Wine journalist – and regular Buyer writer – Chris Wilson has added another string to his bow as he launches his own urban winery Gutter & Stars in the heart of Cambridge. Before Christmas he was updating us on the wines he is making, including a foot-stomped field blend Rosé. In this latest instalment of his column for The Buyer, as the wines are literally chilling out, Chris is taking inspiration from his love of music and design to give him a steer on the winery’s brand image and what he is going to call his wines. Oh, and home-schooling his two daughters in the winery at the same time.
“Sam moved to Australia with his family last year… I was flattered to be asked for advice…it made me think about how far Gutter & Stars has come since summer 2020 when I got the keys to the windmill, what I’ve learned so far and what’s next.”
Happy New Year from Gutter & Stars winery and the chilly windmill basement where things have been ticking along nicely since the wines were ‘put to bed’ in barrel and tank late last year.
The recent cold snap has facilitated a sort of ‘au naturel’ cold-stabilisation process for the wines which is good news, but while the wines have been chilling out – literally – I’ve been twiddling my thumbs a bit.
Like the protagonist Alan Duckworth in 1980s TV film P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang I have spent the past six weeks resisting the urge to fiddle. Unlike Alan though I didn’t need the help of a pair of boxing gloves… the distractions of Christmas and home-schooling have kept me from tinkering with the wines unnecessarily.
My daughters have been making regular trips to the winery with me as part of their school day, although I’m not sure that my practical lectures on barrel topping and the art of the squeegee have been as exciting as proper school.
The past week has seen samples of glass bottles, closures, sealing wax and label stock arrive as I start to think about bottling the first wines. The plan is to blend and bottle the Bacchus in March for release in April, and having decided upon Burgundy-shaped bottles and Diam closures, attention has turned to the labels themselves.
I’ve been working with designer Ed Wright Creative on concepts for the 2020 labels drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources from music flyers and club culture to punk, Factory Records and Trainspotting. I think what we’ve come up with will be eye-catching and original in equal measure – I just wish there were more wines this year to build labels for as this has been a wonderfully creative exercise which has rekindled my love of design and art, and the beauty of a simple typeface.
With a nod to The Stone Roses I can reveal that the 2020 Bacchus will be named I Wanna Be Adored. I’ve always liked the idea of naming wines beyond the variety and vintage, and while this is commonplace for blended wines in the new world, it’s not done quite so much for single variety wines.
As for the name – as well as being a banging tune – it also reflects Bacchus’ slightly awkward reputation and place in the wine grapes’ hierarchy. It just wants to be adored. I’ve always believed that there’s a synergy between wine and music, so expect further exploration of this rich vein in future names, labels and artwork.
Top tips for young winemakers
Last week a friend Sam Owens – who owns Cambridge-based independent merchant Thirsty – got in touch to ask my advice on a winemaking project he’s getting under way in New South Wales.
Sam moved to Australia with his family last year and was for a time involved in trying to set up the winery in Cambridge with me, but now he’s doing his own thing on the other side of the world. I wish him all the best and I was flattered to be asked for advice.
I simply passed on the tips I’d been given over the past six months, “be brave” and “hold your nerve” were the over-arching themes, before descending into some ‘top tips’ advice from Viz. “Don’t fork out for thousands of pounds on a Jacuzzi-style bath. Make your own by placing a hairdryer in the bath”… that type of thing.
It made me think about how far the project has come since summer 2020 when I got the keys to the windmill, what I’ve learned so far and what’s next. The bottling should be a fun exercise and in keeping with much of what I’ve done so far it will be a very hands-on enterprise; bottling by hand using a gravity filler then labelling and waxing each bottle individually. I might have to host a label-and-wax party with some close friends, Covid-allowing, to speed the process up a bit.
The wines have already settled out nicely, and the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have some time to go in barrel so will clarify further. This has made the decision to go down the ‘unfined and unfiltered’ path a little easier; I’m no purist but I am pretty practical and this is the road to take. If it adds to the story then all the better.
The next steps are to build an e-commerce platform for the website, research sales software and hardware and make a decision on the wax colour. Things are picking up again.
If all that talk about The Stone Roses has got you misty-eyed and thumbing through your vinyl, then what better than this excellent foolproof guide on how to dance like the legendary Ian Brown. Come on you’re working from home, your boss will never know.