There’s a wine revolution underway in Brixton. You might not think that’s anything new, with the swift evolution of places to drink in the now ultra-trendy postcode now well established – but this highly quaffable revolution is a little more specific…
Words: Vicky Smith
New Zealand isn’t breaking news to oenophiles, who have long celebrated its impressive array of producers and varieties, while the stonking Sauvignons for which it’s most famed are not uncommon on the dining tables of British households or on the list at your local pub. But there’s so much more to discover, thanks to the expert winemakers and geographical diversity of the country, where many different grape varieties thrive.
Interest piqued? Say hello, then, to Melanie Brown,the 30-something New Zealander who is bringing the finest Kiwi wines to South West London via her Brixton shop, the New Zealand Cellar, and its online home of the same name. It was while working at the enormously successful Providores and Tapas Room – the Marylebone restaurant run by fellow Kiwi Peter Gordon, where she helped shape a wine list that currently offers the largest selection of premium New Zealand wines of any list in Europe – that Brown’s passion for the wines of her home country really developed: or, in her own words, was ‘ignited’.
Her immediate response was to launch the New Zealand Cellar website from the spare room of her Streatham home, in the spare time between her five-year-old daughter’s school runs, with the intention of bringing the best of the country’s bottles to British shores – or, more specifically, people’s doorsteps.
Shortly after her online success, Brown launched a Kickstarter campaign and secured the funds required to open the New Zealand Cellar Wine Bar and Shop in Pop Brixton, which is where I meet her handing over coveted bottles to regulars, all while shouting hello to fellow Pop traders who pass by.
It’s pretty obvious they’ve settled in well, despite the fact moving into Brixton’s brand-new community space was perhaps a bit of a punt: Pop only opened formally last year, and craft beer was more prevalent than the premium wines stocked by Brown, but the New Zealand Cellar team are now a firm favourite within Pop’s surroundings. ‘Initially we were dubious about how a premium product would be received here,’ reveals Brown, ‘but we have been overwhelmed with positive responses.’
It’s hardly surprising to hear they’ve been well received in an area teeming with food and drink fans, but it was actually the ethos behind Pop that appealed to Brown, as well as its location. ‘We were made aware of this fabulous scheme by our Kiwi friends at Volcano Coffee,’ she begins. ‘The concept of a community driven initiative coupled with the opportunity to develop local business really resonated with me. We contribute an hour of our time every week to support training in local colleges as part of our lease and it’s great – giving something back to the younger generation as well as the community is something I am hugely passionate about.’
As well as a stylish space where you can go and sip a first-rate glass of wine in the buzzy, convivial atmosphere Pop has cultivated since opening, the big draw of the shop is the knowledgeable – but not intimidating – service. If you’ve ever tried to blag your way to a successful wine purchase when you’re not 100% sure if you want a Merlot or a Malbec, you’ll know what I mean. But not only do Brown and her team have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the wines they stock – down to the finest details of the vineyards in which the grapes behind every bottle grow – they’re also incredibly friendly, and happy to come up with suggestions for exciting bottles based on even the vaguest of briefs.
As well as the people who work in it, a shop is only as good as the stock it sells, and it goes without saying that Brown has curated a selection of wines that both inspire and educate customers. And what is it about the wine of her native country that means we should be drinking it? ‘The overall quality produced in New Zealand is extremely high,’ she starts enthusiastically. ‘As the most sustainable wine producing country in the world I believe the wines produced and carried in our portfolio are authentic and convey the ethos and integrity of our entire industry.
‘There is much more to New Zealand’s wine than Sauvignon Blanc – not that we don’t love it – and the dynamic quality and diversity certainly appeals to consumers. New Zealand wine is approachable, charismatic and charming.’
And so, it seems, are the people championing it in Brixton…
Pop Brixton SW9 8PQ; 020 3633 3986; thenewzealandcellar.co.uk