Sergio & Lynsey Verrillo - Blackbook Winery
Sergio & Lynsey Verrillo
Blackbook Urban Winery - Battersea
Sergio: Wine Maker & Co-Founder
Sergio: Ex-sommelier turned winemaker. Plumpton graduate (Bsc V&O), lover of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A full bio for Sergio can be found on the blackbook website: blackbookwinery.co.uk/story
Lynsey: Marketing graduate, corporate professional and lover of all things wine. Lynsey has been on maternity leave (as we set up) allowing her to get very involved.
Lynsey has been on maternity leave, allowing her to get very involved.
Photo Credits: @blackbookwinery
What are the advantages of urban wine making in the UK?
There are many advantages of being a city based winery. To start, we are at the epicenter of one of the most wine-centric cities in the world. This allows us to directly reach an engaged audience with our wines and many wine focused restaurants. We can liaise with trade and personal customers directly as we have the flexibility to see them any time, rather than needing to rely upon a distributor or many trips to London.
Being in London, we are fortunate to have a majority of UK vineyards within hours of our winery in Battersea. This, of course, gives access to work with a number of different vineyards that have their own unique terroir and the flexibility of the type of wine style we can produce. For us, close proximity and short travel distances are important. All of our growers are within 2 hours of the winery, allowing us to maintain a close relationship with them. It also makes them more accessible for our customers. This type of access connects our customers to the source and gives an increased exposure to the wider UK wine industry, something we are striving to achieve.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we create a wine destination in the city, providing information, education and experience to support any folks who buy and enjoy our wine. Apart from walking the actual vineyards, we can offer a fully immersive experience to match any small winery in the rest of the world. We love this city and want to become a business and a brand that evokes London and Londoners are proud of. We're doing that by connecting with the creative community in London and seeking for the ethos of the city to come through in our label.
What drawbacks and restrictions do you come across?
Well, there's the issue of space. London doesn't have a lot of it, at least not within zones 1 and 2, where we are located. Then there are the financial implications. It certainly ain't cheap. Rent combined with business rates, utilities, licensing and whatever else the city decides to charge you. We consider ourselves pretty fortunate. We found a great site just by Battersea park, nestled in a row of railway arches set back from the road. Our rent is very reasonable for the size of our arch and location. Not to mention that we have some cool-ass neighbours that also like to make booze too!
Our rent is very reasonable for size of our arch and location.
Photo Credits: @blackbookwinery
Which grape varieties do you use and what regions do you source them from? How do you get them to your winery?
Our primary focus is Chardonnay and PInot Noir, which are sourced from couple of different sites in East Anglia. Every year we try to have some fun with other varieties that become our experimental batches. Last year, we sourced some Seyval Blanc for our sparkling wine "GMF" from Oxfordshire. This year we have small quantities of a few other varieties that we will have a go at.
The grapes are transported by trailer by myself or the grower mostly in small 20kg bins.
Provenance is really important to us, we want to shout about our growers and credit their hard work, which is why we are naming the source vineyards on our bottles. We hope our customers will also take a visit out to see them.
Provenance is really important to us, we want to shout about our growers and credit their hard work.
Photo Credits: Black Book Winery
Do you feel that you have more freedom to experiment than a classic grower/producer? If so, why is that?
The urban winery model is really no different from the 'negociant' model in France; many of which are considered classic producers. We could be defined as a micro-negociant. Therefore, not so much. Any producer can have the freedom to experiment and should. It doesn't matter if you are importing grapes or using domestic fruit or are dependent on the location of your winery. As a winemaker, as a producer, the only restriction you have is yourself. I am a firm believer that in order to obtain growth, there needs to be some sort of risk and that cannot be attained by being complacent.
Which of your wines are you most excited about?
Our barrel fermented Chardonnay. It's textured and rounded, and delicious. The fruit came in from Clayhill Vineyard in Essex looking great and the parameters were perfect. Unlike many other pockets of England in 2017, East Anglia avoided frost and had a good growing season. It will be released in September. It is certainly very drinkable now, but it has legs to age and will be even better in 10-15 years.
What is the general perception of an urban winery as it’s ‘unconventional’?
I'm not sure really. I think if you took a survey of a 100 people, you would get a 100 different responses. There are hundreds of different examples across the world, all varied in style. My perception of an urban winery is one that is city centered, a bit of an industrial feel to it inside, but welcoming and unpretentious and otherwise doing everything a conventional winery might. I feel being an urban winery, it needs to be welcoming. People do keep asking us where our vines are however, so glad to keep talking about the model to increase understanding!
Where do you think the urban wine making scene is going in the UK over the next few years?
Up. I think there is room for more. As the UK wine industry grows and matures, there will be a higher demand for something like this. The trend is not dissimilar to the microbrewery movement.
So you want to start an Urban Winery...what do you need to be looking for?
Do your homework! Look at the financial feasibility of your plan. That needs to be ironclad. Before we even considered starting, we made sure our business plan was on point, allowing us to not only look at the immediate but how to understand the future and the longevity of the business. We also had to ensure we had a viable site at an affordable price before we made any other financial commitments. Once that is sorted, everything else is a breeze, or so they say......