Wine expert Chris Wilson turned winemaker last year with Cambridge’s first ever urban winery, Gutter&Stars. His first vintages were so good they found their way onto many critics’ Best of 2021 lists and also made a case for British still wine really being a thing. In another ‘missive from the front’ Wilson takes us through the thinking behind his next two wines – a field blend of Ortega and Bacchus, and a second vintage of his 100% Bacchus from Missing Gate Vineyard in the Crouch Valley. Nerdy music references abound and there’s some exciting news about more new wines in the pipeline.
“Sometimes squirrelling stuff away in a shoebox in the loft does bear fruit,” writes Wilson.
Growing up in Norwich I didn’t visit London much, but boy did I read about London and its myriad haunts in the weekly music press. The NME was full of references to what sounded like the most incredible (and mysterious) places; The Town & Country Club in Kentish Town, a clothes shop on Beak Street where Paul Weller bought Fred Perry shirts, Sister Ray Records in Soho, and – of course – Camden Town.
My 16-year-old self was itching to see all these places and more, so on a rare visit to the big smoke during my first year of A’ Levels to see Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, a plan was hatched.
There was some time in the day’s agenda between the train arriving at Liverpool Street Station and the curtain going up at the National Theatre so we were cast adrift by the teachers (who predictably then repaired to the nearest pub) to explore London in groups with the instructions to meet at the theatre ahead of the performance.
While most of the students headed for Leicester Square or Oxford Street, a gang of us jumped on the Underground and made a beeline for Camden Town, and more specifically to a pub we’d read about in ‘the inkies’ called The Good Mixer.
This was a near-mythical watering hole, the cradle of the omnipotent Britpop scene where our favourite bands would hang out drinking lager, playing pool, smoking Marlboro Lights. It sounded so painfully cool, so incredibly un-Norwich.
We located ‘The Mixer’ at the end of Inverness Street, spitting distance from the tube. It was unassuming in the extreme and when we arrived the doors had just opened and the place was empty. There were no indie bands to be seen, not even Menswear. Disappointed and too scared to try to get served we mooched around Camden Market for a while – where bizarrely we saw Emma Bunton from The Spice Girls – then headed south to watch Willy Loman struggle with his demons at the National.
This whole sorry saga is a roundabout way of explaining the name of the next Gutter & Stars wine to be released, the first from the 2021 vintage.
‘The Good Mixer // Blond on Blond Blend’ (note the more obvious Bob Dylan reference in the name too) is the first blended wine I’ve made. It’s a white ‘field blend’ of Ortega and Bacchus from a single site at Yew Tree Vineyard in Oxfordshire. The two varieties were grown side-by-side by viticulturist Ed Mitcham, a truly passionate and dedicated grower.
Picked on 13th October last year, the grapes were pressed together and fermented in old American oak (fourth use), they were inoculated with a non-Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast to get the ferment going, then with a Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast a few days later. This way I could get some funky fermentation characters into the wine but also ensure a clean, steady journey from juice to wine.
Fermentation took 23 days then the barrels were topped ahead of five months ageing on lees, with occasional stirring to move the lees through the wine – adding body, texture and bite. The wine will be bottled in early April ahead of a mid-May release.
The artwork for ‘The Good Mixer’ features various tickets, wristbands, lanyards and gig memorabilia from the late 90s and early 00s, all stuff I’ve collected over the years from various gigs and festivals I’ve been to. Sometimes squirrelling stuff away in a shoebox in the loft does bear fruit.
The second 2021 wine to be bottled and released is an Essex-grown Bacchus from Missing Gate Vineyard in the Crouch Valley. Working again with fruit from the Speakman family, I copied my formula from the 2020 Bacchus here; barrel ferment and maturation (old oak, a mix of US and French) with no lees stirring. I’m hoping it’s just as well received, and it’s certainly tasting good right now; aromatic and textured with a lovely acid bite and loads of fresh fruit character.
This is named ‘Strange News From Another Star’ after an ethereal-sounding track from Blur’s self-titled 1997 album, which was released 25 years ago last month. I think the abstract artwork on the label works as a nice foil to the posterized pop art stylings of the Good Mixer label – this is the first time I’ll have two wines on the market at the same time, so it’s nice to have two different-looking, but distinctive labels.
Once again the wonderful Ed from Ed Wright Creative is on design duties, unravelling and decoding my crazy ideas and coming up with something brilliant. Wait till you see the next set of labels…
Strange News will hit the shelves in mid-May/early-June. Keep an eye on my social media and the Gutter & Stars website for release dates and pre-order info for both wines very soon.
There will be further releases later this summer, including an Essex Chardonnay, a skin-contact Bacchus, the first Gutter & Stars rosé, and a light and juicy Crouch Valley Pinot Noir.
Right now though it’s back to the winery, I’ve got some glass bottles to shift (1,264 to be precise) and some wax to order. Until next, cheers!