The first wines released from urban winery London Cru

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So, the first vintage of London Cru’s wines are bottled and will soon be on the market. [Read my report on them from last year.] I visited this – London’s first urban winery – to try the new wines with winemaker Gavin Monery. It’s also time for vintage two to start coming in, and so Gavin is quite nervous. ‘You have one chance a year,’ he says. ‘Screw it up and that’s it. So our focus at the moment is getting the grapes off at the right time.’
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This year, London Cru are using the same growers as last time. So in 2014 there will be a Cabernet from Jeff Coutelou (Languedoc), a Barbera from Giovanni Cordero (Piedmont), and Chardonnay and Syrah from Château de Corneilla (Roussillon). Plus a new wine: a Garnacha from Norrel Robertson in Cayatalud, which comes from 90 year old bush vines at 950 m.

‘I’d rather make less wine than mediocre wine,’ states Gavin. ‘The whole project is about making good wine, not gimmicky wine.’ All of the 2013s will be the same price (£15), with 1400 cases overall.
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When I visited (the week before last) the Cabernet was just about to be harvested and sent back to arrive a few days later. The key part of the grape movement process is that the fruit is chilled within 2 or 3 hours of the harvest. ‘This is the most important thing from the quality viewpoint,’ says Gavin.
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The only problem that London Cru have so far found insurmountable is to do with names. The UK rules mean that the wines must be labelled as ‘EC wine’, with no vintage or grape variety indicated. ‘This really annoys me,’ Gavin reveals. ‘The paper trail back to the vineyard is water-tight. The veracity of varieties and vineyards is 100%. It is an arbitrary rule at this end.’

The 2013 releases are all impressive.

SW6 Chardonnay 2013
Very fine nose is subtly nutty with some delicate toastiness and lovely citrus characters. The palate is fine and expressive with gentle bread, nut, citrus and white peach notes. Very stylish wine. Super-clean style. 90/100

SW6 Syrah 2013
From a spot 5 km from the ocean in the Roussillon: a cool site in a warm region. 12.5% alcohol. Fine, fresh black cherry fruit with lovely purity, and a bit of raspberry freshness. Direct and pure with subtle green notes. Nicely textured. 91/100

SW6 Barbera 2013
Supple, bright, expressive wine with spicy black fruits over damson and plums. Lovely acidity and a bit of bite (this was 12.5% alcohol and pH 3.35 after malo). Vibrant juicy fruit and lovely grippiness. 91/100

SW6 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Jeff Coutelou supplies this, and he was previously giving these excellent grapes to the coop because he just wanted to make wine from local varieties. Lovely pure, sweet blackcurrant fruit nose with some blackcurrant leaf. So classic and expressive. The palate is beautifully balanced with nice structure and classic Cabernet characters. A lovely wine with real potential. 91/100

31 comments to The first wines released from urban winery London Cru

  • Jamie
    I have started to spend a year in the Languedoc and am working with Jeff Coutelou and writing about the experience on my blog (above). Is it OK if I quote your review of the cabernet on my blog, obviously I would give it accreditation and a link.

    Thanks
    Alan

  • Sorry Jamie. I just can’t believe this. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, two grapes that very rarely make anything decent in the Roussillon, taken from a vineyard that has only ever produced mediocre wine, on what we all here consider to be poor terroir, can be shipped to London and at the first attempt be turned into something amazing worthy of 90-91 points.

    I don’t buy it. Either the wines are not what they claim to be or the critics are being bought.

  • Alex Lake

    Not sure that 90-91 points is that high?

  • Alex Lake

    Has Jamie ever scored your wines, Jon?

  • GLENN

    Jon – maybe the guys at london cru are just better wine makers.

  • I assume they are pretty good winemakers and it’s a no-expenses-spared winemaking operation. I also realise I confused the Cabernet with the Syrah (duh) but it still seems a little too good to be true, given the source of the Roussillon grapes and the additional problems of transporting them.

    I respect Jamie’s palate and integrity but can’t help but feel the scores are either over-enthusiatic (he’s not the only one by the way).

    But maybe I’m wrong and this should be the model for all high-end winemaking in the future.

  • Jon, the Cabernet is from the Languedoc. The ratings are honest – no one is ‘being bought’ (just how do you think that might work, anyway?).

    Alan, yes, of course. Shall be following your progress.

  • Chris Williams

    How I envy these guys! Having a winery in the middle of one of the worlds biggest wine markets and exciting places on earth. Drawing grapes from some of the most distinguished Appelations in Europe and making wine in a new, state of the art winery. Lucky beggars!

