Published on October 4th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Peel me a grape
Wine making is normally the preserve of a warm climate, not the chill North East of England. Alastair Gilmour learns about grapes and enterprise
A Gateshead company has set out not only to produce a brilliant product, but to change people’s perceptions in the process. Team Valley-based Laneberg Wine is the first urban winery on Tyneside and the furthest north in England. Gateshead? Wine?
The company, set up two years ago by Elise Lane, produces high-quality wine using English grapes grown in Leicestershire and won medals in major competitions for its very first 2018 vintage. Gateshead? Wine? Leicestershire? Medals?
“Last year, 2018, was fabulous for English grapes and they were beautifully ripe when they arrived,” says Elise. “Eleven tonnes were carried though our large double doors in plastic crates of 20 kilos each. They are packed so as they don’t get crushed and stay intact else they could start fermenting – which you don’t want at this stage.
“All the family helped, plus friends of my dad’s who he goes to the football with. They’re mostly retired and we had all these older Geordie blokes saying ‘I never thought I’d ever be making wine’.”
So if you can round up a gang of football-mad blokes and get them interested in wine – and wine of such quality it’s going to win industry gongs – that’s your out-of-date preconceptions blown away for good.
“We want people to get the same joy from wine that we do,” says Elise. “We are here for the seasoned wine aficionados and for eager learners and nervous wine novices in the North East.”
Laneberg Wine is run by Elise Lane, with help from husband Nick, father Ray, mother Ruth, sister Laura, brother-in-law Ash, and as many of the family and friends she can rope in.
She grew up in Newcastle and moved away in 1999 to study chemistry at Oxford (where, with the combination of her maiden name Steinberg and her Geordie accent, one fellow student spent the first term thinking she was German). She then moved to London and worked in corporate finance where she met Nick, who is from Gosport in Hampshire.
While there she did a couple of wine-related qualifications at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) which she walked by every day on the way to work and got intrigued through a curiosity that combined flavour compounds and chemistry.
After their first son Max (who is now six) was born she quit her job and studied winemaking at Plumpton College in East Sussex, later working as assistant winemaker in their commercial winery.
The pair moved the family back to the North East in 2017 and set up the business while Elise was pregnant with their second son Reuben (now 18 months old).
“Wine making had been niggling at me for five years,” says Elise. “I loved my job in corporate finance but hadn’t found my passion – and I didn’t want to be away from Max until I was doing something I was really passionate about.
“The wine course was a bit academic but it made me want to get hands-on with wine making. But if you went to a winery to learn you’d spend the first year cleaning barrels and crates, not really learning much about how to make it.
“When we moved back to the North East I thought what on earth are we going to do, then thought why don’t we have a crack at an urban winery?
“At the moment, we make all-English wines from grapes grown in English vineyards, particularly the Bacchus variety which we see as a challenger to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We could source grapes from the Loire Valley in France but they machine harvest there rather than doing it by hand which pulls the grapes off the stalks then pack them into much bigger crates so by the time they reach Gateshead they might have started fermenting – and you don’t want that at that stage.
“We’re all about quality wine here. We don’t get the sugar levels in English grapes that they do in Australia, Italy, France and Spain because of the colder temperatures but it means we don’t have to acidify them because the acids are already high.
“Everything is hands-on from unloading eleven tonnes through to bottling and labelling. You don’t need a gym membership for this job.”
Her urban winery could be mistaken for a brewery with similar-looking stainless steel vessels in a variety of sizes from 1,000 litres to 2,500 litres – except for the giant grape press and cafetière-like plunger. It’s done gently at first, adding more pressure so the seeds and skins loosen without unnecessary damage – most of the flavour comes from the skins. The juices flow down through holes then is eventually pumped into fermenters as the pulp settles into solids and yeast is added to the clear juices.
“It’s a brilliant feeling when fermentation starts,” says Elise. “We leave it for ten to fourteen days after fermentation to let the yeast settle out then rack it into another tank. We don’t add finings to clear it, it’s all done by gravity which will take three weeks.
“You’re always tasting it looking for fruity aromatics. We’ll bottle our rosé in December – Fenwicks have an order in for Valentine’s Day.”
Laneberg Wine has been working with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to bring in a £35,000 investment from the EU which, as well as supporting the production of a wider range on wines for 2020, will also enable it to recruit and train a wine-making apprentice. Elise’s cousin Liam Steinberg is already helping out and he’s keen to learn more.
Elise Lane has plans to produce her first red and sparkling wine and to introduce the wine-making process to the public with tastings and sampling sessions in a bar setting.
She says: “We want people to come, a bit like a Wylam Brewery, but we might have to move more centrally for that.”
The 2019 vintage grapes will arrive shortly on Team Valley – and there’s a group of retired Geordies flexing their muscles, every one of them eager to help make superb wine and drink it. It’s wine education at ground level. Preconceptions? Gateshead?