5am on Tuesday morning and 7500kg of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are being unloaded into a railway arch in Bethnal Green… Renegade, east London’s urban winery and bar, is receiving grapes from all over Europe, today’s haul being from Lombardy, ready to press, age and blend for their second vintage which will hopefully see a staggering 22,000 bottles produced – more than triple the volume of their first.
It’s all hands on deck with Josh, winemaker extraordinaire, sorting the chardonnay for any under par grapes, pressing whole bunches in the tank press and transferring straight into French oak barrels where they will now age until around May next year, while the pinot – of which I’m one of a few pairs of hands helping with – is lovingly destemmed individually with every effort to keep the grapes whole. Josh tells me this gentle approach allows the ferment to start inside the grapes initially, resulting in a fruitier, more delicate flavour, before being pressed in approximately a month and moved into French oak. This year they won’t be adding yeast, and ideally neither sulphur unless Josh deems it necessary at a later stage, in a bid to move towards a minimal intervention, almost natural range of wines.
Aside from this move to natural, this year they are also upping the ante with a number of different wines experimenting with new grape varieties and methods – a coastal Albanian blend that includes ageing in both chestnut and old Bourbon barrels, an open fermented skin contact chardonnay, London’s first sparkling wine – currently ageing in barrels in a secret London church – and a limited-edition skin contact bacchus aged in a qvevri (that’s a large concrete egg to you and I).
‘With so much appetite for the weird and wacky we wanted to offer more variety, knowing people can visit us here at the bar on multiple occasions and try several different wines, exploring a range styles’ explains Josh.
It’s certainly a goal they are on the way to achieving and I'm already looking forward to what’s in store next year when they’re all ready to drink.
Aside from the quality of their delicious wines, the eye-catching label designs – all of which showcase iconic London scenes and were produced in house by founder Warwick – and the generally innovative way they are approaching both their wines and the efficient use of a small urban space, what I’m most blown away by is the sense of community that the project has created.
Throughout the afternoon there’s a whole host of locals who pop in either to lend a helping hand or just have a bit of a nose and offer words of encouragement on what is a long and gruelling day for the team who’ve been there since 5am – not that you’d tell from their high spirits and enthusiasm while we work away to a punchy playlist of 90s indie anthems. James from nearby Redchurch brewery drops in to collect a stash of discarded chardonnay skins from the press – he’s planning to use them to infuse a sour beer he’s brewing, producing a limited-edition collaboration brew, while Warwick tells me he has a possible collab in the pipeline with another local brand for a special run of gin. Yum
Needless to say there’s a fair wait for the fruits of this particular labour, but in the meantime there’s plenty of this year’s vintage left to enjoy, and it tastes all the better for having been made right here on our doorstep. If you’ve not been yet… go.