  • Sean

    I wouldn’t doubt the scores. It does beg the question that if he’d rented space in a winery and achieved these wines where the grapes were grown would the scores be higher? Like Mark Haisma’s Cornas for instance?

  • Gavin Monery

    Well, it’s not every day your integrity is questioned on the internet..

    Jonathan, the wines are indeed what they claim to be, insofar as they are quite decent bottles at £15 – nothing particular special about that. Are they better than some others from the region? Undoubtedly. Why is that? Because we’re good at what we do. We’re not the best, but we want to be. And we work hard and learn every day to try and make that happen.

    We’re not a spare no expense spared operation. I only wish we were.. Our wines are £15 and we have the same budgetary constraints as any winery. We built this place from scratch for £160k, including all the processing equipment, laboratory, tanks, cooling systems, floors, drains, pumps, hoses the lot. Money is not the reason our wines are good.

    You mention Jamie is not the only one who likes our wines. You’re right – Richard Hemming and Andrew Neather also think they are worth buying. On our best form I doubt we could fool one of these people, but three of them? It’s just not realistic to think that three respected, independent critics would capitulate to a strange new producer in London. If that’s how they operated then Echo Falls would be 95pts and we’d all be drinking fruit juice.

    It’s worth remembering that they’ve actually tried the wines and you haven’t. You might be surprised.

    So how do we make it work? We pay our growers significantly more than the local average to work the way we need them to, so we can harvest the sort of grapes we need to make quality wine. If the grapes aren’t where we need them to be then come harvest time they amalgamate them into their own winemaking programs and we wait another year. No harm no foul. This happened twice in 2013 and once already in 2014.

    Our winemaking is no different from that of any other high end operation. The only difference is the transport, which you see as a problem when in fact it’s a benefit. Our grapes are chilled within hours of being picked, they don’t sit around in the Roussillon sun. They get sorted in the vineyard, arrive at 8°C and we can process immediately, with a second sorting to remove anything that’s not right. Rather than having to de-stem/crush and pump grapes through a must chiller to drop the temperature we can whole bunch press our Chardonnay nice and cold, using low SO2’s, no enzymes and good, neutral oak. There’s no secrets to what we do.

    We pick for acid rather than sugar as we can’t add any here (growing zone A), so our wines are often lighter and have a freshness that can be lacking in the region. Again this could be seen as a problem but for us it’s a benefit. We are making the sort of wines that we would like to drink. Hopefully others do too.

  • Olly Bartlett

    Hi all. Not going to enter into the quality debate. The winemaking sounds highly competent and I’m liking the picking early/keeping acid/freshness vibe. I have one question that maybe I missed and I am sure that Gavin and Jamie can answer: why? As in why make the wine in London rather than nearer the vines? There must be a cheaper place to get set up/buy an existing winery? Other than that, best of British!

  • Only those who have been able to taste the wines can comment on them. What I will say is the problem I have with Chardonnay and Cabernet from the midi is that it makes me despair over the way the UK palate is going and the image of the region. Why aren’t London Cru using some grenache, cinsault or carignan for example?

  • I appreciate the candid response Gavin. As I said, I assumed you must be putting a lot of effort into making the wine as best you can. What I question is the potential of the source of the grapes, the Chardonnay in particular. That vineyard is down on the Roussillon coastal plain near St Cyprien and used to make a wine called Domaine du Paradis if I’m correct, which I have tasted, along with pretty much every other Chardonnay in the Roussillon. Nobody here, apart from Grain d’Orient way up in the Fenouilledes at 600m, has managed to make a Chardonnay of any seriousness. I know, as an incomer myself, that doing things a little differently can reap rewards but I just wonder if the scores are a reflection of the wines being surprisingly better that the critics had assumed they would be, rather than a true comparison against wines made in the region of origin.

    Maybe I’m being overly critical because I’m dreading the British newspapers running the headline “London winery beats the French at their own game” with the usual thousands of Froggy-bashing comments that it will trigger.

  • Olly Bartlett

    Jonathan, Tom Lubbe at Matassa makes a great organically certified Chardonnay at Domaine de Majas in Roussillon which is an absolute steal as well. So there are always exceptions to the rule…

  • Yes, I’ve tasted the Majas. Also grown high up in the Fenouilledes but it’s not as classy as Grain d’Orient. Domaine de Majas Chardonnay used to be pretty rubbish so it does show how a good winemaker can make a big difference. I wonder how the critics who’ve rated SW6 would rate Majas?

