'Food and drink' was the category chosen for me for this little adventure. Not too much of a challenge there I hear you say, but actually I still always feel some apprehension around dining alone, which I know a lot of my solo friends feel. Fear not though, no food involved here - 'Visit a Vineyard' was the card which I drew out. However, it turned out that the biggest challenge here was to find a vineyard near London that was actually open to the public in January. I knew of a vineyard in Sussex, but no, it wasn't open to the public until spring. Ah but the power of Google,as against the odds I stumbled upon an 'urban winery' called London Cru, which bizarrely is located beside West Brompton station! They appeared to run tours and tastings every Saturday and so I was in. The location of this little gem really couldn't be more urban, as I arrived down a little side street to find this understated sign heading down a tiny alley. In fact the site itself is so compact that fellow wine enthusiasts were waiting outside as they didn't have room to take us all in until the allotted time.
Once inside, however, we felt like we were party to a miniature Wonka type world of wine. Alex introduced himself as our guide for the day and swiftly made sure we had a sample of wine to start with - nice touch. He explained that the winery was an idea that was formed in 2012, with the business starting in 2013. The obvious question of course was where do the grapes come from, there is no vineyard in urban west London? He explained that they purchase grapes from over all Europe - France, Spain, Italy. The precedent for this way of working had been set apparently by a winery in Manhattan who buy their grapes from California, a five day drive away. The wine we were tasting at this point, the Bacchus, did derive from a lot closer to home and the vineyard in Kent. When the grapes arrive in the London Cru winery they are sorted by hand to discard leakage, underripe vines and other foreign bodies. Next the grapes go to the huge press. The photo really doesn't do this piece of kit justice, it really is a monster. After this the juice is transferred into huge steel fermenting tanks, which themselves have been transported from Slovenia.
Alex then explained the difference between the fermentation processes with white and red wine. This was an education indeed, as someone who thought they knew a lot about (drinking!) wine. He explained the different types of yeasts used, and how the red grapes are fermented twice in a much longer process to ensure the skins mix with the grapes. This involves agitating the juice inside the fermentation tanks with a large plunger like stick. Or alternatively, as Alex explained, by the good old fashioned human foot pressing method which he had been subject to inside these giant tanks. This process comes with its own risk from the large amounts of carbon dioxide which are released from the bubbles, apparently a health hazard to traditional rural wine producers. We were then led into the temperature controlled cellar where oak barrels lined the walls. These barrels cost between 800 and 3000 euros each - it was becoming ever clearer how expensive this wine producing business was.
And finally we were introduced to the full array of London Cru wines for a tasting. From the Chardonnay from one of their French producers grapes, through to the Italian Barbera and the amazing Syrah and Grenache from Spanish vines, I really was hard pressed (excuse the accidental wine pun) to pick a favourite. Well that coupled with the state of euphoria I was now in after sampling 7 wines on a post-run, empty stomach. I felt like part of a small, privileged club to have been part of this underworld tour. I was almost hesitant to share this adventure with you, and in fact keep it very secret. However, this is a. wonderful business that I would love to see do well. Although with some key restaurants such as the Hawksmoor, The Bleeding Heart and The Gilbert Scott selling their wines, I am confident that word will continue to spread about this hidden treasure in the heart of Zone 2.
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.