What a time it is for English wine – three books alone on the subject are scheduled for release this year (Liz Sagues released “A Celebration of English Wine” in March, Peter Richards and Susie Barrie release their book “The Essential Guide to English Wine” in time for English Wine Week this month, and English wine expert Stephen Skelton will also release a book this year). Demand for both traditional method sparkling and still English wines is growing exponentially, and new plantings abound.
Producers are also now experimenting with creating vermouths (Albourne and Bolney) as well as more progressive wine styles such as pet nat and skin contact wines. (Vagabond and Litmus). Ancre Hill in Wales grow biodynamically, and further south, Westwell, Plumpton and Ben Walgate are all creating amphora and qveri aged wines. New Sussex producer Fitz (a charmat style sparkling wine produced from aromatic varieties) release their first vintage this year. Progress is everywhere.
With English wine changing so much, it’s no surprise that its packaging is too. I spoke to Henry Connell from London based The Uncommon who are the first producers to be making English wine in cans. Their beautiful branding and back history made me curious so I got in touch to find out more about their products and their plans.
What bought you to English wine? Were you inspired by English producers or others further afield?
My wife and I lived in NYC for 7 years and were planning on moving back to England when I read an FT interview (in Barcelona of all places) with Chris Foss (Head of Plumpton’s wine department) talking about how the UK wine industry had changed since he started the wine course at Plumpton in 1988. I was instantly fascinated. I called him the following week and he gave me advice on how to get into the English wine industry. That summer, I quit my finance job in New York and picked up some work experience at Hattingley Valley and Nyetimber before doing some intensive viticulture and oenology courses at Plumpton and then my WSET 3.
What’s your background?
I worked in commercial real estate all over the world for 10 years before ending up in NYC. That’s where I got the idea for canned wine – it’s kind of a thing in California, Oregon and New York. I just took a proven concept and bought it here to Blighty.
Tell us about who is involved?
It’s me and my old pal Alex who I lived with in Dubai for a couple of years. He is graphic designer and the ying to my yang. As outsiders, we approached The Uncommon the wrong way round. We knew we could create a market with our concept and the right brand; after that just needed to figure out how to fill the cans – and with what!
What wines are you making?
This year we made a bacchus, which we add a little C02 to freshen it up like a vinho verde. It has been a huge success, so we will look to do the same next year but add a couple more wines. We avoid traditional or charmat method for a number of reasons, but the tolerance of the can at high pressure is one of them.
Do you actually produce your wine or are you working with a vineyard / winery?
We buy the grapes on the open market and partner with Litmus to make the wine. They were great to work with; we had regular tastings and some nice reassuring words along the way. We then collect the still wine from them and make The Uncommon in a leased facility just north of London. This year, our bacchus has gone down a storm. Next year we want to make a still and lightly sparkling red and rosé using pinot noir.
Where can we try your wines?
At the moment The Uncommon is only available in Selfridges and online on our website: www.theuncommonuk.com
Who did your brilliant branding?
We had a rough idea of what we wanted and found a freelance illustrator who took our brief and made it his own. He is self-confessed weirdo and that’s why we chose him! Each element of our long form illustration represents a part of the us or the wine – elderflower for the nose, the motorbike for our sense of curiosity and adventure, the radio for outdoor events and festivals, the tortoise represents the time is takes to make wine and so on … oh – and a giraffe because they look slick in a suit!
What do the other English producers think of your venture?
They have been really good to us so far and see us as a compliment to the burgeoning industry. We all have the same goal. Ultimately, we are making really good English wine – it just happens to be in a tin for environmental and convenience reasons. There is a time and a place for The Uncommon; those who already drink and enjoy English wine may chose us for a picnic or outdoor event, whilst those that have tried The Uncommon will chose an English Sparkling over a Champagne for a celebration, for example. We feel passionate about supporting English farmers and want to help raise the profile of English wine as an active member of Wine GB.
Do you think other producers will follow suit?
Who knows, I’m as interested as you to find out!