What's New at artisan & vine?

This blog site includes news on latest wines, food, events, offers and happenings at artisan & vine. It also includes stories of my wine adventures in and outside the bar, wine facts and wine profiles.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Plumpton College visit and the week that was

I chose to begin December with a treat and so on Monday just gone I packed up my mini little car and drove down to Plumpton College Vineyard & Winery, near Brighton. I really underestimated just how much of a treat this would be! Matthew and Peter did a wonderful job showing me around their scenic vineyard and state of the art winery. (unfortunately I forgot my camera and Plumpton's website is tragically low on photos so the little snippet below is as best I can do for now).

The real pleasure of a College winery, I came to discover, is the opportunity for experimentation, thought and analysis. Peter Morgan, the winemaker at Plumpton, has a pedigree from France and Nyetimber (UK), and his passion for exploring elements of wine making is obvious. Plumpton has a variety of vats, temperature controlled rooms and laboratories within which students can investigate different cause and effecting wine making. If artisan&vine ever feels like giving me a full day off, I’ll be down at Plumpton signed up for study immediately!

Plumpton College runs a variety of long and short term courses – including one day classes – and is definitely worth checking out. Artisan&vine will be running a day trip down there when the sun comes out again next year.

Plumpton’s wines? If you’ve been to artisan&vine, there’s a very strong chance you’ve heard me rave about The Dean NV sparkling wines. We stock The Dean white and Blush. Fantastic complexity, good brioche flavours, always a hit with customers.

In artisan&vine recently: we usually have a number of party bookings on a Saturday night at artisan&vine. This Saturday gone we hosted Christa and Andrew’s engagement party, which we kicked off with a custom wine tasting; the guest’s loved Dominio del Bendito’s 2006 Silver, (£12.50/btl take home) I do too, it’s an extraordinarily velvety red wine, an alcoholic drinking chocolate; it needs to be tasted to be believed. We also hosted Crodelia’s birthday party. Cordelia and her friends converted the entire back of the bar to a dancefloor and before long pretty much the entire bar was back there dancing. Sometimes our 2am licence still just doesn’t seem late enough.

Press and reviews: we were stoked to learn that we had received View London’s highest rating – 5 stars – for our food, wine, ambience and service. Kelly and her editorial team really do a very thorough job in their reviews and as an occasional customer at other bars and restaurants, I was impressed to see the integrity and attention that View London invest for every review and recommendation list they put together. I’m really over the moon that we now feature on a few of their recommended lists, including best places for a first date!

Pictures: I heart Plumpton College and rue forgetting my camera!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

New things and newsy things

I sometimes wonder if I spend too much of my life trying new things. I’m absolutely obsessive about it. Long ago I used to do something of a “self check” that I’d done at least one new thing a day… I reckon I’m clocking one new thing an hour these days, without even trying.
The addictive thing about trying new things is that 9 out of 10 times the result is positive. When it’s not entirely positive, it’s a learning experience.
Last week I started blogging & I tried updating the blog every day. This is a bad bad bad idea. A terrible idea. Working 16hours a day, on a quiet day, is already enough… Henceforth my blog shall be something like a weekly update during one of our quieter shifts (such as this Saturday afternoon). We’ll try this something new anyways.

So much happened this week I’m not sure where to begin!

We launched our new food menu; this is something we plan to keep fresh by evolving every couple of weeks

We also got some more positive press; this time in the online industry newsletter by Wine+. This latest article is the opposite of an anonymous review: I was asked by the good people of Wine+ to write this one myself! After hearing about some of the interesting things we were doing at artisan&vine, the Wine+ team asked me to write up our experiences. Our online scrapbook includes a snapshot (along with shots of some other nice articles about artisan&vine), click
here for the full article, including fantastic commentary from someone I have massive respect for, Peter McCombie, MW.

Our boiler broke… which is obviously very bad news… though our little fan heaters buzz away in the meantime.

