Three Down, Three to Go

Three Down, Three to Go

Apologies for the radio silence, as you can imagine, things have been a little bit hectic here at London Cru in recent weeks. The following will give an insight into what you’ve missed.  

Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes from our man, Maurice, in Limoux, arrived at the beginning of the month. Good picking conditions greeted us in the foothills of the Pyrenees and the grapes themselves were at a perfect level of sugar ripeness and acidity.

When the grapes arrived in London they were whole bunch pressed with minimal sorting (having received a primary triage in the vineyard before transit). Clear juice from this year’s Chardonnay, a new site and region for us, meant that once again we had no need or desire to add enzymes for clarification. Instead, we allowed the juice to settle in tank for around 24 hours before transferring to barrel to begin fermentation and élevage.

Gavin has made Chardonnay in both his native Margaret River and under his own label in Burgundy, so knows more than a thing or two about how to bring out the best of this grape. Our first two Chardonnays have shown unmistakable varietal character, textural complexity and fresh acidity. With a fantastic new vineyard to work with, we aim to deliver another wine in a similar vain. To achieve this we must carefully select the yeast strains we use as they have a significant impact on the resulting wine.

We have used three cultivated yeasts, isolated in Burgundy, and have left three barrels to naturally ferment. By using different varieties, we are able to augment and promote particular characteristics. For example, one of our yeasts has the ability, due to its enzymatic profile, to promote the appearance of varietal aroma precursors, producing a wine with an elegant nose. Another aids textural complexity by producing more polysaccharides. These build suppleness and volume, promoting a ‘rounded’ mouthfeel. The natural yeasts bring added complexity to the party.

At the time of writing, all but a handful of our Chardonnay barrels have completed their primary fermentation.

Barbera

A particularly warm and dry summer in North-west Italy meant that our pick date for this year’s Barbera was atypical. The grapes for both the 2013 and 2014 wines were harvested well into October, whereas this year we’d barely gotten beyond the half way stage of September before the call came through from the Codero family to say the fruit was ready.

Early indications suggest that the 2015 Barbera is going to be special. All 7.8 tonnes of fruit, our biggest single pick to date, was pristine on arrival, allowing us to sort through in record time. Appearance aside, the grapes have incredible acidity and sugar, as well as delicious flavour.

Once sorted and destemmed the grapes were loaded into two steel tanks and one of our new concrete fermenters. After a few hours skin contact we drew around 700 litres of juice from the bottom of the tank, a method of rosé production known as Saignée. This was then sent off to a separate tank where it will ferment and age, eventually giving us a delicate rosé in a Provençal style.

The grapes had a few days to cold soak before fermentation, a useful process for the extraction of aromatic precursors, after which all three tanks were then inoculated to allow the ferment to begin. Fermentation management is split between a regime of pump-overs and punch downs. The colour of the young Barbera wine is a stunning, intense purple; needless to say, we’re all now proud owners of perpetually stained hands.

At the time of writing, the ferment temperatures have risen to around 30°C and we’re now under a week from their completion at which stage we will press and send off to the wine to steel, concrete and oak for ageing.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Last Tuesday Gavin and I headed down to Puimisson, Langudeoc to pick our third grape variety of the harvest; Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast to the unusually early pick date for the Barbera, we found ourselves picking the Cab two weeks late (according to the 2013 and 2014 harvest).

Things have a strange way of working out though, as what appeared like a setback early on has worked out ideally in terms of the ripeness of the grapes and how they fit into our schedule.

I’ll admit, I only lasted around 3 hours in the vineyard, all the time being put to shame by the speed and efficiency of the team of Moroccan pickers who made light work of a big task. After this, I moved on to helping Jeff and Michel load the tractor, before helping Gavin to load the truck.

One of the merits of organic management is that wildlife is able to flourish, including some audacious individuals trying to hitch a ride back to the UK (see below). On top of spiders, mites and the occasional mantis, the most successful passengers were hordes of organic escargot. If we’d had a larger team we might have collected them and seen if any of our neighbouring French bistros could've taken them off our hands.