    I feel a blind challenge coming on.

  • Damien

    Olly’s comment “why?” seems to sum it up perfectly, and in the same vein suggest that despite Gavin’s claim, “gimmicky” could be the only reason for the project surely?

    The transport question I don’t think Gavin’s come close to answering; they’re chilled “rather than lying around in the Languedoc sun” but then they arrive – by Concorde? That’s a lot longer journey than those sun-drenched grapes have before being pressed no? How’s that work for carbon neutral/food miles by the way, not so cool I guess?

    And what’s the inference I wonder on all those UK winemakers who make wines from their home-grown grapes? Not good enough guys & girls, just ship ‘em in from where the sun shines?

    As for Jamie’s comment as to being “bought” would work; come on Jamie, brown paper envelopes like in football and just about any other business venture the world over. Or a good feature for the Daily Express perhaps?

  • Gavin Monery

    Olly – Why not is the only answer I suppose. We wanted to put a winery where people who wouldn’t normally visit one might. We have 8 million people on our doorstep, so if we can’t sell 2500 cases a year then we’ll have no-one to blame but ourselves!

    Graham – We will be working with Grenache this year, from 90 year old bush vines grown at 950m altitude near Calatayud in Spain. We work with Chardonnay simply because I like it and the Cab Sauv because the vigneron is Jeff Coutelou, one of the most talented growers I’ve met. I’ve been begging for his Syrah too but he’s not giving it up just yet. I’ll keep working on it..

    Jonathan – Anytime you want to do a blind bench marking tasting of Roussillon Chard I’d be happy to throw ours in the mix. Saying we got an easy ride is a cop out and does you a disservice – these guys are pro’s and have heard every sales pitch in the book a thousand times. Have you considered that they might have looked harder at ours due to the unusual circumstances?

    I’ve tried to be reasonable here Jonathan but you’ve been incredibly rude. I’ve worked from a cellarhand through to a winemaker over the last 15 years with some of the best producers in the world. These scores are the culmination of the last two years hard work designing, building and managing London Cru. This page and its scores should be one of my proudest moments. Unfortunately it is now filled with the petulant sniping of a competitor. How would you feel if someone did that to your precious Domaine Treloar? Pretty bad I’d reckon.

    The fact is we’ve got three independent critics who have tasted the wine vs one disgruntled producer who hasn’t… Seriously, who do you think people are going to believe?

    We’ve made some good wines. We’ve got some consistent scores. Let us enjoy the moment.

  • GLENN

    agree with you gavin. enjoy the moment and all the best.

  • Paul

    Wow, for another producer to come on the post and make such commentary… pretty lame. Gavin, first sign you don’t something right… someone is upset/envy at how/why you are doing it. Best of luck to you.

  • As I was there in Puimisson when the Cabernet grapes were picked and the caisses were loaded on to the lorry with its chilling facility I can testify that Gavin is right in describing the speed of the process. I shall be putting some photos on my blog this afternoon.

    Gavin, the Syrah is terrific quality and I doubt Jeff will be changing his mind :)

  • William

    From a humble consumer perspective I have to say that this “initiative” seems like commercial genius. Having said that, if the wine is not good enough to justify the £15 price tag then presumably the project won’t last long. Overall, I think it is surely worth celebrating this as a venture which a) sounds great fun b) must bring Londoners closer to understanding the wine-making process (which must be good for all who sell wine in the UK) and c) must also be quite daring as (perhaps?) it has never been done before.

  • I certainly agree with that William. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a great project that will bring Londoners much closer to where wine comes from and what goes into making it. Using grapes from the Languedoc-Roussillon is also a beneficial thing for our region. I honestly do wish it success. So please don’t think that what I’m saying is jealous sniping. It’s simply a skeptics call for perspective.

  • William

    JONATHAN – are you near Sommieres? I will be on holiday in Sommieres next August – may I come visit? (I will be with my other brother-in-law, Dominic) – (Jamie is also my brother-in-law). – William.

  • Bob Parsons Alberta

    Heres to lots of success! Pity I will not have access but no doubt my daughter in London will find some.

  • Sean

    Gavin whilst Jonathan can be a wee bit brusque at times, I do not think he has been rude towards your efforts, so I think you are being a wee bit sensitive.