In artisan&vine last night: Melanie, wine buyer for Whole Foods Market came by with a group of friends to enjoy some of our wines. Melanie has outstanding taste & has done a great job at introducing some interesting natural wines at Whole Foods, I was stoked by how much she liked our list – particularly the Grand Cru Rose Champagne (£22.40/bottle take home price) from Marguet. The flavour and complexity of this creamy biodynamic rose blows away that of mass produced commercial champagnes; trying it will change your view on champagne. Self-proclaimed devoted regular Tom, his brother Joe & their friends kept us all entertained, particularly when they inspired the entire late night bar crowd to sing happy birthday to David, another of our favourite regulars. Happy 30th David!

Popular buys last night: the 2005 Peyrouzelles (£10.40/bottle take home price) from Domaine Causse Marines in Gaillac, South-west France, is ever popular and last night was no different. In addition to familiar Syrah, is an interesting blend of indigenous grape varieties - Duras, Braucol and Prunelard. Peyrouzelles displays lovely red berries aromas with peppery & spice character. Beautiful fruit flavours are able to shine without being overpowered by tannins.

Picture: our Wine+ On-Trade Insider article, issued 21 Nov 2008

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

An Australian girl in Paris & sulphites in wine

Artisan&vine has a 2am licence on Friday and Saturday nights, so after a huge Saturday, I crawled into bed at 3:30am. Two hours later I was up and on the way for our Eurostar journey to Paris. Months ago I had booked the getaway. It was the first time I would be away from artisan&vine since it opened; I would miss my 'baby' but I was excited for a holiday! I would be back in London less than 48hours later and I planned on savouring every moment I had!

My main excitement was about visiting some of Paris’ pre-eminent natural wine bars!
It’s almost heartbreaking, how much more abundantly available natural wines are in Paris than London. All three of the bars we visited had over 100 wines with zero added sulphites and maintained very diverse wine lists even with a ‘zero tolerance’ policy. I considered trying to do this back when I was first planning artisan&vine but I just couldn’t find enough variation in the ‘extreme natural wine’ category to rule out anything with any dose of sulphite in it.
Sulphites occur naturally in all living things and are present in small quantities even in unsulphured wines. Many of the natural winemakers we represent at artisan&vine add small doses of sulphites to stabilise a wine at the end of the wine making process. These small doses do little or no damage to the flavour of the wine and can help to protect it from being mishandled. The important principles of creating a wine that is a genuine reflection of the grape variety and terroir from which it comes are maintained. The abundance of natural wines available in Paris - with or without that dose of sulphite - was impressive and mouth watering. It was great to be able to taste some amazing wines that currently aren't available here; I look forward to their hopefully iminent arrival!

In artisan&vine last night: Alex, Marinna and Richard kept things ticking over beautifully!

Popular buys last night: our rotating Happy Hour list came to the fore. On Sunday and Monday the beautiful 2004 Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee des Galets” from Domaine Les Aphillanthes featured. During Happy Hour (5pm-7pm every day) you can buy selected wines to enjoy in the bar at our shop prices. That means customers were enjoying the meaty, gamey flavours of this classic Cotes du Rhone for only £16.50/bottle.

Picture: a holiday was nice but I loved pulling up to that familiar sign again

We're engaged!

No, not me... but a lot of other people that come to artisan&vine. It’s certainly our most popular group reservation – almost every Saturday night through to January is booked out with engagement parties. This Saturday gone was the engagement party for Laura and David. Laura and David went all out with their decorations and I loved joining in preparations with them. We had photos of the couple decorate the entire back section of the bar – including photos of Laura and David over the traditional “ladies” and “mens” sign for the bathrooms. I still wish we had a photo of that...

In artisan&vine Saturday night: in addition to the hundred or so people at Laura & David’s party, my lawyer Simon came for dinner and drinks with his brother and father. They loved the Cuvee 41 from Le Clos Perdus that I recommended – it has an outstanding complexity while still being very drinkable; wonderful cured meat flavours with a balanced freshness; it’s one of my favourite wines at the moment (£13.50/bottle to take home). Zoe from Visit London also came by with a friend; I only met Zoe after we were included in their Top 10 wine bars list and I’m stoked she still enjoys coming here.

