In the fourth of our English vineyard interviews we chat to the urban winery, London CRU, and find out why making wine in London isn't as crazy as it sounds.
Hi Lyndsey, welcome to the English Wine Collection’s UK wine focus blog. To kick things off could you provide some background on yourself and the team at London CRU.
Originally founded by Cliff Roberson and another partner in 2012, London Cru is now solely owned by Cliff and the London Cru wines will be made and sold by Roberson Wine.
Cliff has been in the trade for over 50 years but Roberson Wine is anything but establishment. A picture of Jimi Hendrix takes pride of place in our tasting room and, while we’re not about to set fire to our corkscrews, we do choose to put innovation at the heart of everything we do.
As the first UK merchant to spot the new-wave revolution taking place in the US, and the first to make our own wines in London at our own urban winery, we’re a group of energetic, engaged people who lead where others follow.
Where did the idea for an urban winery come from?
Urban wineries are not a new concept, they have existed in the US for the last 30 years and as London is such a vibrant city, always open to new ideas, it seemed a perfect idea to open a winery in SW6!
How long has London CRU been going?
The first release of wines were made here in 2013.
I think I can guess how it came about, but tell us about the name London CRU?
It is the synthesis of what we are doing and we think it reflects ‘quality wines made in London’ perfectly!
How many wines do you produce in total?
We are small enough to be flexible and produce an exciting variety of wines, which can be different year on year. In 2016 we produced an English Bacchus, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and for 2017 we have just bottled a Syrah from Spain and an English Chardonnay.
Where do you source your grapes from?
Our first releases were sourced from vineyards across Europe but from 2017, and under the guidance of Roberson Wine, we will be making only English wines. We are now sourcing all our grapes from only English vineyards and are excited to be a small part of the growth of English still wine production.
We made our first all English wine in 2014 – a Bacchus with grapes from Kent – and repeated this successful line in 2016, with fruit from Kent and Essex. This month (June) we will be releasing our first English Chardonnay, with grapes from West Sussex and are currently exploring sources for our 2018 vintage – watch this space!
It’s often a dream of most winemakers to own their own vineyard. Does London CRU have any plans to plant its own vines? - I’m not sure what the ‘terroir’ in London is like!
I think we can agree that whilst a fantastic place to establish the winery, our alleyway in SW6 may not be the ideal place for us to grow our grapes. We are looking forward to developing the close relationships we have made with the English wine community and are excited by the opportunities that will offer.
Sourcing the best grapes for your wines must involve a lot of tasting. How many vineyards do you source your grapes from?
Our winemaker has a clear idea of the particular criteria he expects from a vineyard, that vision enables him to single out those which offer the particular factors we consider important. Whether it is from the overseas European vineyards of our early vintages, or from home turf for our more recent releases, we feel proud to work with top quality growers of fruit.
Are there any plans for a new London CRU wine? A sparkling perhaps?
This year we want to continue our reputation for innovation and would love to keep you posted on what is up and coming. Sparkling is not on the cards for the foreseeable future.
Your winery is based in West London. Do you think there are benefits to having a ‘city winery?
Our proximity to West Brompton tube makes it easy for wine-loving Londoners to come and find out more about how wine is made, and taste an award-winning selection of interesting wines, without having to travel too far afield. We’re delighted that every year we have a merry band of volunteers who want to get their hands dirty so to speak. From the wine-making point of view, the winery is based below the offices of Roberson Wine and so, whilst we have a dedicated winemaker, we have a team of energetic and engaged staff ready to taste and get involved with the evolution of the wine.
Where did the idea for the wine names come from? Do the names have any extra meaning?
For wine legislation reasons, we are unable to name the grape varietal on the bottle for wines made with grapes sourced from outside England. As such, we had to look for a creative way help the consumer know what they were drinking. We thought the idea of reflecting the diversity of London and naming each varietal with a different London street name, that also happens to phonetically sound like the particular grape, was a great one. For example, our Limoux Chardonnay is called Charlotte St, our Spanish Syrah is Sydney St and so on. You’ll also note that each label has a different shape leaf outline and these are an accurate reflection of the grape variety leaf too, so there is plenty to talk about as you drain the bottle!
If you ran out of English wine what would be your ‘go to’ choice?
With one million new vines planted in England last year and the same predicted for 2018 we believe the English wine market will continue to go from strength to strength and look forward to sustaining production of quality English wines hand-made in London.
Have you found there are any great pairings to your wines? Where should we start?
If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of our 2016 English Bacchus, you’ll know that the quintessentially English profile with aromas of stone fruits, cut grass and hedgerow, is complemented perfectly by a tasty crab linguine, or a big plate of fish and chips. Our deliciously different 2017 English Chardonnay is wonderful with a plate of Whitstable Bay oysters.
Are there any plans to make changes to the winery this year?
We began a period of refurbishment in the winery at the end of last year and it is now looking great! We welcome visitors, so your readers can come and see for themselves at any of our tours and tastings – which can be found on our website. We also offer private hires and tastings for groups of 20 upwards in the main winery or our beautiful new tasting room.
Anything else you think we should know?
As well as offering winery tours and tastings, we are now delivering WSET level 1, 2 and 3 courses from the winery – what more authentic place can you learn about wine, than sat amongst the tanks and barrels of a winery?
That's great thank you for being apart of the English Wine Collection's English winery blog focus.