In characteristically unorthodox fashion, James is not your typical wine buff interviewee – forget noses, legs and finishes, and leave those sophisticated palettes at the door. Time to talk marmite, mental maps and Enomatic wine dispensers.
What made you choose Canary Wharf for your fifth location?
JD: My office used to be on level 39 at One Canada Square and I always liked how tidy and efficient the Estate is. The little zen gardens with the waterfalls in them, being able to grab a table outside by the dock... For someone like me coming from South Africa, Canary Wharf feels big and open; it feels free. Some European districts are so higgledy-piggledy; you can’t see the light, you know?
I also knew there were a lot of interesting independents there – places with real soul – and I believed Humble Grape could enrich this makeup and bring something different at the same time.
And being able to offer alfresco drinking is a big bonus. We’re planning on doubling the size of our outdoor area so we can give people the best possible experience.
What do modern wine drinkers demand from a wine bar?
JD: Everyone’s starting to get on top of provenance and quality now, wanting to understand where and how their wine is made. Most bars hire wine experts to tell you about the wine they love, whereas I know it’s more important to find a wine that you’ll love.
You’re supplying the wine for the self-service bars at all three Vertus buildings. How do you go about selecting bottles?
JD: The Vertus buildings have Enomatic wine dispensers (if you don’t know what that is, look it up – they’re great!). To decide what went in them we had a tasting with the Vertus team. I gave them a nice mix of the known and unknown – some wines were approachable and easy to drink, others a bit more niche – what I call the ’marmite wines’.
What are the recurring events local residents should be looking out for on your calendar?
JD: We do three different types of events. Firstly, a very short masterclass where we teach people the basics. Secondly, a monthly seated tasting with wine and food. And finally, every second month, we’ll get one of our winemakers over and host a wine dinner. This is a real fireside chat and 5 course dining experience for around the £80-£90 mark.
And if someone wanted us, for example, round at 10 George Street’s Parlour, we’d be delighted.
Why don’t you believe in pairing food with wine? Isn’t it a key part of the wine drinking experience?
JD: You can’t really pair wine and food because everyone has a different genetic structure and taste profile. The whole concept was actually invented by Larousse in the 1930s so that they could sell more wine. We pair wine to people, not to food.
As if this wasn’t complex enough, everyone also has a different mental map. Psychology plays a huge part in what people select, something that’s so underappreciated.
There are guidelines people like to follow – like heavier foods with heavier wines – and I do generally follow that kind of thing; but not always. I believe people should embrace wine more openly and do whatever they want.
What else is new in wine? What are the trends we should be looking out for in the near future?
JD: More natural, unfiltered wines. Some people turn their nose up when they see sediment in a bottle,but that just means it hasn’t gone through an aggressive filtration process. You’re also going to see leaner, lower alcohol stuff that’s more easy drinking.
The wine world is going back to the ways of our forefathers in some respects. Think old school wooden barrels, ploughing fields with donkeys and planting roses beside vineyards to encourage pest-eating ladybirds. You make the best wine by not interfering with it too much and just letting it happen.