Back in London and back in the winery a few days later, with a team half the size of the previous weekend, we set about processing the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Given the ripeness of this year’s fruit, there was no need to use the crusher to liberate juice from the berries. A consequence of tightly-bound bunches is that our destemmer wasn’t operating as efficiently as it did for the less compacted Barbera bunches. The answer; load whole bunches straight into the destemmer and then onto the sorting table afterwards - effectively hand sorting berry by berry. This method allowed stem fragments, any poor quality berries, snails etc to be removed.

Exactly the same programme of fermentation vessels was used for the Cabernet (2 steel, 1 concrete) but without a cold soak. Punch downs and pump-overs are both being carried out and at the time of writing, the ferment temperatures are slowly rising and the rate of CO2 production is increasing.

Later this week, Albariño will be arriving from Galicia ahead of the arrival of our next red, Grenache from Calatayud, next week.

Pinot & Our Spanish Affair

Pinot & Our Spanish Affair

July was a month of good news for London Cru. We successfully completed the bottling of our 2014 wines following our trip to France. Further positivity arrived in the form of news from our network of growers in Spain and Italy. As it stands, all of our 2015 fruit is healthy and exactly where we want it in terms of yield and expected pick date. In keeping with our desire to push the boundaries and experiment with new varieties, we embarked upon two further trips to find a late ripening white variety and an early ripening red. We approached this with an open mind, considering all manner of regions and varieties. We were initially keen to source some Grüner Veltliner from Austria, but following a few challenging harvests in consecutive years, this proved a fruitless (excuse the pun) endeavour.

Our spirits weren't dampened by this and we set about exploring the possibility of securing another late ripening white grape; Albariño. With a little help from contacts in Galicia, we were able to get around a table with Zarate, a biodynamic and organic producer in the area. After talking about our project, over an incredible seafood lunch with barrel-aged Albariño, they put us in contact with a local grower who showed us around their vineyard (above). Perfect aspect, a soil bed of decomposed granite and wonderfully expressive and aromatic grapes; it didn't take us long to shake hands on a price. Safe to say, we boarded the plane at Santiago de Compostela later that day excited at the prospect of working with a new variety that's stock is constantly rising among wine lovers.

Sadly, we didn't have the same luck on 'Project Pinot'. We took an exploratory trip to Slovenia to try and source this enigmatic grape, in Gavin's eyes; the holy grail. The region of Podravje certainly has potential, but unfortunately this time around, we weren't able to find any vineyards that were suitable for us. Yield, aspect and soil type were the deciding factors in putting our search for the elusive red variety on the back burner. For now....

A Flying Visit

A Flying Visit

At the beginning of what proved to be an absolutely scorching week in the UK, Gavin and I headed down to the South West corner of France on a mission; drink as much wine talk to our network of growers and confirm grapes for the 2015 vintage.

After touching down in Toulouse (an hour later than scheduled owing to a very busy Gatwick airport) we picked up the hire car and headed straight to the small town of Puimisson, Languedoc to visit Jeff Coutelou. Jeff is an exceptionally talented viticulturist and vigneron, choosing to follow the practices of biodynamic and organic vineyard management alongside natural vinification.

Besides a few processes such as tilling the soil, every vineyard process is carried out by hand. This fastidious approach ensures that the soil does not become compacted, as you might find in a commercial, chemically treated vineyard, but also any issues that may arise are quickly identified and mitigated.

The purpose of our visit to this small village, just outside of Béziers, was to assess the Cabernet Sauvignon plots that Jeff has once again agreed to let us work with. The grapes have overcome challenging conditions during flowering, with high winds causing some isolated patches of coulure (when the grape bunches develop unevenly during fruit set). The fruit looks wonderfully healthy and we’re expecting low yields with deep concentration of flavour. Skilled management of vine vigour ensures the grapes enjoy a balance of shade and airflow through the canopy.

This was also a chance for us to see other plots of Jeff’s vineyards as well as the winery itself. On the fringes of his bush vine Grenache vineyards, a group of fig trees illustrates the contrasting effects of organic management versus the use of chemical sprays. The side of the tree facing Jeff’s Grenache bore plump, ripe and luscious figs (albeit a little warm after sitting in the 40oC afternoon sun) whereas the tree facing his neighbour’s chemically treated vineyard had been stripped off all fruit and flowers.

