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Ten years on The Urban Wine Company has a proud tradition of making wine in the capital
Owning a vineyard and drinking wine made from your own grapes must be the ultimate middle-class fantasy. Although we can’t all be like Sting with our own Tuscan vineyard, many South Londoners with a back garden grapevine have been living the vigneron dream in a small but fun way – thanks to The Urban Wine Company and their Chateau Tooting wine – appellation pas contrôlée.
It all started back in summer 2009 when neighbours Richard and Paul were sitting in the garden, enjoying a glass or two of wine shipped from the other side of the world. Sitting under a leafy London vine, they had one of those Eureka moments and asked themselves why not try and make wine made from grapes right here in London?
They spread the word around south of the river and got a great response from locals like us with mature vines in their gardens but who had no use for the grapes they produced – the ones that didn’t get splattered on the ground or pecked by the birds anyway.
On the appointed day in September that year, we all set to harvesting – grapes grown in gardens and allotments or found behind supermarkets – and delivered them to Richard and Paul. Making urban wine means you can’t be too choosy – all grapes were welcomed, red or white, plump or petite, just as long as they were ripe.
Ours were beauties, like fat, hairless gooseberries, and we were jokingly accused of having bought them from Sainsbury’s. We couldn’t claim any special skill or expertise – we’d planted a vine a few years before and we just let it do its viney, horizontal beanstalk thing. Now we were like proud parents at a school sports day, modest and self-deprecating as fellow accidental viticulturists admired our grape-heavy bunches.
Given the different varieties grapes which go into it, Chateau Tooting is a real mélange, with a colour which ranges from blush to rosé, and a light taste with hints of summer berries. Chilled, it’s a perfect drink for a summer’s evening and even though maybe only one of your grapes actually went into the bottle you’re drinking, the fact that it’s your grape is strangely satisfying. T
o produce Chateau Tooting Richard and Paul team up with award-winning winemaking experts Halfpenny Green up in Staffordshire, who know all there is to know about getting the best out of grapes grown in England (and Wales for that matter!) and can give the relatively small amount of grapes which Urban Wine collect all the TLC they need.
Ten years on, The Urban Wine Company now has a proud tradition of making wine in the capital and would love others to get involved. If you already have a mature vine or fancy getting one, sign up on Urban Wine’s website to become members. Vine care, support and social events are included in the membership.
The 2019 harvest collected an impressive two tonnes of grapes, meaning 2,000 bottles of wine will be appearing in late May, and members naturally get first dibs on the wine made from their grapes. As well as Chateau Tooting rosé, The Urban Wine Company has started producing Tooting Sparkling Rosé, both very reasonably priced.
The Urban Wine Company though isn’t about profit-making, it’s about wine-making and it’s also about making good times better. Born out of a moment of inspiration, they’ve also inspired one local bard to poetry – read the full poem on the website – but here’s the last few lines –
Their alchemists turn this base London mould
Once a year into viniferous gold
Which is why I am usually rooting
For South London’s prime wine, Chateau Tooting.
Footnote. There’s not much in London that can compete with Chateau Tooting, but, if you like the idea of a London wine, do check out The London Cru