What with Good Food Revolution always having been rather fond of Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s much lauded St. John restaurant, London, it should come as no surprise to discover that we are also rather fond of the wines that the two of them release under the same proprietal label.
With this in mind it should come as no great surprise that we were utterly delighted to hear that our old friend Franco Stalteri of Toronto’s Charlie’s Burgers was bringing in a selection of these wines through his CB Wine Club.
We caught up with Fergus, Trevor, and Charlie to find out a little more about the St. John wines…
Good Food Revolution: So has wine always been something close to your hearts? When were you both first drawn to the wonders of the vinified grape?
Trevor Gulliver: ….to be fair as a student it was beer and the wine that we made ourselves, not often with grapes… but life and lunch in London brought me around quickly enough!
Fergus Henderson: … Oh, quite young, coming down the stairs and discovering the half drunk claret amid the after scenes of a jolly dinner had by my parents… knew there was something to look forward too.
GFR: So how did you come to be making your own label wines? Were the St. John wines the first time that both of you had experimented with this?
TG: Experimented? Working directly with the vigneron allows you to build relationships and to become part of the process, it was a natural step to look at creating our wines, putting the character back, you might say… we started with the claret, we wanted a little bit more at the affordable level that was not simply “inoffensive” or “satisfactory”, maybe was not “simply standard issue” is the phrase I’m looking for…
GFR: You both have a certain affection for French wines… So why French over Italian, Spanish… errr… Canadian?
TG & FH: We’ll both answer this and try to be brief, Trevor usually has an annual debate through Jancis’ or someone else’s pages defending this! We very happily drink pinot from around the world, enjoy a sprightly cava and are happy in Italy, we enjoy wine and its broad church but….
Firstly they are our neighbours, Secondly and importantly we can work directly with them….. Folk avoid those “international menus” that appear in certain restaurants or hotels around the world, surely the same should apply to “international” wine lists, which have no core, no rigour, perhaps no reason? Trying to be brief, finally, when one bottle leads to two it is nice to know that there is a happy flow to the choice and you are not a curate’e egg of a list…
GFR: What were you originally trying to achieve with the St. John labelled wines and how have they been received by your guests since their inception?
TG: Touched on above, access to vineyards to make wine of better character carrying our label which we hoped would allow folk confidence in their choice, I think we have achieved that, and now that we have finally broken the conundrum of a good generic borgogne too, which has been well received, we can give ease of choice to our regulars…. It is important to note that these are not “house wines”, do not confuse…
…and I should say that with these wines it gave our staff the chance to be involved in the process too, really important.
GFR: Approximately how many wines do you label under your name these days?
TG: We bottle five wines and three BIBS (Bag In Box)… one red, two whites, we are big fans of BIBs, apparently we are the only or the first Michelin restaurant with BIBs on the wine list!
GFR: Ahhhh… that old chestnut. The Bag In Box!
Now I am an enormous fan of BIB wines, and they make a lot of sense to me, but they just don’t seem to be loved in Canada as the whole concept is unfortunately still attached to the collective Canadian memories of awful bulk and CIC wine (Cellared In Canada = bulk imported wine blended with subpar Canadian stuff).
What convinced you to go down the BIB route? Did you have an Bag In Box epiphany?
TG: I looked at BIBs a while back but you do need to trust and to know the Winemaker as there is no point in bringing cheap wine over. The supermarkets still happily make serious margin with their offerings! For me the issue was about the glass (environmental), its cost, its transportation and its disposal and the best use of a pallet, then offering happy domestic convenience to our discerning St. John customers and, of course a cheaper glass of wine on the list, pretty convincing I’d say.
The important thing is quality, we worked with our existing vignerons, some doing BIB for the first time and we put our existing wines into the box…. not the high end wines but the good drinking wines, except when I say good I mean St. John good! The box in the fridge or in the larder what could be better….. hey and come the Summer and that big family picnic…
GFR: Well, I do hope that one day we see some of your St. John Bag In Box over here, that’s for sure.
How would you describe the St. John Rouge for your Canadian friends?
TG: A wine of the garrigue, the vineyards are surrounded by limestone hills of scrub oak, lavender, rosemary, umbrella pine and thyme, above the coastal plain with the Mediterranean in the far distance. Hot days with cooler nights developing the flavours… Soft tannins, some bramble and black fruit, gently full, and happily drunk. HOW’S THAT SOUND?