Nice spot for a swim
Nice spot for a swim

After a chilled glass (a revelation by all accounts) of our 2013 Cabernet, an evening swim in the River L’Orb and dinner we made tracks for our overnight stop in Carcassonne, feeling satisfied with the day’s outcome.

Our focus for day two was Chardonnay. Research and intuition indicates that Limoux is a growing haven for the grape responsible for our most popular wine. High altitudes, moderating air currents and free-draining soil all work together to aid the development of Chardonnay with classic varietal character and fresh acidity. We were fortunate enough to have a contact in the area; James Kinglake owner of the highly successful Domaine Begude, who not only showed us round his estate and cellars but also set up a meeting with a local grower; Maurice.

We met Maurice on his farm-come-workshop and briefly outlined our project before being taken to the potential sites. In similar fashion to Jeff’s vineyards, the first thing that struck us was the healthy appearance of the fruit bunches and immaculate condition of the vines owing to Biodynamic and Organic (certified) management. After a couple of hours walking through the vineyards and assessing each potential parcel, we shook hands on a deal and retreated to the shade.

We're very fortunate to be able to work with such dedicated and passionate people and believe our line-up this year, from the Southwest corner of France, is our strongest to date.

Next stop Slovenia and Galicia, watch this space.....

Among the vines in Limoux
Among the vines in Limoux

Bottling and Blending

Bottling and Blending

The time between the beginning of March and the end of April appears to have elapsed at an unprecedentedly rapid rate this year. That is, however, an observation from the perspective of someone who has been in the belly of the beast at London Cru for the past 6 weeks.

Since the last blog post, we have been incredibly busy in both the winery and the boardroom (Roberson wine’s kitchen). Let’s begin with the former….

Our first English wine, Bacchus, is now safely stored under 1900 screw caps following bottling a fortnight ago. In 2013 we externally outsourced this crucial final stage of the journey from vineyard to glass, to a winery with its own bottling line. Whilst this was a hiccup-free endeavour, this year we felt that everything with a London Cru label should arrive at the winery as grapes and leave as finished, bottled wine.

1900 bottles almost ready to go...
1900 bottles almost ready to go...

We set about exploring all avenues to make this a reality and were, in truth, days from begrudgingly investing in our own, in-house facility. That was until our friends at Bevtech came to the rescue with their mobile bottling line. With their state-of-the-art equipment and technical expertise, we were able to get everything bottled in a matter of a few hours.

In the preceding weeks the homogenised Bacchus blend (40% barrel, 60% tank) was cold stabilised, allowing the majority of the suspended tartrate crystals to precipitate out. It was imperative to monitor both the temperature and taste of the wine at this stage as one of the risks of this purely aesthetic alteration, is that it can have a detrimental impact on the structural components of the wine. Overly aggressive cold stabilisation can cause levels of tartrate precipitation that alter the pH and overall levels of acidity, changing the palate’s perception of the wine. We believe that through our careful management, we have a Goldilocks outcome: A Bacchus that shouldn't throw any crystals whilst in your fridge, that also tastes exactly how intended it to.

Cold stabilisation encourages tartrate crystals to precipitate out of the wine
Cold stabilisation encourages tartrate crystals to precipitate out of the wine

Aside from the winery, some big decisions have been made upstairs, the most significant of which is deciding on our new label. We agonised over several, well-thought out and interesting concepts before making a final decision. Now that the new label design has been decided on and sent to print, we can count down the days until the Bacchus is labelled and released (expected late May).

This will also coincide with the bottling and labeling of our 2014 Chardonnay, which itself was racked to tank to clarify last week. The rest of the bottling schedule is yet TBC but is likely to resume with the lighter reds at the end of July and finish with the Cabernet or Syrah just before we begin the 2014 harvest.

If you've still not paid us a visit, there are plenty of opportunities to do so over the next few months, head to our events page for details and remember to follow us across all social media platforms for regular updates from the winery and beyond.

