Revisiting the Vagabond Urban Winery, London

Vagabond is an urban winery based in the new Battersea Power Station development in London on the south bank of the Thames. [You can read all about the background and see the last releases here, from a visit precisely a year ago.] I visited with winemaker Gavin Monery to taste through some new releases. Gavin is a thoughtful winemaker – he has urban winery prior experience from London Cru – and is now focusing on making wines from brought-in grapes from around the south of England.

I asked him about grape prices in the UK. ‘£2000 a ton for grapes is typical for varieties that people want, he said, but it can fluctuate with demand: in 2017 Chardonnay was £2500 a ton. ‘People seem to agree a price without much negotiation,’ he says. ‘It is expensive, though. You can buy top flight Chardonnay from Limoux for 1500 a ton.’ Rondo is one of the cheaper varieties at less than £1000 a ton, and bearing in mind that the cost of production in the UK is £600-800 per ton, the margins aren’t great for less desirable cepages.

All the Vagabond English wines retail at £15 a bottle, and it’s a little more (£28) to drink them in. Vagabond has several branches dotted around London, and it’s one of those places where you can eat and drink pretty well without blowing a fortune.

The winery has a capacity of about 25 tons, with an average of 18-20 000 bottles produced each year.

Gavin is doing some piquette trials (this is wine made by adding water to grape marc – see my article here), but it’s a problem for selling because the UK have copied over all the EU rules, including the weird idiosyncracies like banning piquette. More on this later!

THE WINES

Vagabond Bacchus 2019 England
From Oxfordshire. Gavin tried a different approach this year. ‘A lot of people make Bacchus like Saivignon Blanc, but most of the aroma in Bacchus is terpene based, so we give it a bit of skin contact in the press. I’ve tried enzymes and I don’t think they work. This is the obnly wine that gets a commercial yeast and settling enxymes. Slightly warm fermentation at 16 or 17 C, and this has 10 months in stainless on gross lees. Highly aromatic with lovely grassy, nettly citrus fruit with nice brightness. The palate is juicy and lively with high acidity and lovely integrated bright citrus flavours framed by nice green notes. Extremely refreshing. 90/100

Vagabond Bacchus 2020 England
(tank sample) Really aromatic with fine green notes and lively, slightly exotic pear and melon notes. The fruit is generous but still fresh with nice richness and texture, and lovely fruit with some elderflower cordial notes. This is lovely. 91/100

Vagabond Ortega 2019 England
Same grower as the Bacchus, from Oxfordshire. Let it ripen until the last minute: 5-10% botrytis. Hand harvested and botrytised fruit is discarded. Skins get a bit slippy. Whole bunch pressed, settled overnight, then to barrel for natural fermentation. No malolactic fermentation. Delicate, fine nose of tangerine and grapefruit. This has a lovely generosity on the palate with a hint of oak, adding some smoky grapefruit complexity, and has lovely flavour with good but not high acidity. There’s a nice savoury, smoky, slightly cedary twist to this wine. 90/100

Vagabond Ortega 2020 England
Barrel sample. There’s more generosity here with rounded pear and citrus fruit, with some mandarin notes, and lovely mid-palate weight. Smooth with a spicy flourish, and notes of honey and cedar. Some almond on the finish. A really lovely wine. 92/100

Vagabond Chardonnay 2019 England
From Clayhill Vineyards in Essex. ‘It’s one of the best still wine regions in the country, for sure,’ says Gavin. Made the same way as the Ortega. Whole bunch pressed, 20 mg sulfites, settled overnight, then fermented naturally in older barrels. Gavin uses high turbidity juice and long lees ageing to build palate weight. This is fresh and quite textural with nice acidity supporting the white peach and pear fruit. It’s a little bit smoky with nice weight and a crystalline quality to the fruit. Has just a hint of greenness in the background and some juiciness, but also nice mid-palate weight. 89/100

Vagabond Chardonnay 2020 England
Barrel sample. The extra warmth of the vintage shows through. This has some rich grapey, peachy notes and also fresh mandarin and pear fruit. This is coupled with some rounded texture on the palate. Has generosity, but also a precise, spicy finish. Lovely. 91/100

Vagabond Pinot Noir Rose 2019 England
From Essex. Whole bunch pressed, no skin contact. 25% barrel fermented. Really appealing nose with a subtle sappy edge to the bright lemon and cherry fruit. The palate is supple with nice fresh citrus and red cherry fruit. It is bright and delicate with nice precision. Lovely stuff. 89/100

Vagabond Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 England
Tank sample. Youthful with some fermentation aromas. Nice pear and cranberry with some mandarin brightness. This has some brightness but also some depth. Lovely fruit quality. This is just the tank component, so I won’t score it.

Vagabond Pét Not 2019 England
Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Precoce. Undisgorged traditional method, not a Pét Nat. Fermented dry, cold settled, chaptalized (about 14 g added sugar), start a pied de cuve and then when it is going, bottle it. It’s about 3 bar pressure: they have to stay under 3 bars or else it would need a cork and cage because of the laws that the FSA has copied over. The point of this is to reduce the sediment. Pale pink in colour. This is juicy with rounded apple and pear fruit and a touch of cherry. This has a bright fruity quality with some cherry, cranberry, rhubarb and herb notes. Lovely complexity. 90/100

The challenge is not disgorging – if you disgorge you lose pressure. You need to adjust if you are going to disgorge.

Vagabond Pinot Noir Precoce 2020 (barrel sample)
From Bolney in West Sussex. Whole berry ferment in 1 ton fermenters. This has that smoky, slightly meaty, chocolatey edge that Precoce often shows. It’s fleshy and supple with really nice silky texture. Lovely fruit here, and massive drinkability. I really like this. 90/100

Vagabond Battersea Power Station