Popular buys on Saturday night: the 2007 Coteaux Du Languedoc from Mas Nicot found a big following last night and deservedly so. This is a fantastic white wine – beautiful fresh lime flavours ride the wave of creaminess leant by it’s 45% Marsanne composition. Revellers bought several bottles to take home, a steal at only £10.20/bottle.

Picture: I think our fairy lights are partly responsible for our popularity as a romantic destination?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Make mine a triple vodka with cranberry, in a pint glass thanks Sheila

Will there come a week when no one orders the unexpected? Last night we had a fun loving group of young lads who were drinking shots of vodka, mixed with various juices, from pint glasses. This was an unanticipated use of my newly acquired pint glasses. Undoubtedly, it is a much more efficient means of drinking your vodka cranberry than going back and forth to the bar all night. After getting to know the boys, I learnt that they were Australians running a construction business. Of course they were, what other pedigree could generate such pragmatism?

In artisan&vine last night: Matt and Jenna had a farewell party before heading back to sunnier shores of Sydney and Caroline had a group of friends join her for drinks before months of travel (sorry guys, we’re not planning on stocking Lambrusco anytime soon J ). My friends Lionel and Mickael brought some more of their French friends along to celebrate Lionel recently being awarded a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Scholarship – congrats!!

Popular buys last night: other than the triple-shot-pint (shall I add it to the menu?) the 2006 Ortega from Biddenden in Kent had a good run last night. Matt and Jenna’s friends decided they should all sample some English wines while they still had the chance. They were delighted with the result. It’s completely understandable: this Ortega has all of the fruit and flavour that Aussies hope for in our wines, despite it’s cool climate region of growth. An elderflower nose with creamy undertones, we sell this wine for a take home price of £8.60/bottle.

Picture: I thought we had most types of drinks covered... here a lager, prosecco and liqueur

Friday, 14 November 2008

Live jazz, tense anticipation

At 6:45pm last night we had a buzzy bar but my heart was in my throat and all I heard was silence. I was waiting for the new sax man. Where was he? He was meant to start playing live at 7pm! I had updated my little A-Board outside and sent out my facebook invite and website calendar update & he wasn't there!

Every Thursday night at artisan&vine we feature live local jazz acts; entry is free. I have a few performers I've really come to like and we use them over & again. I still always want to keep things fresh though so last night I wanted to try a new solo saxaphone player. We've had some 'special' experiences with musicians over the last months and every minute that ticked towards 7pm without a musician made me more & more nervous. You'd think I would have become immune by now but I haven't. I always think: even if this was my 116th night in artisan&vine, I knew from looking around that for a lot of customers in the bar that night, this would be their first experience of the bar... I wanted to make sure it was great.

I ran through the scenarios: 1. he doesn't show at all; 2. he shows and plays awful; 3. he shows and does something inappropriate; 4. anything else? Please don't be able to think of anything worse. (A too easily distracted crevice of my brain remarked the speed with which the human mind can formulate a series of potential tragedies). Why do I try new music? Why do I try? Of course I'd seen his MySpace site but what could I tell from that?!

We sell two more bottles of THAT South African Sauvignon Blanc (yes, it is delicious and unusually tropical for a Sauv Blanc, I love it too!) and a couple of pints of draught beer, hurrah, the new draught beer installation is working!


In walks sax man! Like a mother that finally finds her runaway toddler in a busy supermarket, I'm too happy to see him to be mad he wasn't already there!

What were my worries? Graeme Airth, our new resident sax player, was fantastic! We had rave reviews from everyone there. A great balance of smooth sound with good tempo. Later I discovered that Graeme used to play with "Curiosity Killed the Cat", which Paula was impressed by... sorry... my lack of living in the UK in the 80's has that one a little lost on me... so it appears we had some celebrity in the bar too!