Winery latest

Winery latest

Spring always seems to breathe positivity after the long winter months. The weather gets warmer, the day’s get longer and the barbecue edges closer to making its first appearance of the year. Meanwhile, here at London Cru, all of last year’s hard work from vineyard to winery begins to fall into place. All six of our 2014 wines (Chardonnay, Bacchus, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon & Barbera) are developing nicely, with some key milestones passed in the last fortnight.

All, bar a couple, of our Cabernet barrels have now fully completed Malolactic fermentation. For those that haven’t attended one of our ‘Meet the Cru’ tours, or are otherwise not in the know, this is the process through which the acidic composition of the wine changes. Malolactic fermentation (MLF) sees the tart malic acid (think of that first bite into a Granny Smith apple) convert into the softer, more rounded lactic acid (think milk and yoghurt) through the action of the bacterium, oenococcus oeni.

This is a process that all of our red wines go through, as the combination of malic acid and tannins would otherwise leave the wine astringent and not particularly palatable. If this process isn’t completed during winemaking then it could start spontaneously in bottle, causing a haze, some fizziness and off aromas. White wine; by contrast, doesn’t always have to undergo this transformation. For the 2013 Chardonnay, Gavin chose to complete full Malo’, leading to its subtly textured character.

However, for the 2014 Chardonnay he’s chosen to go half Malo’ in order to deliver a fresher style. Aromatic white varietals, such as our Bacchus, seldom complete MLF.

Testing VA in the lab
Testing VA in the lab

After each barrel completed malolactic fermentation we added a small amount of Sulphur Dioxide. This preserves and protects the wine against three threats: Oxygen, bacteria and spoilage yeasts like Brettanomyces. Minimising oxidation allows the wine’s fruit character to be conserved. The anti-fungal/antibacterial properties of SO2 have another benefit in slowing Brettanomyces or Acetobacter from flourishing, thus preventing the build-up of undesirable aromas or acetic acid (Vinegar): a volatile acid.

Another test carried out in the past few weeks was to check the Volatile acidity (VA) of each of the wines. The results from the spectrometer thankfully made for satisfying reading.

The most significant steps made recently were with the Bacchus, our first wine from English grapes. We have established the final blend; heat stabilised and racked the wine off its lees. Over the weeks leading up to bottling in early April, cold stabilisation will take place and allow the removal of any residual tartrate crystals.

Having ‘benchmarked’ our Bacchus against other British producers we are happy that our blend will hold its own alongside its peers.

Expect our Bacchus to exhibit delicate varietal and quintessentially English characteristics with a touch of textural complexity as a result of partial oak aging.

Hopefully by the middle of May, London Cru’s first Bacchus will be ready for drinking, just in time for summer!

We can hardly contain our excitement with how our 2014 wines are shaping up. After tasting samples from the barrel last week, we believe that a step forward has been taken since our impressive inaugural vintage and that we have some truly special wines on the way for you.

Don’t take our word for it, come and try for yourself at the winery.

Hitting the Road

Hitting the Road

Spring is here and soon we’ll be bottling our 2013’s, so we thought it was time to get out there and let the public get their hands on London’s first wines. We’ve decided our first trip outside the safe confines of London Cru HQ will be to Wine Car Boot in Kings Cross on Sunday 8th June in what we are now calling internally ‘Operation Wine Forklift’. We’ll be joining some of London’s top wine merchants to celebrate the end of London Wine Week and to try and convince customers that trading up from fake discounts and three for a tenner offers will change your drinking experience in a massive way. And if you like what you try we’ll be taking advance orders on the day (the wines will be bottled in the next few months and we’ll then let them rest for a couple of months, so deliveries are likely to start in September).

Tickets for Wine Car Boot include your first five samples and a tasting glass, so what are you waiting for – get your ticket and prepare to fill your (car) boots.

