Under the ominous auspices of The Spectre, Daragh Markham has a quaff-and-chat with London’s rising winemakers W.M.D.
Buddhists have long believed that life is transient, it’s impermanent. That is to say, we ain’t hanging around here for fucking long. If the allure of drinking something older than your parents has lost its charm and you want something a bit more ephemeral ‘n’ exclusive, a bit more now, then Wines Of Momentary Destination should please the palate of all you would-be Bacchanalian Buddhists.
A pop-up winemaking collective, W.M.D. “make one wine, in one place, for one year only”. Collaborating with Birds & Bats Productions, W.M.D. is headed by the ambitious Nick Jones and Leah De Felice Renton. Leah currently works at London Cru’s urban winery (the capital’s first), and Nick at a wine bar, most appropriately, though W.M.D. “have no fixed ‘base'”. “First and foremost, we are winemakers, doing what we need to do to make it happen!” says Leah. “We are pretty much transient, hopping from one country to the next, filling in the time between working in bars and restaurants and selling our wine.”
With these temporary jobs, they’ve both been able to test out their wine on the public as more establishments have started stocking W.M.D. and the bold bottle-with-antlers insignia has become increasingly ubiquitous. It wasn’t until their 2013 vintage, however, The Spectre Riesling, that people really started to take notice. “People see the label on the shelf [in my bar] so I get quite a lot of questions,” says Nick, of the distinctive bottle (which The Carouser lusted after here).
“The restaurant I was waitressing at previously had some of our wine on their list so I’d be able to go over and talk to customers about it, which I think people really appreciated,” adds Leah. This open and down-to-earth approach of from-the-source-to-the-consumer is just one step W.M.D. take away from more mainstream wines. Laid back but passionate, Nick and Leah make wine for the pure love of it, and though their wines are currently available in the UK only, they’re making quite an impression so far. “Some parts of the wine industry don’t even know that England is producing wine,” says Leah, recalling the intrigued reception W.M.D. got at the London Wine Fair.
What is perhaps most striking is Nick and Leah’s almost DIY mentality which anchors W.M.D. Since their first wine, 2012’s Fuse Syrah, W.M.D. are “still without an agent” and remain rather independent. The pair and their limited edition wines signify a refreshing new presence in winemaking, confounding the traditionalists. “We love and are interested in wine, but we didn’t want to work for someone else, making wine under their arbitrary traditions,” says the couple. “There’s a lot of stuff out there and we thought we could do better.”
A strong statement sure, but their wine know-how hasn’t been culled from just their day jobs. Nick has made wine (in essentially Third World conditions) in rural Argentina, and Leah has learnt from the best in Australia and the south of New Zealand. This globetrotting would underpin W.M.D.’s ‘one wine, one year, one location’ mantra. The Fuse, a Côtes Catalanes wine, was made from the grapes of the Saint Paul-de-Fenouillet vineyard and produced at Domaine Vella Frontera winery in France’s Pyrénées-Orientales. The Spectre Riesling, The Fuse’s successor, saw W.M.D. head to Germany in 2013.
Produced in the Staffelter Hof winery, one of the oldest wineries in the world, in the Mosel valley wine region of Kröv, The Riesling has a backstory as wonderfully morbid as that of the winery itself. The thinking behind the creepy branding and labelling of the Spectre was inspired by the Staffelter Hof, which dates back to the 1800s. Inside the entrance to the winery is a human skull. The story goes that the grandfather of the current Staffelter Hof owner found human remains in the fields while digging one day. He brought them back to the winery and kept the skull by his bedside table. When he died, his family put the skull (and some limbs) up as a sort of macabre mantelpiece to welcome people in.
With this skull lurking above them, as well as many rainy nights spent inside the old Teutonic winery, Nick, Leah and others working at the Staffelter Hof naturally decided to hold a séance one night. Mysterious things happened, as they often do, with windows opening of their own accord, strange noises being heard, etc., and it all inspired Nick and Leah to incorporate their haunting new wine with this ghoulish history and their spooky experiences.
The curse wasn’t confined to one bottle, though. The fruits of W.M.D.’s labours in Germany (Arbeit Macht Frei indeed) also resulted in The Spectre’s Ashes – 95 bottles of gin distilled from The Riesling. With eastern spices like Szechuan flower pepper and star anise, Kaffir lime leaves, and other unique ingredients, the gin “offers a more earthy and rounded style in comparison with run of the mill London Dry gins”.
For W.M.D.’s latest vintage, however, they’ve been in Croatia working on The Will To Live, a sumptuous-looking Istrian Cabernet Sauvignon. The red wine will be their choice release for 2015. Aside from this, the dynamic pair are keen on the idea of branching out in the future, from the grape to the grain. “We’d love to try making a beer,” Leah says. Following Croatia, their next jaunt is “possibly Turkey” – though if those rational thinkers and notorious drinkers in ISIS get any further across the border, plans will hopefully change. Either way, down with terrorism, and bottoms up to W.M.D.