Under a railway arch just off Bethnal Green Road hides Renegade, Bethnal Green’s very own urban winery. We spoke to Warwick Smith, who is behind the mission to bring winemaking to East London.
LBG: When and how did Renegade Urban Winery come to be?
WS: Like lots of good ideas, I stole it. The urban winery is a concept very much alive in the USA. It is now not unusual to find a winery in NYC, Austin, San Francisco, or Denver. There are loads all over the states. There are even urban wineries in Paris, Gothenburg, Amsterdam, and Brussels. For many, the idea of a winery in a city is very strange as people really only think of vineyards when they think of wine. That’s only half of the story. The vineyard grows the grapes, but a winery makes the wine. They do not need to be next to one another. When you think of London breweries, it is the same concept. They buy in top class hops and grain from around the world. We do the same but with grapes. I started Renegade as I wanted to build a business that would challenge the status quo and provide Londoners with a local winery making cracking, innovative wines from English and European grapes.
LBG: What is your role at Renegade?
WS: I started the business alone so have worn every hat over the last 6 years of running the business. From picking grapes, to pressing, bottling, ageing, cleaning, labelling, sales, marketing, fundraising, answering the phone, cleaning the toilets and dealing with every problem imagionable. Also, lots of tasting!
As we have grown, we have expanded the winemaking and hospitality teams as well as just recently hiring someone to help on the account management, sales. operations and marketing side.
I spend most of my time making sure we’re making great wine and run the business well enough so that we have enough money every month to pay the team and grow the brand.
LBG: Can you briefly summarise the process of how you make your wines at Renegade?
WS: We buy hand harvested, whole bunches of grapes from great grape growers. We place them in small baskets and transport the grapes back to London in refrigerated trucks. We then do all of the winemaking here in London.
Our approach to winemaking is one of innovation and low intervention. Essentially what this means is that we want to make interesting, new styles of wine from great grapes, but we do it in a way, where we let the grape speak for itself (don’t use chemicals and additives) and don’t add or take away where we can avoid it. We want to take lovely grapes and see what kind of wines we can make now, with the constraints of tradition.
LBG: Do you have a favourite wine from your menu?
WS: I personally love lots of them. I really like a wine we make called ‘Araceli’ which is a skin contact Grauburgunder (Grauburgunder is what Germans call Pinot Grigio). Essentially a red wine, made from pinky-golden grapes. It’s hard to describe, but such a lovely wine.
LBG: What made the arches in Bethnal Green the right spot for a winery?
WS: It was just the right place at the right time back in 2016. Great location next to the tube, an unloved alley way, with lots of potential, a great local community, not just of residents, but also other local creative businesses. Being completely honest, making wine in the railway arch, down a small alley, off a busy road has been a nightmare from a winemaking/working perspective. That said, it’s been a great home for us, but very hard work.
LBG: Can you tell us more about your unique label art projects and the story behind how they started?
WS: We used to change the art work on the labels every year until 2018 when we moved to putting our customers faces on the bottles. The whole idea is about celebrating diversity. Showcasing the broad range of people who drink our wines. The concept is that we ask people once a year in around November to put themselves forward to be a ‘wine face’. We just pick a nice mix. The idea is that once we make a specific wine, it will always be that person. Each year, we take a new photo of each person on the bottles to represent the new vintage. So as the wine ages, so does the face on the bottle.
LBG: Are there any ways that local people can get involved at Renegade?
WS: There are a few ways that people can get involved. We often ask local people to help with the winemaking and we have a sign up group on our website. People can help with stomping grapes, bottling wines, and a whole medley of other winey things. We always provide people with wine and food if they get stuck in. Alternatively, they can put themselves forward to be a new face around November. The easiest way to enjoy our wines is to pop into the winery bar one evening. We are open on Wed-Sun and you can book a table or just wander in. These are wines made locally for everyone to enjoy.
Find out more or make a booking at renegadelondonwine.com