Leisure Wine: South London's first natural winery

11 April, 2022

The Old Kent Road in south London is one of the country’s oldest and most storied. The original track was paved by the Romans and used as their principal thoroughfare between old Londinium and the coast. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about its use as a pilgrim’s way in The Canterbury Tales and later it was the route by which King Henry V and his men returned triumphant from the battle of Agincourt.

Things have changed a bit since the 15th century, and today the Old Kent Road is probably best known as the cheapest property in the UK version of Monopoly. Lined by industrial estates, superstores, post-war housing estates and often clogged with four lanes of traffic, a Monopoly-based travel guide, Bowl of Chalk, recommends avoiding it entirely and visiting nearby Borough Market instead.

Not really the sort of place where you’d expect to find low-intervention wine production but it’s where the much-celebrated Leisure Wine has decided to call home. The project has been created by Samuel Jackson Garbutt, a distiller at East London Liquor Company alongside Samuel Travers, head of gin production at the Port of Leith distillery in Edinburgh and Vangeli Moschopoulos, who, having worked in various aspects of the drinks industry now works in creative advertising - all three with no prior wine experience to speak of.

“There were things that we needed that the Old Kent Road had,” explains Moschopoulos. “One was reasonable rent which in London is very hard to get, with wine it’s a year at least before you have anything ready to sell. We needed a yard, if you’re unloading a tonne of grapes, you need somewhere to do it. There’s a lot here that helps but obviously, it’s not like we have a farm in Surrey.

“But we had a pop-up cocktail bar years and years ago, even before we all got into distilling and brewing and were talking for ages about doing something, maybe beer, maybe a spirit, but we soon realised the only thing we were really drinking in our own time was wine.”

In its earliest version, Leisure Wine’s home was a barn on a friend’s farm. Totally open to the elements, it was where the first grapes, were crushed by foot and sat on skins for a week, tannins tempered by the cold Lothian climate.

Wine isn’t a forgiving medium to the inexperienced. The raw ingredients are orders of magnitude more expensive than beer or spirits and you only get one shot each year.

“There’s a lot that can go wrong with the wine that you’re not in control of,” explains Jackson Garbutt. “You only get one chance every year, you have September and October for the harvest and then if you screw it up, or your equipment breaks you’re done.”

“But that’s what is exciting to us about this,” says Moschopoulos. “You get the grapes, make a few decisions at the beginning and then everything from that point depends on the yeast, the fermentation, the temperature changes, we’re not trying to make many interventions. In gin, the production is very mechanised to a point, and this is so removed from that.”





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