GFR: Claret is a term that today I feel is sadly missing from the modern wine lexicon. Why did you choose to go with the Claret nomenclature? Personally I love it.
TG: Because that’s what it is, claret, it is what we understand here….
FH: … indeed, it is as it always was, claret
GFR: And now you actually have your own vineyards down in the Minervois in France? How did that come about?
TG: We don’t have our own vineyards, we have our own winery in a medieval village in the Minervois, we work directly with vignerons and hope to show that really good wines can be made, good wines are the future of the Languedoc for the remaining small farmers we believe. How did it happen? Serendipity, local knowledge and friendships, we’ve made the first vintage and folk seem to like it which can only be a good start! In reality it moves us and our folk here at St. John one stage nearer the process and in the coming year we’ll see folk working both
GFR: Do you have any personal favourite food pairing with your wines? What would you suggest us Canadian’s try alongside your newly-arrived wines?
FH: Hopefully there will be some game left when we arrive, our reds are admirably suited to the purpose, the Pic St. Loup can happily sit alongside squid and dishes with a little heat in them, the white, chilled is both refreshing and crisp, a cleansing glass. good for white meats, fish and actually quite versatile. All are ideal by the glass to have with your lunch, when time is a little fast or you are on your own in a strange place seeking nutrition and comfort!
GFR: Thank you very much for your time gentlemen. I look forward to sharing a few glasses with you both soon.
GFR: Charlie, can you tell us a bit about how the Charlie’s Burgers Wine Club works, and how people can get their hands on some St. John wine for the holidays?
Charlie: The Charlie’s Burgers Wine Program?
This past summer we launched The CB Wine Program, where we send our members different wines every month.
Over the past 5 years we have served some spectacular wines at Charlie’s Burgers dinners. Our focus on wine has been as important as the Chef and his menu. Our wine team has sourced unique and interesting wines from near and far.
What to expect: Each month, you will receive wines which are not available in the LCBO, Vintages or any wine store. We will search near and far for great, unique wines. We will have wine makers create special vintages or release limited edition wine for us.
How it works: Every month, you will hear a knock on your door and we will hand you your wine. Some months you will receive 6 bottles, other months 3 bottles and other months, you will receive a magnum.
What you get: Every month you will receive a different wine, the story of the wine, the winery as well as food pairing suggestions.
Food pairings suggestions: will be done the Charlie Burger way- every month we will suggest menu items from different top rated restaurants in Toronto and across Canada that would pair well with the wine. Should you decide to go to the restaurants we suggest and bring a bottle of the featured wine, our chef friends won?t charge you a corkage fee. That?s right; no corkage fee. Just tell em? to put the corkage fee on Uncle Charlie’s tab.
Why be part of it?: Because it will be fun. And delicious. You will receive things you could otherwise not get. Plus some of Canada’s top rated restaurants and celebrated Chefs will ensure you are having great food with your wines.
To get your hands on some St John wines, or any of our wines, simply email me at email@example.com
GFR: Which wines do you have available right now?
CB: At the moment we have the 2012 St. John Cab/Syrah… and landing imminently, the 2012 St. John Blanc and the 2008 St. John Claret.
GFR: Ah, a longtime favourite of mine… Excellent!
And what initially drew you to the wines of St. John?
CB: We have always admired what Fergus, Trevor and the St John team have done in London, we also really like their wines. In speaking to Trevor he mentioned they had never exported the wines. It was a very exciting project to bring the wines to Canada. They will be soon be available in BC as well.
Part of what we love about the CB Wine Program is we are able to source wines as if we were stocking our personal cellars. We are able to seek out unique and interesting wines. The St John wines are a perfect match to our own philosophies on food and wine. The wine program also allows us to find the hidden gems and get them to our members.
GFR: I don’t think that they have ever been available in North America, right?
CB: As far as I understand, the wines have never been available anywhere in the world other than London. We are the first to ever import the St John wines anywhere.
GFR: And will you been having a Charlie’s Burgers dinner with Fergus and Trevor anytime soon?
CB: This is a very good question.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s is looking forward to a few bottles of St. John Claret on his dinner table in the near future.