I thought Graeme was wonderful and have booked him again for a fortnight's time. So, if you'd like to enjoy some sure fire excellent live saxaphone at artisan&vine, stop by on Thursday, 27 November. If you want to check out his MySpace site in the meantime, it's: http://www.myspace.com/gripperg

Next Thursday, 20 November, we feature another of my favourite acts at artisan&vine, "Night & Day Jazz", with Amanda doing smooth vocals and Jonathan on keyboard.
In artisan&vine last night: in addition to Graeme and his entourage, an ex-colleague of mine, Rehana, came by with a group of friends. How surreal it was to actually be in the bar we'd been fantasising about just a year ago in the BP staff cafeteria!
Popular buys last night: 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Reyneke Vineyard, Stellenbosch. Wonderful tropical notes with a crisp, fresh palate. Everything you'd hope from a Sauvignon Blanc and then some. We sell for £12.20/bottle to take home.

Picture: there are few things in life better than sitting on our cozy sofas, drinking sensational wine listening to great live jazz.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

New world wine tasting

Every Wednesday at artisan&vine we host a themed wine tasting. Last night’s tasting was, rather broadly labelled as, a New World Wine tasting. Here’s one thing about natural wines: it’s rather difficult to find great value new world wines here in the UK (yes – that is a sales invitation for any new world natural wine importers who may be reading).
Last night my friend Mark Neil, of New Generation Wines, was on hand to talk our guests through the five wines on tasting. Of course, before we open to customers at 5pm on a Wednesday, we first conduct an a&v team tasting, so that we can all talk about the wines together (pictured). Here are our notes from yesterday’s 5 wines:

Citrine Chardonnay,Gemtree Vineyards, McLaren Vale, Australia. £11.10 take home.
We all agreed that Chardonnay, particularly new world Chardonnay, gets far too much of a beating these days. This wine is beautifully balanced, has good freshness and lots of high citrus notes. 30% of the grapes used to make this wine spend time in French barriques, the rest are left unoaked for freshness. We thought this was a very flexible wine that could be friendly to a lot of different food dishes.

Viognier 2007, Hans, Marlborough, New Zealand. £19.80 take home.
This is a ridiculously delicious wine. Aromas of dried apricots greet you before the enjoyment of outstanding complexity on the palate. Viognier, unlike Chardonnay, is a really temperamental grape and only leaves growers a small window of time for optimal harvesting. We agreed that Swiss born Hans Herzog got it right with this vintage of Viognier. Lots of tannins and oiliness, which are also characteristic of a good Viognier.

Bloodstone Shiraz 2006, Gemtree Vineyards, McLaren Vale, Australia. £11.90 take home.
We spend quite a lot of time at Gemtree Vineyards from McLaren Vale this Wednesday. It’s a region I really love and after a visit from Eymerik, one of Gemtree’s Directors, a couple of weeks ago, I felt particularly passionate about showing some of his wines. This Shiraz is full of juicy raspberry and red cherry flavours. It’s an extremely approachable Shiraz and one that we often have on our “by the glass” list. There's 3% Viognier included in this primarily Shiraz wine, which gives it some great aromatics.

Uncut Shiraz 2005, Gemtree Vineyards, McLaren Vale, Australia. £15.10 take home.
I really love this dark, black cherry Shiraz. This wine benefits from the indigenous wetland ecosystem and biodynamic treatment that Gemtree are very proud to have made their hallmark. This is a more ‘serious’ Shiraz and wants to be eaten with a good grilled Aussie steak. Dry, tannic, with a strong lingering finish.

Carmenere 2006, Vina von Siebenthal, Aconcagua, Chile. £12.90 take home.
Another Swiss wine maker in the southern hemisphere, this wine is as lush and juicy as you’d hope from a Chilean red. Carmenere, a Bordeaux variety by birth, now only represents around 2% of the planted vineyards in Bordeaux, and has become more synonymous with Chilean wine making. Marinna, our resident Brazilian waitress, loved this wine best; it had all of those jammy blackcurrant flavours of home. This wine isn’t all Carmenere though, there is 10% Cabernet Sauvignon which gives the wine some fantastic green herbaceous notes.

More important than what Team a&v thought is how our guests for the night felt. We had about 25 people join in the wine tasting last night and I think that every wine was a favourite of someone. I toy with the idea of taking tallies on these sorts of things but anecdotal and ‘repeat purchase’ activity suggest that the Viognier and Bloodstone Shiraz were the most popular drinks for the night. I really do love Wednesday nights, it’s great fun to sample a cross section of wines and see the reactions of so many people.

