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Katto Katto


Posted on 06/12/23

It may not have the beauty of Bordeaux, or the pulling power of Provence; but in Walthamstow a quiet revolution is taking place in the world of wine making.

Here we meet Warwick Smith, co-founder of Renegade - a cutting edge urban winery taking on the oeno establishment.

Katto: You worked for nearly 15 years in The City before launching Renegade. What inspired you to take the leap?

Warwick Smith (WS): For me it was simple - I wanted to start a business that was rooted in something physical and tangible and where I had the chance to both create and challenge the norms.I had seen the rise and rise of the urban winery model in the USA and really thought London would love the concept and product.

How do you best describe the quality of the wine you make?

Our wines are quality, modern and disruptive wines. They are wines made in London from grapes sourced from around the UK and Europe. However, we do not try to replicate traditional styles. The beauty of making wine in a city like London is that we are not governed by tradition and appellation rules. We can be adventurous in our winemaking techniques and philosophy and as such make wines that are unique and different. Some are modern twists on traditional wines, and some are completely new products. Some examples of our styles are multi-country grape blends, dry hopped sparkling wines and the use of non-native yeast strains to bring out unusual characteristics in traditional grapes.

You’ve been outspoken regarding the recent trend towards ‘natural wine’. Why is it that you’re uncomfortable with that label?

It may seem like a controversial view; but in my opinion, no wine is 100% 'natural’.

Firstly, think about vineyards. These are traditionally mono-agricultural farms where historic scrubland, forests or wild land were cleared and cultivated for the sole production of vines. Often this would feature a specific grape clone, manually grafted onto a chosen root stock. 

These vines are then cropped, trimmed, watered, sprayed, leaf stripped and tendered in order to produce grapes. These grapes are then harvested before they would naturally drop, pressed, fermented, aged, bottled and drunk.

This is not in itself very 'natural'. 

Nevertheless there are ways in which you can limit the chemical or industrial impact of winemaking. This is what we think of as ‘low intervention’ wines.

For example you can buy grapes from vineyards that practice organic farming. Or by using wild and native yeasts to ferment the juice. Or by not filtering or fining the wines. 

As a winery, we certainly want to be as low intervention as possible. However, our aim is also to produce well made, interesting wines.  And we will intervene occasionally if we need to do so. Ironically, low intervention winemaking requires a lot more work than industrial winemaking due to the care you need to give the wines.

Public understanding of the low intervention wine movement is relatively low. Why do you think that is?

I think there are many reasons. 

Firstly, wine is a complex product. First the grapes must be grown and then there is actual making of the wine. This second phase is largely not known about, understood or even seen. As a result people don't know what to look for or ask about when discussing ethical or production-led aspects of winemaking. 

There’s also little interest from the wine world to educate people on the production side of wine. It is far more romantic to let people believe wine is magically and naturally made in a cute winery right next door to the vineyard. The reality of course is often very different.

As a winery, we are not trying to claim to be better than the rest (although our low intervention approach is certainly more ethical than many). We are simply trying to be honest and open and let people see how wine is really made from grape to glass, here in London.