Wine journalist – and regular Buyer writer – Chris Wilson has added another string to his bow as he launches his own urban winery in the heart of Cambridge this autumn. In this instalment of his column for The Buyer he goes into more detail about the type of wines he’d like to make this year and unravels some of the red tape involved in setting up a winery from scratch.
Although Cambridge county has wineries, the actual city centre has never had one, meaning that Gutter & Stars, set in listed windmill Chesterton Mill, will be the first ever Cambridge winery
You know that scene from Goodfellas when Henry Hill is racing around trying to tie up 101 different loose ends, stashing firearms while making a tomato sauce and shovelling white powder up his bugle?
The last couple of weeks have been a bit like that for me… with harvest looming large and fruit expected any day now I’ve been up against it to get the winery ready in time with my mind racing 24/7, albeit not aided by cocaine. The only white powder on my mind at the moment is potassium metabisulphite.
A random cross-section of thoughts from the past 24-hours goes something like this: peracetic acid, hose tails, humidity, must sort the wifi, what about the premises license, Torulaspora delbrueckii, autumnal heatwave, and so on and so on.
Since my first column I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from people across the wine trade and locally here in Cambridge, with offers of advice, physical help and encouragement coming from all corners. It’s all very humbling and I’ll be channelling all this positive energy as vintage gets under way.
The Gutter & Stars winery is almost ready to go now; the tanks, pumps, hoses and other bits of kit have arrived and this week they’ll be lots of cleaning and testing and more cleaning to get things shipshape for the Bacchus, which will be the first fruit to arrive, followed by Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.
The plan – which I’ll be honest is a movable feast and dependent on the numbers (sugars, TA, pH etc.) when the fruit arrives – is to make four different wines this year, three whites (one skin contact) and a red. All will be still, and I’m very encouraged by Oz Clarke’s recent musings on quality still wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir playing a key role in the future of English wine.
I hope to ferment the Bacchus in tank and barrel (third use American oak) and blend the two components, the Chardonnay will be 100% barrel fermented and aged (French and American oak), while the Pinot Blanc will see some skin contact during fermentation, which will take place in an egg-shaped vessel. The Pinot Noir ‘recipe’ is very much TBC, and it may well end up a rosé, who knows.
Getting the winery set-up has been an enjoyable experience, aided massively by the fact that the Chesterton Mill site is undergoing a huge building project at the moment to transfer the outbuildings into flexible working space to house Cambridge’s burgeoning creative and tech businesses. With plumbers, electricians and carpenters on site, I’ve had a little help in solving some of the problems that have been thrown up.
On top of all the pushing and shoving and receiving of deliveries, more time than I would have liked has been spent in front of the laptop or on the phone sorting out licences and permissions. Setting up a winery in England in 2020 is a bit of a red tape minefield. I have counted six different licences/permissions I need to get off the ground so far, and I’m sure there are others too.
As well as planning and building control (not forgetting the windmill is a listed building which has made things a little trickier), there are requirements for a licence to make wine from HMRC, a personal licence, a premises licence, registration with food standards and further down the line a requirement to join the Alcohol Wholesale Registration Scheme. It certainly keeps you on your toes.
An exciting delivery at the end of last week was a raft of laboratory equipment and glassware from Cambridge-based scientific and laboratory supplies business CamLab, who have agreed to help me get off the ground with the set-up I need to run basic must and wine analysis here. I will be testing out some of their newly developed equipment during the process and recording some videos for their marketing team. Geeky as it sounds, I can’t wait to get the mini-lab set-up and get cracking with the chemistry.
Meanwhile down the pub, all my mates want to do is come up with pithy, song-based names for the wines that I have yet to make, many of which will never be made. This is the best of a bad bunch: Whole Lotta Rose; Merlot, Is It Me You’re Looking For; Sultans of Skin; Bad Moon Riesling; Rioja Around The Clock.
I’ll leave it there…until next time.