Be a Winemaker for a Day

Be a Winemaker for a Day

One of our main goals here at London Cru is to make wine approachable to everybody. You can, of course, come down and take one of our Saturday afternoon tours. On the tour, we give you a behind the scenes look at what we do around here as well as some of the cracking wines we made this year. However, if you’ve ever harboured dreams of getting into the nitty-gritty of what it’s like to be a part of the actual winemaking process, you might want to look into our Winemaker for a Day sessions.

We recently had our first WMFAD session and it was not only sold out but a lot of fun! Guests were first given a rundown of the fundamentals of wine tastings, the components of wine, a tiny bit of wine science and the art of wine blending before being let loose to create their very own wine blend.

Two members of London Cru were on hand to help out with any questions or to give advice on how to achieve just the right blend. Once the blends were done, guests were led on a tutored tasting of London Cru’s wine (which were still in barrel at the time) before being presented with their very own blended wine to take home.

You can really work up an appetite doing all that blending so we include a two course lunch break with wine at The Atlas pub halfway through the day to keep you going.

Our First Tours

Our First Tours

We’ve been open to the public for little over a month now and it’s been quite exciting here at the winery. We kicked off with our bi-monthly Saturday winery tours on November 9th and it proved to be a popular event. Gavin, our winemaker, happily took our guests around the winery, explaining the wine processes and all the equipment in a fun and informative way.

After a brief talk about the winery’s goings-on, we got down to the fun part where Gavin pulled out his pipette (not what you’re thinking, it’s a long thin glass pipe to withdraw wine from the barrels) and guests were able to sample the wine direct from the barrel. If you’ve never done it before, I can tell you, it’s a unique experience  to taste young wine. We weren’t able to sample all the wines from the barrel as we have to be careful we don’t open the barrels too often but there were other samples from the stainless steel tanks to try.

Adam Talks About the Winery
Adam Talks About the Winery

As well as the kick-off of our Saturday tours, we also inaugurated our first Winemaker For a Day class on November 25th. The class was full and great fun. Participants learned about the components of wine as well as the basics of blending before getting stuck in with their own single variety wines to blend them into a classic Bordeaux blend. At the end of the day, we took everyone’s recipe, blended them up in our lab, returned them to their rightful owners and sent everyone happily home to enjoy the fruits of that day’s labours.

We will be continuing with our tours in 2014 as well as the Winemaker For A Day classes and other such themed events. For more information, pop over to the events page or give us a call, 0207 381 7873.

Where We Are Now

Where We Are Now

Last Monday, our last load of grapes, Barbera from Piemonte, arrived at the winery and we got to work. The Barbera was a last minute replacement for the unfortunate loss of Sauvingon Blanc and Merlot we were supposed to be getting from Bordeaux.

Despite that, the Italian grapes were more than up to the task, coming in looking beautiful and sailing through the sorting table in the winery. After triage, the grapes were quickly put into the stainless steel tanks and within a day or so we had added our yeast and let them start fermenting. The Barbera is still fermenting as we, er, type, but we expect it to be done soon and going into barrel. Gavin has also filled 2 integral barrels with the Barbera grapes to see how they ferment in the oak.

We had some juice left from the 4.6 tonnes of grapes so Gavin decided to make a rosé! Exciting stuff! The rosé is already in tank and  we’re hoping it will be ready in time for our launch party. As there was so little of it we’ll probably save it for in-house events, so if you get a space on one of our first public tours in November you might be lucky enough to try it!

Gavin at Work in the Winery
Gavin at Work in the Winery

We’re really busy right now getting ready for our grand opening in a few weeks. We’ll be giving tours of the winery everySaturday, starting on Nov 9th. Tours will cost £15 including a tasting of some of our wines, and afterwards you can have a drink and something to eat from our pop up bar.

If you want a bit more in-depth experience in the winery, we’ll also be offering “Winemaker for a Day” sessions, where you will learn what’s in a winery, how wine is made, and even blend your own bottle to take home.

We'll also be holding regular Supper Clubs on the second Monday of each month, starting with Nathan Green, head chef at Michelin star restaurant “Restaurant Story”, on the 11th of November. Be warned, we think that one’s going to sell out very quickly, but if you don’t get tickets, December will bring another exciting chef to London Cru.

