. Entering straight into the processing room we are handed a glass of a smooth, aromatic white wine to get us started.
The winery was set up and completed by July 2013. London Cru is a joint venture between Cliff Roberson, founder of Roberson Wine and investor Will Tomlinson. Set in a former gin distillery, the small winery was previously used as a warehouse by Roberson Wine until 2013. Winemaking duties are headed by Australian Gavin Monery, who has a wealth of winemaking experience from Australia and France. The facility is pretty compact; with the sorting, pressing and fermentation tanks all situated in a relatively small but effective room. There is also a separate area for barrel storage.
With grapes being sourced mostly outside of England, the time from harvesting to processing is crucially kept to a minimum. Grapes are harvested by hand and sorted to ensure only the best grapes are used. The bunches are packed into shallow crates no more than two bunches deep, to ensure the grapes are not damaged in transit. The grapes are then transferred into a refrigerated truck no longer than 2 hours after harvesting, and then packed with dry ice in preparation for the journey back to England.
Once back in London (usually no more than 24 hours from picking), processing will begin immediately the following morning. Alex describes the arrival of the grapes as like ‘something out of an 80’s rock video’, with the eerie flow of the dry ice fog once the truck doors are opened. We are talked through the winemaking process for both the white and red wines, a detailed overview helped by the wineries small footprint.
Processing varies depending on grape variety. Chardonnay grapes are sorted on a vibrating table a second time before whole bunches are pressed in an Italian hydraulic basket press. The grape juice is then transferred to steel tanks for 12-24 hours before partially clarified juice is transferred into old French oak. At this stage yeast is introduced to start the first fermentation process, which usually lasts around 20 days. Secondary malolactic fermentation then takes place, converting the tart malic acid to smoother, softer lactic acid. After this, the wine is barrel aged for around 8 months where it will develop character and complexity. The 2013 Chardonnay received recognition from various wine critics and sold out very quickly. I was lucky to try the 2014 vintage (tasting notes below), which was only bottled last week. This year a second white, a Bacchus, joins the lineup, with grapes supplied from Sandhurst Vineyards in Kent. Just 1900 bottles of the Bacchus have been produced, along with 3800 of the Chardonnay.
An impressive array of red wines are made by London Cru. 2013 saw release of a Syrah with grapes from Roussillon, a Barbera from Piemonte and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Languedoc. The 2014 vintage will see the addition of a Grenache of Spanish origin, where the 2014 Syrah also originates from. All red grapes are hand sorted thoroughly. Berries are de-stemmed on a German Armbruster machine. Whole berry fermentation then begins in large open topped fermentation tanks, with maceration of the grape mass and juice for up to three weeks. As the grape mass, which contains all the colour and tannin, will float to the top over time, the wine has to be agitated daily. This is either done with a gentle flowing pump or by hand. The exact length of this process varies and will be determined by daily review of the sugar level and taste profile. Eventually the extracted wine is combined with juice from the pressed skins and then settled for a further 1-5 days in tanks. The wine is then transferred to French oak barrels, for secondary malolactic fermentation, and then finally barrel aged for up to 12 months.
The wine making process was described very well. Very easy to understand but with a level of detail that is beyond what many will be aware of. It’s a great introduction to the intricacies of winemaking, and demonstrates just how crucial the input of the winemaker is. Each grape variety and each vintage will be treated uniquely – from the inclusion of whole bunches to the length of fermentation and finally barrel aging process. It’s clear the wines are lovingly crafted to demonstrate the best possible characteristics of some of Europe’s finest grape varieties.
After the concise description of the winemaking process we move through to the the barrel storage area, where a tasting table with all of the London Cru wines is set up. We are offered tastings of the latest 2014 Chardonnay, all three of the 2013 red wines and also two of the 2014 red wines, which were tasted from the barrel. It was particularly interesting to see how the 2014 Syrah compared to the first vintage, with the 2014 coming from a much hotter climate giving the wine both noticeable deeper colour and viscosity, as well as a much more lively nose and palate.
Interestingly, the 2013 wines are simply labelled as Red Wine 1, 2 and 3. There is no mention of the vintage or the grape varieties. This is due to European labelling regulations, which is a real shame as the wines have such an interesting heritage. It seems to be something they are working around on the 2014 release, as the recently bottled Chardonnay and Bacchus mention both the variety and list the vineyard where the grapes were sourced from on the reverse label.
Onto the wines themselves, I've summarised my thoughts on the wines I tried yesterday below.
LDN CRU Bacchus 2014
Grapes: Bacchus from Kent, England, Price: £15.00
1900 bottles produced from Bacchus grapes supplied by Sandhurst Vineyards. This was 60% tank fermented combined with 40% wine that was barrel fermented.
