Even if you fancy yourself pretty into your wine, you may not have come across the concept of “urban wineries”. We certainly hadn’t until we discovered Renegade Wine Bar last year under the arches in Bethnal Green. We popped down to their London Wine Week Preview event to see how things were going.
Located down a once highly seedy-looking alley just passed the Bethnal Green tube station, Renegade is sign-posted by a lightbox affixed to the underside of a bridge and a chalk board announcing its status as a London Winery. We make our way down the slim walkway, squeezing passed an array of second-hand furnishings outside of a neighbouring arch and dilapidated, graffitied walls. Bavarian Beer-Garden-style tables and benches sit outside the bar, with strings of lightbulbs streamed overhead.
Inside, the bar is low-lit with white corrugated iron walls lined with wire cages filled with bottles and stacked wine barrels. The simply crafted wooden bar lies to the right, with tables and benches filling up the rest of the space. Founder Warwick Smith is waxing lyrical with punters whilst New Zealand winemaker Josh Hammond pours drinks. Warwick tells us that Renegade started in March 2016 after he left the world of Asset Management and Finance. He went to work for a winemaker in Colorado to learn about the process before coming back to London with the mission to make London’s first urban winery where everything, from the pressing of the grapes to the fermentation to the bottling and ageing is done in the capital (with the ageing done in the crypts of Christ Church in Spitalfields). “We want to keep everything within Zones 1-4″, Warwick announces. “We even use London artists for all our wine labels and it’s important to us as, for me, brand integrity means carrying the story through the whole process.”
In their first year, the duo produced 7,000 bottles, selling 500 in the first two weeks. This year, they have made 27,000. Warwick candidly states that this isn’t due to their phenomenal success – although, becoming nationwide in Harvey Nichols after only two years of being operational is a pretty good indicator of the fact that they aren’t doing too badly. Instead, he explains that making wine in small volumes is very inefficient. “Even 30,000 is a stupidly small amount and it means our costs are way too high, which is why we’re not super cheap.” Renegade’s wines start at £18.00 by the bottle (although their 2016 Blanc de Noirs London Sparkling is slated to sell for £100) but a goal of theirs is to produce the cheapest English Sparkling wine out there.
So, what are these wines like? Read our full tasting notes here.
The team owe the success of their natural wine to the quality of fruit that they buy and ensure that they only get the best, whether it be Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Lombary in Italy, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Albania, Syrah from Puglia, or Tempranillo from Northern Spain. Their positioning in London means that they don’t feel the need to adhere to European rules of winemaking (such as only being able to make Bordeaux out of French oak barrels) and have decided to make their own style of wine. For example, they make Sauvignon from Bordeaux grapes but use a yeast strain frequently used in New Zealand Sauvignons, resulting in a French-Kiwi-style that no one else is making. Warwick ventures,
“We blend the best from different countries to create new style of wine. No ne else does this, which is weird because, in beer-making, we use hops and American grain, Bristol water and an African brewer. Wine is predominantly more traditional, so this doesn’t usually happen.”
Renegade are far from traditional and are all about innovation without being gimmicky. Not afraid to try something new, Warwick and Josh have used ex-bourbon barrels (given to them by The Boutique-y Gin Company as a swap for their Chardonnay skins) that are usually used in whisky-making. This could result in what Warwick calls “some seriously chunky reds”. They’ve also tried chestnut and cherry wood barrels – “there’s a tradition of using oak, but that’s because it was closer and easily available. Why not try something else now?”.
Whilst they say that there haven’t been any failures yet, Warwick isn’t afraid of failure, pointing at a lonely barrel in the corner and stating “that one is Champagne-method English Sparkling Wine fermented in an ex-bourbon barrel and aged. Josh wants nothing to do with that one.”
With spirit, confidence and a relaxed attitude, Renegade is an exciting one to watch and we can’t wait to see what the duo come up with next.
Renegade will be taking part in London Wine Week 2018. For more information about LWW events, click here.
Renegade Wine Bar, Arch 12, Gales Gardens, London E2 0EJ