The Foodist: Bethnal Green's Renegade London Wine challenges ideas of identity in wine
The ambitious new urban winemaking project, situated under a railway arch in East London, treats wine more like spirits or beer when it comes to ingredients.
Identity is a curious thing in the world of drinks. A London Dry gin might be made in the Highlands of Scotland from botanicals sourced from all over the world. Craft beers might brand themselves as being as 'London' as it gets, but as far as I know, there are no fields of hops or barley within the M25.
Wine, at least, is more straightforward. It tends to be, by definition, indelibly tied to its location; the grapes will generally come from one particular region, and the resultant liquid will bear the hallmarks, in flavour terms, of precisely where it comes from.
It's a quality known throughout the wine world as terroir – the specific effect the location, its soil and its climate has on the end product. And whereas in the New World its place of birth might be displayed clearly on the label, in the EU, IGPs (Indications Géographiques Protégées) enforce regulation to ensure the products made in those regions live up to their exacting standards.
Even when winemakers buy grapes (known as 'parcels'), they tend to be from one region. That's why you drink a glass of bordeaux, or champagne, or gavi.
It was straightforward, at least, until now: 2017 saw the opening of Renegade London Wine, an 'urban winery' that's seeking to become London's biggest and best maison.
Warwick Smith and winemaker Josh Hammond buy grapes from the UK and Europe, but the vinifiaction process happens under a Bethnal Green railway arch. The range at present includes, among others, a Lombardian chardonnay, a Herefordshire bacchus and a Bordeaux sauvignon blanc – just as a beer brewer might brew with hops from Germany or the USA.
So is what's in the bottle a reflection – like a London beer – of where it's made, the winemaking techniques involved, the people behind it and their attitude; or are the above, conventionally speaking, three totally different wines from three different growers? One thing's for sure: with urban winemaking operations on the rise in Europe and beyond, it's a debate that'll continue to flow.
For more information: renegadelondonwine.com