Matthew Jukes tastes thousands upon thousands of bottles of wine a year to help him write his various wine columns (Daily Mail, MoneyWeek, Vineyard Magazine), four in-depth regional reports and also for his many corporate and private client wine tastings. It’s fair to say he knows how to pick out a raspberry note over a blackberry in an average glass of wine. This expertise has helped him create what he claims is the first of its kind – a range of zero alcohol cordials that have all the taste profiles and building blocks of wine but without actual grapes involved. These are new ways to enjoy quality, premium zero alcohol drinks when eating fine food or relaxing at home. He talks to Richard Siddle about how his Jukes Cordialites business now employs ten people and has orders coming in from major cities worldwide.
Creating your own drinks rather than writing and reviewing them is a newfound talent that Matthew Jukes is investing in his new Cordialities and Jukes ranges of premium zero per cent alcohol drinks.
Matthew Jukes has made his name around the world of wine with his exhaustive approach to wine tasting, where he takes into account every possible wine made from a particular region or vintage when pulling together the encyclopaedic information he needs to write his various newspaper columns, reports and articles for his members-only website, matthewjukes.com.
Thirty-five years of experience has seen him become one of the world’s leading experts on countries and regions across the Old and New World, from Australia to Piemonte, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Yet, for all that knowledge and expertise, when he decided it was time to put his reporter’s pen down for a moment and try and make a drink for himself, he turned away from wine to have a go at effectively making a premium soft drink for adults.
You can’t, though, walk around with a head full of wine tasting notes and find it does not strongly influence your decisions when trying to craft a top-quality, super-premium soft drink. In fact, his new range of Jukes drinks has ended up becoming more of a personal tribute to wine – with all of the alcohol left out.
His ultimate goal was to make a gastronomic range of drinks that wine lovers could enjoy as a genuine accompaniment to fine food that did not involve a glass of sugary, carbonated fruit juice loaded with ice.
“It all started in New York about five or six years ago,” says Jukes when he sat next to Vogue.com’s former creative director, Sally Singer – as you do – at lunch and noticed how hardly anyone was drinking alcohol. They talked about what you choose when you are trying not to drink wine. She told him it simply was not fashionable to be seen drinking at lunchtime.
“I thought I could invent a delicious drink for those occasions when one chose not to drink wine,” adds Jukes. “A drink that could please a sophisticated palate, but that also meant you did not have any booze in your system.”
When he got home, he started thinking and experimenting. He landed on the idea of trying to re-create a futuristic version of what was known, back in the 1700s, as a ‘Haymakers Punch’. This was an apple cider vinegar-based drink made for farm staff and workers that was made from the leftover fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s kitchen.
This style of drink did not need refrigeration, and it was packed with vitamins and minerals while at the same time being extremely thirst-quenching. It was even stored on ships for the crew to drink on long voyages to the US, where a hybrid of this beverage became known as a ‘Shrub’. In the US, these apple cider vinegar drinks are still popular to this day.
So, armed with a few buckets in his kitchen, he set about buying copious amounts of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, and flowers to macerate them in cider to see what happened. It soon became apparent that he needed a professional kitchen to help out, and so a friend in Camberwell came to the rescue, and this brought some rigour to his Willy Wonka-style experimenting.
Jukes quickly recognised the most important ingredient was the organic apple cider vinegar base that forms the heart of every one of his Cordialities drinks. “That’s what gives it the texture, bite, and ‘tastes-similar-to-wine’ element that hits you when you take your first sip.” He adds: “It provides length and bitterness, and it allows me to hang 20, or more, ingredients along this flavour trail, giving my drinks superb complexity.”
So in typical Jukes style, he then ‘called in’ every apple cider vinegar he could get his hands on to find the right one for his purposes. Eventually, he settled on a gentle style that comes from just outside Milan in Italy. “The English ones tend to be harder in style, but I will continue to taste around because it would be great to use an English vinegar one day,” he says.
Slowly but surely, the Cordialities range started to take shape based on the concept of creating adult cordials that could be mixed with still, sparkling or tonic water.
After months of experimenting, Jukes realised the more he toned down the sugar in the recipe, the drier and potentially more complex the overall flavour became. This also lowered the calorie count per bottle to extremely low levels – a happy coincidence. Jukes drinks range between seven to 17 calories per 100ml serving, and they all have fewer than 3.5g of natural sugar.