Next Wednesday the wine tasting is themed around “safe bets” for Christmas parties and gifts. We’re going to be showing five wines that have proven mass appeal. Looking forward to it already!

All prices accurate at time of posting.

Picture: Mark Neil joins Paula, Marinna and I in discussing some of our New World Wines.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Christmas wines, tastings and menu at artisan&vine

I think that since we first opened in July people have been asking me what we would do for Christmas. We have the fairy lights up all year, so not too much need for additional decoration. In the way of food & wine, here are the answers:

1. Christmas Season menu - £18/person for 2 courses or £25/persons for 3 courses + glass of wine/beer/other: http://artisanandvine.com/uploads/pdfs/Christmas%20menu%20081110.pdf

2. Canapes - which can be booked in advance for any party at £5/person, for 6 canapes/person. These are really popular with all of our party bookings.

3. Christmas mixed case - to buy to take home, we're doing cases of 6 or 12 bottles matched to seasonal foods; we are also happy to make up mixed cases with you.

4. Christmas series wine tasting - every Wednesday night
Turn up anytime between 6pm and 9pm any Wednesday for our fixed price wine tasting with matched food. Each week we show you five wines that match with all of your favourite Christmas foods. Don’t shop blind for your Christmas dinners and parties – know the wine will be perfect! Advance bookings advisable by visiting the bar, calling 020 7228 4997 or emailing welcome@artisanandvine.com. Themed evenings are:
19/11 – Party Safe Bets – these are classic flavours and styles sure to please. Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, classic port, all your favourites, done in delicate, natural styles. £20/person
26/11 – Parties with Impact – creative wine making styles, unusual grapes – these wines are set to get tongues wagging for days after. Exciting wines with conversation points to match. £20/person
3/12 – Parties for a Steal – this week we present some of our best value wines – all of the quality & authenticity you’d expect from artisan&vine at bargain prices; this week’s tasting is £18/person.
10/12 – Parties with Exuberance – this week we’ve put together a range of our premium wines – pure indulgence in a bottle. This week’s tasting is £30/person.
Picture: interior of artisan&vine; with all of our fairy lights on all year, that cozy Christmas feeling is something we're always happy to have

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Why local and natural

The question I get asked most often is probably “can I please have a glass of sauvignon blanc?” I confess to being surprised by the popularity of the grape, without doubt, our best selling wine is the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Reyneke in Stellenbosch. Another question I get asked a lot is “what does local and natural wine mean?” I’m not surprised by how often I get this question. So, today, as I’ve done all my ordering and payments and accounting, I thought I’d take some time to describe what we mean by “local” and “natural” wines and why I chose to specialise in them. Today’s blog is about the intent of artisan&vine, how I came to love local and natural wines and why I wanted to set up a fun and friendly venue for sharing them.

Mid 2007 I decided that I would definitely open my own wine bar. I wanted to do this because (1) I thought there was an absence of great wine bars where you could taste a broad range of wines in London and (2) I wanted to turn my passion for wine into a career in wine.
One of my favourite things in the world has always been travelling to vineyards and sampling a range of wines together. I have always thought it bizarre that in London you could have almost any experience on earth – we have underwater aquariums, simulated golf ranges, genuinely global cuisine – except simple, accessible, casual wine tasting. The idea at the heart of artisan&vine has always been this: to capture that fabulous vineyard experience where you can taste a variety of wines and learn through tasting. The concept is to bring your taste buds as close to the artisan and the vine as possible, while remaining in a comfortable, accessible environment.
So, from the beginning, a rotating list of flights of wine and a long ‘by the glass’ list would always be on the menu.

