Capital Cru: Discover London’s Best Urban Wineries

You don’t have to go far for a cellar door tasting in London. Urban wineries are popping up everywhere and changing the face of English wines

Lead image: BlackBook Winery

The 156 bus runs between Morden station and Grant Road, Clapham Junction. The 137 new Routemaster trundles from Streatham Hill to Marble Arch. Both stop on Queenstown Road, where you can enjoy a £20 tutored tasting of a good 2018 grown on the Dengie Peninsula, Essex.

Essex grown, but Battersea born, into a fine ‘Painter of Light’ Chardonnay, ‘Sea of Love’ Pinot Blanc, ‘Slow Disco’ Sauvignon Blanc and ‘I’ll Be A Rebel’ rose.

Blackbook Winery, located on London Stone Business Estate, near Battersea Park, is run by Sergio and Lynsey Verillo. Amid oaks barrels, steel fermentation paraphernalia and the heady aroma of indigenous, uncultured yeasts, the urban winery makes wines from grapes grown in Home Counties vineyards. Like Clayhill in Essex and Yew Tree, Oxfordshire.

A graduate in journalism from the University of New Hampshire, US-born Sergio studied viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College and worked as a harvest cellar hand in New Zealand’s Ata Rangi vineyard, Mulderbosch in South Africa, Domaine de Montill in Meurlaut, France and two vineyards in California before becoming a sommelier and assistant wine buyer for the wine merchants Philglass and Swiggot.

The Roman ‘Tamesis’ was the first wine to be grown and made within the London area. Only 1,000 bottles were made.’

Lynsey is a graduate of Strathclyde Business School and worked for American Express and now VISA Europe. Wine and Sergio are her first two first loves.

The Roman ‘Tamesis’ was the first wine to be grown and made within the London area. Only 1,000 bottles were made. Now, BlackBook winery, which opens every Saturday at 5pm for tours, has the potential capacity to process 40 tonnes of grapes.

‘Each label features references to the capital, such as the subtle use of geometric tiles from Tate Britain embellished as earrings on the Chardonnay, and the patterns on the Pinot Noir bowtie coming from the textures of the iconic pillars on the Natural History Museum,’ says Sergio.

‘Our Pygmalion is made from Chardonnay from our friends at Surrey’s Greyfriars Vineyard and we get our Bacchus, Ortega and Cabernet Noir from an estate in Kent.’

More great London wineries

London Cru, Fulham

Fulham-based London Cru was the capital’s first urban winery, dreamed up by Cliff Roberson of importer Roberson Wines and his team in 2010, and launching in 2013.

At first, London Cru sourced grapes from across Europe, but since 2017 it has sourced only English grapes from West Sussex vineyards.

Check out the Baker St Bacchus – apparently, even in a cool year, a Bacchus can make ‘a fabulous aromatic wine’, making it ideal for English wine production.

Vagabond, Battersea

Australian Gavin Monery, formerly of London Cru, now runs Vagabond from Battersea Power Station. He has worked in vineyards around the world, and makes a very good Guildford Chardonnay.

The Vagabond team’s passion for wine has taken them from a little shop in Fulham back in 2010 to their Battersea urban winery and seven wine bars around London, each serving over 100 wines by the glass.

An innovative bunch, Vagabond’s wine bars have unique wine machines where, courtesy of a pay-as-you-go card, you can tap to try a taster or a glass of any of their 100-plus wines.

Renegade, Bethnal Green

In Bethnal Green, Warwick Smith makes Renegade wines from 15 UK vineyards, as well as some overseas ones.

‘I set up Renegade in 2016 after 15 years in financial services, mainly working for Russell Investments in London and Singapore. I was just a desk monkey and wanted to invent a completely new life for myself in wine. So I borrowed and begged. Our approach to winemaking is very different to the others in the space.

‘Firstly, we are the only winery in world that sources premium, predominantly organically grown, hand-harvested, fresh whole bunches of grapes from over seven countries – the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Albania, Portugal – and we’ll work with Hungarian, Swiss, and other grapes this year. We buy around 50% from England. Our philosophy is to make innovative, low-intervention wines in London.

‘If you love Provence rosé or Champagne, buy those. They’re great. If you want something new, brilliant and innovative, try Renegade’s very modern Sauvignon Blanc, Skin Contact Pinot Grigio Ramato and Bethnal Bubbles’

‘If you love Provence rosé or Champagne, buy those. They’re great. If you want something new, brilliant and innovative, try Renegade’s very modern Sauvignon Blanc, Skin Contact Pinot Grigio Ramato and Dry Hopped English Sparkling (Bethnal Bubbles).

‘Almost all our wines are wild ferment (no additions of yeast), we don’t fine or filter the wines and we don’t use animal or winemaking chemicals. We don’t add sugar to juice or take away acidity. Vintage variation will be significant because of that.

‘All our wines are British. They’re all made in Britain. We make around 38,000 bottles a year but hoping to build a bigger winery in east London this summer in time for the 2021 harvest.’

Renegade must be the world’s only winemaker that puts its customers faces on the bottle.

‘We ask people to put themselves forward every year and we pick a mix. The idea is the wines stay with the people. If we make the same wine in the same way from the same vineyard, it’s the same person, but we take a new picture of them with each vintage. So as the wines evolve, so do the people on them!’

Kyra the Sauvignon Blanc and Sara the Essex Chardonnay are recommended, and the wine world is excited by the prospect of a Gary…