The wine retains the rich floral and tropical aromatics of Bacchus, whilst having an intriguing vanilla and toasty edge thanks to the texture induced by oak aging and battonage.
Very good acidity with a crisp citrus bite; lemon juice, lime zest with green apples and a good mix of tropical fruit flavours. Very interesting texture on the mid taste, which leads to a vanilla and elderflower finish.
I wouldn’t have guessed this was a Bacchus, the uniqueness made it one of the highlights from the lineup for me.
What We Thought:
LDN CRU Chardonnay 2014
Grapes: Chardonnay from Rousillon, France, Price: £17.00
Made with grapes sourced from Château de Corneilla in Roussillon, this was a 3800 bottle release and was only bottled last week!
Really rich nose of crisp green apples, citrus notes with a slight tropical edge, defined oak and toasted vanilla.
The palate is very well judged; the wine retains a really fresh crisp acidity due to only partial malolactic fermentation. A big dose of crisp green apple flavours leads to a smoother refined mouthfeel. Complex notes of vanilla and toasted bread, this wine should continue to evolve and improve with more time in the bottle.
What We Thought:
London Cru Red Wine 1 – Syrah 2013
Grapes: Syrah from Rousillon, France, Price: £15.00
Cooler climate Syrah (compared to the upcoming 2014 vintageof Spanish origin) made with grapes from Château de Corneilla in Roussillon, 2700 bottle release.
A very light expression of Syrah, with red berry nose of raspberry and cherry. Slight hints of dark flowers, marzipan and vanilla.
Very smooth and light on the palate, red berry flavours with medium acidity and very light tannin. I found the wine had a slightly metallic aftertaste, but overall a very clean and pleasing red.
Winemaker suggests serving slightly chilled; a Syrah for Pinot Noir lovers?
What We Thought:
London Cru Red Wine 2 – Barbera 2013
Grapes: Barbera from Piemonte, Italy, Price: £15.00
My favourite of the reds from London Cru, made with grapes from Piemonte and only 1800 bottles produced.
Unlike the 2013 Syrah, the Barbera has an intense nose that jumps out and grabs your attention. Rich red cherry aromatics with notes of kirsh, liquorice and dried herbs.
Palate is a rich and full-bodied mixture of sumptuous ripe red and black fruit. Great rich acidity pairs well with the sour black cherry flavours. It’s a rich, rugged beauty with strong tannin, lasting black fruit, liquorice & vanilla flavours.
What We Thought:
London Cru Red Wine 3 – Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon from Languedox, France, Price: £15.00
The Cabernet Sauvignon is made with grapes from Mas Coutelou in Languedoc, a biodynamic vineyard and produce of natural wines.
This is another big grown up red wine. Nose is a rich mixture of blackcurrant fruit & leaf with savoury and dark chocolate subtleties.
The palate was the most diverse of the wines on offer. Initially dominated by fresh rich blackcurrant flavours, smooth mid taste with ample tannin, almost savoury dried mushroom and slight green pepper flavours.
Great depth and length of flavour on the finish.
What We Thought:
LDN CRU – Syrah 2014
Grapes: Syrah from Spain, Price: £TBC
We tried the 2014 Syrah from the barrel, mid-aging. It still has a few months to go before bottling & release, but is a lot more expressive than the 2013.
This hot-climate Syrah with grapes originating from Spain. Beautiful nose of dark black fruit, crushed black pepper and toasted spices.
Really dark colour in the glass, almost purple with a thick glass hugging viscosity. The palate is an unctuous mix rich fruity berry mix of blackcurrant and strawberry with a rich peppery bite and flavours of toasted cinnamon. Great levels of acidity and rich chewy tannin.
As this wine is still in barrel and not a finished blend, I wont give a rating, but I'm already looking forward to it’s release later in the year.
Overall, the tour of London Cru was a most interesting experience. Whilst focused on the wine processing only, the level of information given would be an excellent introduction to the winemaking process. The site is located just a few minutes away from West Brompton station, and I would highly recommend the visit to anyone in or around London as it's so easily accessible. The website described the tour as being 45-50 minutes, but in total, including the extensive tasting we spent a good one and a half hours there. Highly recommended and also worth noting that London Cru also have other tasting events and activities including their 'Winemaker for a Day' course, as well as private and corporate functions.
John catches up with London Cru winemaker Alex Hurley to talk and taste through his new Bacchus, Pinot Noir Précoce and Pinot Gris Pet-Nat.
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John's latest round-up of English wine recommendations to enjoy this summer.