In addition to comparative tasting, something I love about the vineyard experience is the focused expertise of the person conducting the tasting. From the outset I thought it was important for artisan&vine to have a focus to the wines we offered. The first and most obvious choice I made was to stock local English wines.
I’ve travelled a lot and lived in a few different countries. One of my favourite ways of coming to know a country or region is through indulging in the wines of that region. There is no question in my mind that English wines are underexposed in their own, let alone in the global, market. At the same time as local food production in England is enjoying a celebrity chef inspired renaissance, English wines sit on the shelves of local community markets or the homes of wine maker’s relatives; it’s a fascinating contrast.
In order to bring the English wine experience into artisan&vine, I insisted on only working with winemakers who would deal with me directly – no distributors or wholesalers. I visited a wide range of English vineyards and tasted over 300 English wines to come to the 15 or so we have on our list at any one time. English wine making may be in something of an infancy - I view this as an exciting thing. The wines are generally fresh, low alcohol and easy drinking. After nearly four months of serving English wines to our customers I am proud to report a very positive response. Often artisan&vine customers say they are happy simply to be given the option to have a taste of home. The 2007 Bacchus from my friends Bob and Carol of Brightwell Vineyard in Oxfordshire remains one of our best selling wines; the 2007 Pinot Noir that Julian makes at Biddenden Vineyard in Kent is also very popular.

Still… as I mentioned earlier, English wines are generally very light, young wines. To have a local only wine list would prevent me from serving big belting reds or buttery golden whites.
During this “planning phase” of artisan&vine, I was still working in Corporate Strategy for BP and was attending evening courses at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). I was reading a lot of wine literature and press. It took no genius to recognise the word “biodynamic” appearing it a great deal of wine journalism while it was almost completely absent from the formal WSET lectures and text books.
In late 2007 I attended my first biodynamic wine tasting and have never looked back. The tasting was run by Frederic Grappe, who has since become a great friend of mine. We tasted five of his wines that day; among them Le Grand Blanc 2005 from Domaine Milan, Coteaux Du Languedoc L’indigene 2005 from Mas Des Agrunelles and Cahors Le Combal 2005 from Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve, all of which we now list at artisan&vine. I was instantly in love. These wines had such purity of flavour and intensity of character. Nothing needed to fight its way to unleash qualities in my mouth; everything seemed in balance. As good an instructor as Fred is, with only one tasting my knowledge of biodynamic wines was clearly limited. What I knew was that something was different. I equate it to the feeling you have when you taste real cocoa versus mass produced chocolate, or fresh squeezed juice versus that from concentrate, or percolated coffee versus instant. Even if you had no knowledge of how these products were produced, you taste that there is a difference. That is the feeling I first had about biodynamic wines and I have not changed my mind.

Since then I have tasted A LOT of “natural” wines. Yes, I have jumped from the word “biodynamic” to “natural”. Here is where I’d like to call in the need to balance accessibility with precision. We cannot continue to make the subject of wine so elusive or technical that it is inaccessible; this only results in people abandoning enquiry and selecting on price comparative to all alcoholic beverages. Precise information should always be available but detailed description cannot constitute an introduction.
Having tasted a lot of natural wines and met with a lot of winemakers and importers, I find that there exists something like a scale of naturalness. In the interests of accessibility, I have grouped the scale into five levels:
Level 1: alcoholic beverages made primarily from grapes with the addition of various flavour enhancers, such as syrup, wood chips, cultured yeasts, acid, etc; and preservatives such as suphites.
Level 2: alcoholic beverages made primarily from grapes grown in organically farmed vineyards, with added flavour enhancers and preservatives, and using cultured yeasts to aid fermentation.
Level 3: alcoholic beverages made from grapes grown in organic or biodynamic vineyards, with minimal added flavour enhancers and preservatives, and cultured yeasts.
Level 4: alcoholic beverages made from grapes grown in organic or biodynamic vineyards, with only a dose of sulphite at bottling and only indigenous (wild) yeasts for fermentation
Level 5: alcoholic beverages made from grapes grown in organic or biodynamic vineyards, with zero added sulphites, no filtration, no fining and only indigenous (wild) yeasts for fermentation