In the end, it took around a year until he came up with two cordials, now termed Cordialities, that he was confident and pleased enough with to go out and show to some of his chef and sommelier contacts to get their feedback.
“I wanted to test their palates. Chefs, in particular, are the ones who understand flavour complexity,” he explains. “After all, these drinks are made from foodie ingredients.”
He admits that he could not have made so much progress with Jukes Cordialities without the support, encouragement, patience, and equal determination of his business partner and co-founder, Jack Hollihan. A former partner at Morgan Stanley and an expert in start-up companies – Hollihan is the financial brain of the company, says Jukes.
Together, they formally launched Jukes Cordialities at the tail end of 2019 after two years of development. They started production proper in a purpose-built kitchen in an Arch development in Battersea. Little did they know that they had Blackbook Winery and Lea & Sandeman as neighbours.
The drinks may be highly complex to make regarding the number of ingredients involved, but their names are very straightforward. First to the market were Jukes 1 (the classic white), Jukes 6 (the dark red), followed swiftly by Jukes 8 (the rosé). Not apparently inspired by Thunderbirds, but simply “numbers I like,” says Jukes, who does not offer any more explanation.
They look strikingly clean and confident with the black typeface against a white background. In fact, if you did not know they contained a drink, you could be forgiven they were some sort of eau de cologne or health and beauty product. But more of the design later. Let’s cover the drinks first.
“I wanted to start with a ‘white’ and a ‘red’,” says Jukes.
The fruits really shine through in Jukes 1 with touches of peach, pineapple, citrus and apple thanks to more skin contact in the maceration for greater sweetness and ripeness to give it a refreshing feel.
Jukes 6 is a deeper, fruitier style, with elements of spice on the tongue and the finish. This is Jukes’ tribute to Cabernet Sauvignon with strong blackcurrant and blackberry notes.
Jukes 8 is a nod to Provence rosé thanks to the wild herbs and vegetables used in the maceration, along with ‘salty’ vegetables to give it that fresh but textured note that Jukes wants to get across.
Jukes 5, inspired by Sauvignon Blanc, is based on a citrus and herb theme and is clean, fresh and bright on the palate.
Jukes 2 is what he describes as his ‘Marmite’ style as it seems to split opinion, with its ‘bright red’ hue, made very much with a spicier Asian and Indian cuisine in mind, it has depth and focussed red fruit flavours, with hints of mushroom and smoke notes to play against the aromatic spices. “I made it to cleanse the palate and counter spice,” explains Jukes.
How you drink them is very much down to you, with still, sparkling and tonic water the obvious options. “Jukes 6 and Jukes 1 are tremendous with tonic, too,” he claims, “meaning the drinks can be drunk in the bar as aperitifs as much as in a restaurant atmosphere with fine food”.
The initial Cordialities were quickly picked up by a number of the most famous London restaurants and hotels, “and then Covid hit”, says Jukes.
That’s when it was imperative to get an e-commerce website going, and Jukes started selling directly to the consumer. This moment coincided with the launch of Jukes 8 (the rosé), and under the admittedly cheesy tagline of “you cannot go to Provence this year, so we will bring Provence to you”, sales were astonishingly brisk.
The design element of the range came to the fore when Jukes called on designer friends Jay Osgerby and Ed Barber. The three have been close since they worked together on the design of The Crescent wine bar in Chelsea, which Jukes used to own back in the 90s. Osgerby and Barber have since gone on to become much sought-after designers. They created the Olympic torch for London 2012 as well as designing one of the pivotal pieces of English 20th century furniture design – The Loop Table. In the luxury sphere, they have worked with LVHM, Rimowa and Hermès, among others, and they are the creative force behind Jukes’ packaging design.
They have developed a design for Jukes Cordialities that would look more at home in a high-end perfume store or on a health and beauty counter. They designed a signature cube box that can hold nine 3cl Cordialities bottles that are modelled on old Cognac bottles that Jukes sourced in France. Each bottle makes two drinks, so there are 18 drinks in each box. They are great for those that like the theatre of ‘unboxing’ your new purchase. The team was delighted when one of the first write-ups came not from a gastronomic journalist but the design bible Wallpaper.
Each Cordiality bottle has its own perforated label designed to be stripped off so the user can read the message inside about what’s in it, the ingredients used, the nutritional data and how best to serve it. All the packaging and materials are sustainable and recyclable, and as the website says, it is all “planet-friendly”.