Be sure to join our mailing list if you haven’t already. This way you’ll be the first to hear about events at London Cru and when tickets go on sale. We’ll also be offering some free tours once we open to the people on our mailing list, but you didn’t hear that from me!

A Difficult Decision

A Difficult Decision

Late yesterday, we had to make the very tough decision to turn down seven tonnes of grapes due to come from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. By a stroke of luck, we have managed replace some of the lost grapes with four tonnes of Barbera from Northern Italy, sourced by top Italian producer Luca Roagna

Our First Grapes Arrive

Our First Grapes Arrive

Last week our first shipment of grapes arrived. Watch what happened right here.

Harvest Time at Corneilla

Harvest Time at Corneilla

Last Monday and Tuesday saw Gavin in France to oversee our very first harvest at Château de Corneilla, working in the vineyard alongside William Jonqueres d’Oriola from the estate. To ensure that all of the grapes reached London in the best possible condition they were hand harvested, sorted and then loaded into large flat crates for their 820 mile journey to the winery.

Winery Mural

Winery Mural

All of us here regard London Cru as something of a hidden gem but unfortunately perhaps it was a little too well hidden geographically speaking. After a couple of weeks of trying to give clear directions on the phone we realised we needed something to make finding us that bit easier. Fortunately we had a nice big space of plain wall and roller shutter just ripe for some decoration.

Mas Coutelou

Mas Coutelou

Jean-François Coutelou (or ‘Jeff’ as he prefers to be known) comes from a long line of proud peasants in the Languedoc village of Puimisson, where the family have been growing grapes and making wine for hundreds of years.

Château de Corneilla

Château de Corneilla

Not many families have history that can match up to that of the Jonquères d’Oriola family – the owners of Chateau de Corneilla, in the Roussillon village of Corneilla-del-Vercol. The estate has been in the family since they bought it in the 1400s following the dissolution of the Knights Templar.

In the Press

In the Press

We've had quite a bit of press coverage following our launch in July. Here's a selection of what's been written about us so far...

The Big Questions

The Big Questions

We wanted to take the chance to answer a few questions which have been asked about the project. Hopefully this will give you a sense of exactly what we are up to, but more than that, of why this project makes us so excited.

Harvesting at Mas Coutelou

Harvesting at Mas Coutelou

Last Sunday a few of the London Cru team travelled to Puimisson in the Languedoc-Roussillon to visit Jeff Coutelou. We were there for the harvest of the beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he had agreed to sell us for our first vintage. If you know Roberson Wine you will have heard of Jeff and Mas Coutelou. To say we are fans would be an almighty understatement. He is without a doubt one of the purest, most genuine and gifted winemakers we have ever worked with. We were jumping for joy when he said he was interested in our project and would sell us some of his amazingly well-cared for fruit.

The reason we were lucky enough to get our hands on it is because a few years ago Jeff made the decision to only work with indigenous varieties like Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. His grandfather had planted the Cabernet vines and he can’t bring himself to pull them up, so he’s been selling the grapes to a local co-op, but he treats them exactly the same as his other ‘children’, with an incredible amount of love and attention.

Jeff and Gavin at Mas Coutelou
Jeff and Gavin at Mas Coutelou

The thing I find most inspiring about Jeff is that he feels his purpose on this earth is to care for his land and vines, leave the earth in a better state than he found it and spread love and joy through his wines. He is so sure and content about his reason for being here that he only sleeps 4 hours a night (“my mind is always on my grapes”) and sees no point in taking holidays (“I get so much love and joy from my vines, my grapes and the people who drink my wines, why would I need holidays?”)

The fruit was pristine, incredible for an organic, biodynamic grower who uses purely natural methods in the vineyard, and after a long day picking with Jeff’s team (who all seem to idolise him) the refrigerated truck was packed up ready to set off for London. We’re please to say it arrived this morning in perfect condition and is being processed downstairs in the winery as I write this. Now we just need Gavin to make wines as good as Jeff’s. No pressure Gav!

Welcome to our Blog

Welcome to our Blog

Hello and welcome to our brand new blog for London Cru – London’s first small scale winery.