All of the “natural” wines at artisan&vine fall into Level 4 or 5. Some purists will say only Level 5 type wines deserve to be called “natural” wines. My experience is that people of all levels of wine knowledge can relate to the Level 5 wines being called “extreme natural wines” (in the end, isn’t that why we have words, to be able to relate to one another?) We have around 10-15 extreme natural wines on our list at any one time; they are rather hard to come by and the tastes are often ones that we need to ‘learn’ to appreciate. I have a lot of wines that fall into various permutations between Levels 4 and 5. For example, we sell a lot of wine with no filtration but still a dose of sulphite, etc. The subtleties we can get into here would do nothing to help most people enjoy great wines in a wine bar and for the purposes of exposing people to exciting and unique wines, whatever label we put on them seems academic. For customers who do desire more information, we’re always excited to provide it. I have gone to great lengths to ensure our definition of “natural” wine is readily available.

Before I decided to talk about artisan&vine as specialising in “local and natural wines” I did consider some alternatives to the word ‘natural’. It’s clear that to say artisan&vine specialise in organic or biodynamic wines does not say enough; indeed it says very little for what happens to the wines beyond the vineyard. To say that we specialise in wines that use only indigenous yeasts would be irrelevant to most people and in the extreme definitional case, probably technically inaccurate for the happenstance contamination that can occur in wineries. “Real wine” is a term I’ve seen used a lot in various trade tastings and advertising which does not seem helpful or meaningful at all. Even a Level 1 type wine exists, it is “real”.

We could let the pendulum of accessibility versus precision swing too far the other way too. In practice, without doubt the phrase that sticks in most artisan&vine customers minds is “hangover free” wine. Maybe I attended too many lectures on corporate responsibility over the last 12 years but “London’s first hangover free wine bar” seems to be a tagline that begs for trouble.
Natural is a good word.

I’m delighted to say that although we are still extremely young as a wine bar, so far we seem to be achieving our original intent at artisan&vine. We’ve created a comfortable, friendly environment where it’s easy to taste a lot of wines that are locally or naturally produced. We have people who come in and love the jazz music and sofas and service and will leave and be back each week without knowing they are drinking natural wine; they know they are drinking delicious wine. We have others who religiously attend every Wednesday evening wine tasting we have, thirsty for more knowledge and experience of natural wines. One of my biggest thrills is hearing regular customers explain the principles of biodynamics to a friend they are introducing to the bar; it’s an exciting place to be.

London is a fantastic place. You can have almost any experience in the world here – we have vodka bars, beer halls, Mexican cantinas and French brasseries – now we also have a bar that specialises in local and natural wines, and I think that’s pretty cool. So, here’s a toast: to choice and taste and the experience and enjoyment of life, naturally.
Picture: flights of wine at artisan&vine vary daily.

Monday, 10 November 2008

I heart artisan&vine, Londoners heart draught beer

I heart artisan&vine. My passion for it is pretty much all consuming. I love the eclectic range of local and natural wines that we sell. I love the people that come in and share snippets of their life experiences. I love the pungent cheeses and white chocolate tarts; the ornate wooden back bar and contrasted black chandeliers. I love the mirrors, the lights and the front door that brings me new surprises every day.

Today my front door opened to the engineers who would finally install draught beer at artisan&vine. Since opening on 21 July I've learned A LOT. One of the most important lessons - if embarassingly obvious to everyone but me - is that Londonders love draught beer. And so here we are, almost four months into being open, artisan&vine are now proud to serve beer on tap.

We've kept in theme with the rest of the bar: the beer, Freedom, is made in England (Staffordshire), is organic and most importantly - is delicious! I can't wait to pull my first pint later tonight.

Today also marks my entry into the world of blogging. Genuinely looking forward to pulling a pint of beer is not the expected sentiment after 12 years of corporate life (I had the privelege of working at fantastic companies: BP, IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers & BHP). Yet here I am and I feel as ambitious and energetic as ever. In this blog I'm going to share my experiences of opening and running a wine bar, career change, and of course everything about tasting flavoursome and exotic wines.

For now though I need to log off. The bathrooms need cleaning before opening to customers tonight, and I couldn't feel readier!

Picture: artisan&vine exterior, 126 St John's Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 1SL