The Finish… or just the Start?
It has been too many months since I last submitted an entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, however when last month’s winner, Jim of jvbuncorked, chose “Finish” as this month’s theme there was no hesitation. I’m not usually one for the dramatic but this month’s topic was the perfect opportunity for me to write my last post on confessionsofawinegeek.com. This also makes me feel like a fraud; although this post will mark the finish of this blog, which I have loved writing for the past two and a half years, more importantly it marks the start of a new venture as myself and The Fish get closer to opening The Grape Escape Wine Bar & Merchant in Cheltenham. What it has prompted is the opportunity to pause and look back at how we got to this place, a journey that started a long time ago… I have been interested in wine since I was about 20, very nearly half of my life (it will be half of my life come September!) From my university days that included negotiating a by the case deal for my then favourite Cotes du Rhône (£3 a bottle!) to my first taste of DRC (Echezeaux 2000 @ £800 a bottle!) and Cheval Blanc (1995 @ £400 a bottle!), it has been a heck of an adventure that has never stopped giving. About ten years ago we went for a city break to Paris; we bought a book titled ‘Paris by Bistro’ and worked our way around six magnificent eating establishments in three days. I can remember every plate of food I had that holiday, but the only wine I can remember is the Gewurztraminer that was served from a flask in a fabulous little place opposite the Gare du Nord. I’m sure there was some Chablis and Sancerre in the mix during those wonderful days but it was the food that was more important to me at the time. It was shortly after that holiday that I stumbled upon an independent wine shop that would change my life for the better and meant I would remember every wine I tasted from that day on.
I was on a mission to find some sausages to enter for the inaugural Bangers & Smashed competition (you can read about that here and here). One of the butchers I came across during my search was located at Battlers Green Farm, a few miles from home, but it wasn’t the butchers that left the biggest lasting impression, that was Wine and the Vine, the wine shop next door but one. I went in looking for a bottle of Riesling and a bottle of Pinotage I seem to remember; I came out with a dozen bottles including a Verdejo, Torrontes, Primitivo and Carmenere, grapes I had never heard of from places I’d never considered. More importantly I had found a wine mentor in the shop owner, Jez Grice (see My Wine Hero), and I was hooked. After a couple more years of exploration and discovery it was time to move further down the list; at the time spending £15 for a bottle of wine was a big deal. For my birthday I selected a bottle of Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Jadis 2007, which was a revelation with fish and chips, and a bottle that meant I would never have any money to spend on anything else but wine ever again. That bottle was from Burgundy, a Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 1er Cru Chevret 2006. When I took that first sip there was no turning back. The aromas, the flavours, the excitement was overwhelming; the finish was so long I sometimes think I can still taste it today.
A few days later we had booked our first trip to Beaune… and our first visit to a winemaker. I emailed Nicolas Rossignol and arranged to meet him at his new winery; we turned up the day after he had finished bottling the 2010 vintage and I still have a few bottles left of the magnificent Aloxe-Corton from that same year. I fell in love with Burgundy and it whet my appetite to keep learning and keep discovering. I enrolled onto some WSET courses, took my exams, passed my exams. But it wasn’t enough for me; it was too structured, too regimented. Instead I spent my money buying wine and attending tastings wherever I could find them. Horizontals and verticals, events focusing on a single country, region or variety, I just couldn’t get enough. But attending wasn’t enough – I wanted to be part of a community and share these experiences. I also wanted to test my knowledge so I started writing confessionsofawinegeek.
Summers were spent visiting the wine regions and vineyards of France, meeting winemakers, finding hotels as close to the vines as possible, tasting and drinking new and exciting wines from winemakers old and new. There was no way we could stay in our current jobs forever when there was this magical world we could be a part of. We discussed giving everything up and opening a wine shop; with the opening of so many brilliant bars in London the dream turned into a wine bar. Three weeks in California last summer brought the date forward; we were mesmerised by the passion of the people and the quality of the tasting rooms in Napa and Sonoma; it helped us define what our place would look like. We resigned the week we went back to work and finished our jobs at Christmas. 2015 would be a new beginning, the start of a new adventure, the start of a new life.
This week we signed a lease on premises in the beautiful Cotswold town of Cheltenham. We have pulled together a list of over 200 wines, featuring almost 100 grape varieties, from 18 different countries – bringing the ethos of #newwinethisweek to the high street! We want to share some of what we have learnt in the real world, we want to be those passionate people who inspire people to learn more about wine and taste new and exciting varieties from all over the world, just like others have done to us. It may be time to finish confessionsofawinegeek, however the spirit and adventure will continue at The Grape Escape in Cheltenham. I hope so much that you can visit us and share the experience with is…. Cheers and remember, life is too short to drink cheap wine! The Grape Escape will open its doors on Saturday 23rd May 2015 at 10 Bath Road, Cheltenham GL53 7HA. www.thecheltenhamgrape.com