    You have to also remember that Jonathan lives and works in a region where very little respect is given to the wines due to the history of the region, even though there are lots of great wines coming out of the region, Jonathan’s included. Remember Richard Hemmings and Jancis have praised Jonathan and Rachel’s wines so he doesn’t need to “give off” about your wines or be accused of a sour grapes attitude. Jonathan’s words come from a sensitivity and love of a region that he lives in and all he can be accused of is being over protective of that region, when an idea like yours can be perceived as “gimmicky” and might do harm to the region rather than good. Remember the perception of what you are doing can easily be construed as “he’s taking grapes from a crap region and making better wines”. So you could potentially be adding to that ill conceived perception that the Languedoc Roussillon is a mediocre region.

    It may interest you to know that Jonathan also picks his grapes on freshness and acidity level and not sugar content, so the two of you as wine makers might not be too far apart in your philophies.

  • Terry Toulouse

    I have just bought today 2 bottles of Grain d’Orient on the Place des
    Capitoles in Toulouse. Cost me 10 euros per bottle and is really
    worth it. Some years ago Mr. Alary obtained full organic
    certification and also ceased barrel-ageing.
    However he has given up making his wine and left the responsibility
    to two young vignerons.
    Another Languedoc apellation which is turning out some cracking
    Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is Limoux, notably Domaine de Begude (which can be found at Majestic).

  • Sean

    Gavin, I am heading down to Jonathan’s to help out with harvest on Tuesday. I will be in London on Monday attending a Wine Pages Lunch at the Hawksmoor. I would be happy to take down a bottle of the Chardonnay for Jonathan to try. Fancy trying to hook up?

    William – Jonathan is 15 minutes west of Perpignan, which is about 2 hours away from where you are.

  • CotonouPro

    The concept is great, if the wine are terrific, even better.
    One point which has not been raised by any critic is the environment effect of having grapes shipped from South of France to London at a moment where every journalist is critisising heavy bottle, here spending 3 times more CO2 to produce wine semms OK.

  • PJ

    I fail to understand these environmental arguments. Fine, the grapes need to be shipped to the UK. But can someone please explain how is it any better if the wine is produced and bottled in the South of France and then shipped here?

    Is the weight of the grapes shipped really so much more than the weight of the finished wine plus bottles and packaging? I’d imagine the difference in CO2 produced to be absolutely minimal

    PS – please would someone do a blind tasting of the Cru wines vs some others from the region. I would be fascinated to see the results!

  • So, to put my money where my mouth is, I bought a case of London Cru wines and organised a blind tasting of the Chardonnay alongside another 5 local Chardonnays. The tasters were all members of our village wine club in Roussillon. They are not professionals but have pretty good, albeit local, palates. The results were pretty interesting.

    In the overall ranking the London Cru wine came 5th. Most people criticised the heavy oak on the nose and felt it was a bit bland. I disagreed.

    I ranked it 1st. Here are my notes:
    “Very attractive nose of toasty oak, citrus fruit (kumquat?). The palate is lively and balanced with lovely rich flavours. Very reminiscent of good Australian Chardonnay.All that spoils it is a touch of heat. 16.5/20″

    What was really weird was that the wine ranked 1st overall was the Domaine du Paradis. A wine made from the same vineyards as the London Cru by the Roussillon grower. (I ranked it last). It was quite different. My notes were “Powerful nose of patisserie and caramel. Oily texture, not enough acidity and almost no Chardonnay character. No heat but dies quickly. Bland. 13/20″

    Here are the other wines in the tasting:
    Domaine Talerach 2013
    Domaine Grier 2013
    Domaine Antagnac, Limoux, 2012
    Chateau de l’Ou 2011

    Unfortunately I could not find a single bottle of the Roussillon’s benchmark, Le Grain d’Orient, in any of the 5 merchants I visited. All sold out.

    So what to conclude?

    I certainly liked the style of the London Cru Chardonnay and thought is was a very nicely made wine. I’d agree with Jamie and the other UK critics.

    Perhaps the style was just too New World for the local winelovers. Fortunately the vineyard seems capable of making wine to please both palates. So I withdraw my comment about it not having potential. That was based on the price of the Domaine du Paradis (cheapest wine of the flight) and the lack of local recognition. I should have known better.

    So I hope both Jamie and Gavin accept this as an apology for my flippant and rude knee-jerk reaction. I was wrong.

    London Cru Syrah blind challenge planned for the New Year …

  • Jonathan that is utterly cool that you should post this. You are clearly one of the good guys!

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