Tuesday 12 December 2017

The only vintner in Lewisham

 

UKVINE CATCHES up with Paul Olding, south London’s unlikely winemaker:

 

IT IS NOT long into conversation with Paul Olding that the penny drops: this man is no dilettante in the world of winemaking. His unlikely vineyard location – Lewisham, south London – invites mockery and suspicion that the man knows next to nothing about commercial wine production. Add to that his day job in the media, and there is a grave suspicion of a tongue-in-cheek approach to production.

Instead, as that penny rolls away across the floor, you’ll appreciate this man knows how to cultivate his crop and has a serious business plan that will secure commercial production in the years to come.

Decade of learning

To describe Olding as self-taught belittles a decade of self-education in viticulture that highlights his interest in English wine and its production.

He says: “My interest started 10 years ago. I spent four or five years reading up on the topic and visiting vineyards and winemakers in England. I love English wine and was determined to produce my own.”

As well as interrogating winemakers, Olding took himself off to Plumpton for a week’s crash course in vineyard management.  He has not sought a viniculture degree from Plumpton, preferring instead hands-on experience in the process.

Allotment

So where does Olding cultivate his crop in Lewisham, not noted for its bucolic conditions. He says: “I have an allotment measuring seven by thirteen metres, officially 0.01hectare in size.”

The growing of grapes on an allotment in South London initially raised eyebrows from other urban growers, he recalls. However, as the vines have become established, other allotment holders have warmed to the crop so much that cuttings have been taken and planted elsewhere. There are now a number of further vines, though none are established for wine making.

One major concern pointed out to Olding was that the site consisted of London clay. He says: “My response was that it is the same soil that nurtures Chablis.”

With the establishment of the vineyard, 2009 the name Olding Manor was established. The ‘Manor’ makes a playful reference to French chateaux and the fact that Mrs (Andrea) Olding was born within the sound of Bow Bells and the couple felt an East End feel was appropriate.

Olding selected three hybrid varietals imported from Germany: two whites (Phoenix and Orion) and a red (Regent). No chemicals are used in the growing of the grapes, and everything on the allotment is done by hand.

Family affair

The Olding family is very much involved in the project, says Olding. As well as Mrs Olding’s contribution, eight-year old son Huw has completed a debut documentary film about production of Olding Manor’s Regent red wine at Olding Manor which was shortlisted in the under 15 category for Cinemagic Young Filmmaker award held in Belfast in December 2011.

Olding Manor is currently looking for land in Kent to expand into full commercial production and is appealing for owners of small pieces of land to get in touch for future developments.

He says: “I will go commercial. I am making small batches from my 45 vines. They make some 130 bottles, which we consume as a family.”

He is set to discuss this next step with Wine Skills to learn about the world of licenses, laws and business practices for commercial winemaking. He hints that one of his contacts as a film-maker, a well-known celebrity with a love of wine and deep pockets, might come on board to support him.

“I like to get my hands dirty. There are lots of people running off to Plumpton. Instead, I have visited large commercial vineyards in England and talked with winemakers.  The fact is they use great big tanks, I use small tanks. We are all doing the same thing, just on a different scale.

“You do not have to listen to the nay-sayers. I didn’t and that is why I am the only vintner in Lewisham!”

 

ukvine comment

There are superficial similarities with that other south London wine project, Chateaux Tooting. Of course, that is a co-op while Olding Manor is more a garagiste approach to wine production. Simon Fisher in Croydon is also working on wine production in south London.

ukvine wishes Paul well with his project and look forward to the day we can use our corporate Oyster card to taste his wines!