At the beginning, it literally was just Jukes and a skeleton team sourcing the ingredients from New Covent Garden, macerating them and then doing the bottling and packing by hand. But as demand grew, he has been able to recruit more personnel, and he now has a full production team working on a rather larger scale than a couple of buckets in the kitchen. To date, they have made over 1 million units of Jukes drinks across all styles and these have been shipped to 10 markets around the world.
“I designed the business so that it could be easily scalable,” says Jukes. “We started out buying 2-litre bottles of apple cider vinegar, and now we buy it 1,000 litre IBCs.”
Health and Wellness
A premium drink that can appeal to those wanting to buy quality, zero per cent alcohol products is clearly a big plus for the growing health and wellness market. But the fact that there are minimal calories per serving when mixed with water has opened up the range to a much broader audience than they first expected. Health clubs, beauty salons, spas, expecting and nursing mothers and all manner of different strands of interest have popped up as they have spread the word.
The Cordialities also provide you with your daily dose of apple cider vinegar, which is usually in short supply in the average diet. The website also pushes the “100% plant-based” credentials of the range, and Jukes likes to refer to them as a drinks that “pamper your palate” which does have a nice ring to it. They are also vegan, halal and gluten-free – all fast-growing sectors of trade.
Jukes’ new product conveyor belt is very much in action, and he is introducing a Jukes RTP (ready to pour) carbonated version of the classic Cordialities in the United States. The bottle conjures up images of iconic America and tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
His next big launch in the UK is in a can. And proudly so. While Jukes’ products, up to now, have been fruit-based tributes to wine, this new drink has wine as part of its DNA, given it is made from fresh Pinot Noir skins, sourced directly from English wineries, and then given the Jukes treatment.
Jukes has high hopes that the new can format can really offer a premium point of difference to the zero-alcohol category and offer an alternative way to enjoy a grape-based drink. All again neatly brought together in a tall cube shaped pack with four 250ml cans selling for £10. Jukes has already received significant orders from Europe, the US, and Asia.
“It’s an idea I had in 2020 when I made a micro-production, and then in 2021 we brought it to market within three months,” says Jukes, and he is pleased to be able to work with Pinot Noir, a grape he describes as “King” of all grape varieties.
In order to get the freshness and perfume from the grape skins, they must be picked up directly from the winery within hours of being crushed, hence why Jukes currently works with a number of vineyards across the south of England.
To keep up with, and build on, the rate of growth for Jukes Cordialities, it has recently raised £800,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to help it with its recruitment drive and also some above the line activity, which has seen ‘Jukes’ pop up on billboards, and advertising hoardings across London.
If there were 36 rather than 24 hours in a day, then Jukes would probably still try and do everything himself. But he is also proud to be building an impressive team, including: Maoré Pichot de Champfleury in position as chief operating officer and chief marketing officer. Maoré, says Jukes, “is the crux of the business”, and she has an incredible work ethic and vision, coming as she does from Moët Hennessey. Henry Hardy, from the eponymous Australian wine dynasty, is head of sales, and he can be seen charging around the country, training on-trade staff and opening new accounts. Melania Borgia, trained as a master pasta chef, heads up production, and she has a team of four beavering away in the Arches in Battersea. Katie Roberts is fresh out of university, and she is the lynchpin between the whole team and the thousands of Jukes customers.
He freely admits that while he might have the skills, experience and knowledge to bring the flavours together, he does not have the wider business and trade skills to take a brand of this size and importance to the market.
“That’s why I surround myself with experts who have the right business skills,” he says.
He clearly takes great pride in how an idea dreamt up and created around his family’s kitchen table has now given so many new opportunities to these talented, mostly young, drinks professionals. “We have now had two babies born in the team, too,” he says.
Jukes also says he takes counsel from his father, who worked in senior roles in the UK manufacturing industry and has been a big help in how to shape, plan and guide the company. As well as impressing on Jukes the importance of team building and sharing as much information as you can with your colleagues and asking them for help, advice and support, too. “He’s the perfect mentor to have on the end of the phone,” he says. “It is a far cry from being a solo wine writer, that’s for sure.”
Jukes and wine
Even as the Cordialities business grows, Jukes has no intention of putting down his tasting glass any time soon. In fact, he is as busy as ever and is adding to his tasting, writing and presenting commitments rather than cutting down. To such an extent, you wonder if he is working on some sort of new device that allows him to clone himself. Now that’s a thought to conjure with…