I HAD loved the pace of London living, where it was entirely possible to start your evening out at 3am having just finished work. Now living out in the wilds of Somerset one has to be mindful of lunch finishing at 2pm.
Easily the worst aspect of one of my London restaurant jobs was the need to ‘turn’ tables. Sheer greed on behalf of the owners dictated that patrons had to vacate their seats once their allotted time was up. This was irrespective of the level of enjoyment being had and indeed of money already spent, which tended to be not inconsiderable.
Now I frequent licensed establishments where it is perfectly possible to bring your own lunch and where it is hard to understand how the publican is making any margin as the drinks costs are so fantastically low.
My son used to obsess over tractors; he is a cockney, after all, and any venture to the countryside used to bring shouts of delight when seeing these large wheeled beasts. Now, since we moved to Upton Noble, there is rarely a murmur as he sees them so frequently, and a recent enquiry as to what he missed of his city life yielded the concise response of “nothing”. Result.
What more could you need for primary school and nursery age children? There is space, lots of it and the chance to fully appreciate the seasons unfold. There are animals everywhere, most normally in sight or even within touching distance. Thus far we’ve had horses, sheep and chickens all hanging out in our back garden. The magnificent Alfred’s Tower is in constant view over winter and now appears near enough to pick up and place in one’s pocket.
I recently took the Land Rover to London to sell wine from a car boot — this is what I do for a living now. Sounds dodgy, but really this was a cutting edge event where I took wines on tap, a Somerset Fizz and a Somerset Rosé. It featured Jancis Robinson signing books and plastic Govino ‘glassware’. I’m still getting used to the dimensions of the Land Rover, it being a relatively new acquisition and I was concerned about parking it in the tight residential streets of the primate city. I should not have feared. W11 not only has its fair share of wide avenues, but parking space sizes have apparently had to increase due to so many 4x4s being in use there. Mine stuck out like a sore thumb, though, it being covered in actual, genuine Somerset mud.
We’ve been resident here for less than six months, yet already Upton Nibbles has become a firm inked-in feature on the family calendar. Delicious home cooked food and a hatch simply brimming with puddings, jellies, cakes, trifles and biscuits entice us out even on the coldest of nights. What’s not to like? I even left with a pack up for the kids’ tea on my last visit.
Perhaps the real seasonal highlight of what is now last year was my young daughter helping with the apple harvest in the orchard behind our home. A fun morning of work with some vicious tree beating to release the fruit and a professional cider maker in residence to oversee the operation brought a smile to all our faces. I can’t wait to add Upton Noble’s own brand cider to my More Wine portfolio; I’m sure it will be a beauty.
I worked in catering for nearly 20 years, mainly in restaurants, with the odd boutique hotel and gastro pub thrown in for good measure. I was out the front steering a team, dealing with the slightly less charming punters and most importantly putting together the wine list. The hours are genuinely arduous and the sheer volume of guests allied with a young family finally took its toll.
There are many perks to a life in top end restaurants: a team of highly skilled chefs cooking you lunch and dinner; the chance to make your own free coffee… and those wine samples. Oh the wine samples. Also the group wine buyer at the time had a young family and so wasn’t that keen on the many trips offered by suppliers. Where to start? A bike ride to Champagne for a few glasses of Bolly; a few days in the Loire; Tuscany in the autumn; Manzanilla and a plate of prawns in Sanlucar or a week in Margaret River, Australia, in the middle of January. I was hooked.
I spent two years studying for a diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, including tests on viticulture (how you grow the grapes), vinification (how you make the actual wine), the wine trade itself, plus, the most daunting of all, ‘blind’ tasting. I was relieved to pass and still remain somewhat in shock that I was, in fact, the top graduate of the year and thus awarded the Vintners Cup. The aforementioned Jancis Robinson is a fellow winner of this prize. My name is proudly engraved upon the cup, and is also up on the wall in the fabulous, guilded Vintners Hall by the River Thames.
Did you know that 50% of the UK’s population drink wine at least once a week, plus the vast majority of wine purchased is for immediate (ie, next couple of days) consumption? When my supply of samples was cut off when the restaurant trade and I finally went our separate ways, it soon became clear what I needed to do.
More Wine was formed in the spring of 2015 with the simple desire to supply characterful everyday wine in an engaging and sustainable way. The concept is simple — delicious easy drinking wine is sold on tap into refillable swing top bottles. The savings in transport and packaging costs made by importing wine in larger formats is passed on to the end consumer. This result is a better value wine, plus decreased waste as these bottles simply need to be rinsed out and returned for a refill. Refilling a bottle is much more environmentally friendly then recycling it, plus one’s guilt on recycling day can be somewhat diminished.
More Wine is now on tap in Bruton (Bill the Butcher); Frome (Garden Café/Next Door) and in a number of sites in Bristol (Workhouse Café, Soul-Fish, Hare on the Hill and with the brilliant Bristol Cheesemonger @bristol_cheese). More Wine has featured in markets in Frome, Mells, Bristol and London, showcasing the concept, and I am a regular supplier to the amazing Frome Food Assembly @FromeFood. This is one of the biggest Food Assemblies in the country and it featured on the BBC’s Countryfile programme late last year, as well as in Country Life magazine, in a news story written by this website’s editor. If you’re not a member already you should definitely take a look.
A number of villagers have even called for the installation of a permanent tap in the village. Who knows? For now, if you are ever in need for your business, for your event of for your own personal consumption then please just get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). You’ll hear more from me in a couple of months. Bye for now.