Richard Gladwin, co-founder of The Shed, Notting Hill; Rabbit, Chelsea; Nutbourne, Battersea; and Sussex, Soho, talks to Vineyard magazine about local food, wine and foraging.
Where did the ‘Local and Wild’ restaurant concept come from?
In 1991, mum, Bridget, dad, Peter, my brothers, Oliver and Gregory, and I moved to Nutbourne Vineyard in Sussex. We would spend every summer working in the vineyard and we soon found that we could work well together as a family. There was never a grand plan for us to grow up to be a restaurateur, a chef and a farmer; it just happened that I ended up setting up restaurants in London, Gregory was rearing livestock and Oliver trained at River Cottage. At Christmas in 2011 we decided it was time to bring it all together and in September 2012 we launched The Shed. A lot of places now play on the ‘farm to fork’ concept, and for us the wines are of course a real point of difference in that, but aside from the vineyards, we really do work hard to make sure everything which comes through the kitchen is either sourced from our own farm or from neighbouring growers in Sussex. To try and develop a sense of community with the staff, we also started to organise foraging days when the restaurant was closed. It is great for the team to get out while also being creative about finding things for the next week’s dishes.
What is the most memorable wine you have tasted?
I was only about 15 at the time but I will never forget the time I went to Champagne to help with harvest. I distinctly remember the family I was staying with were always drinking their own produce and were intent on improving the wines for their own enjoyment. I remember bringing this approach back home and from there, as a family we all developed a really deep understanding of every single one of our wines and it has helped us to shape the range.
How has English wine changed as a category since the family became involved in the industry?
A lot of vineyards were being grubbed in the late-1980s and 1990s and I think mum and dad were incredibly brave to carry on because it really did seem that English wine was at its least fashionable. Then there was a stage where people started to ask for English wine just for the novelty. Now, people come in looking for Sussex wines, they can name a handful of producers and are selecting the wines, still or sparkling, purposely to go with their meals. The knowledge has certainly grown from the consumer point of view.
What’s the strategy for showcasing English wines in a busy restaurant environment?
We list the Nutbourne range separately at the front of the wine list, as well as within each of its sections. That captures people’s attention as it is usually the first thing they see on the list. After greeting people, we explain that everything is sourced from our own, or neighbouring farms, and that we have our own vineyard. Being able to package up the concept that what grows together goes together really helps.
How do you describe the Nutbourne range to English wine ‘virgins’?
We never want to bombard people with information, so we like to keep things simple. The sparkling range is pretty straight forward because most people who come through our doors understand the traditional method. Selling the Bacchus is a bit different, but we train the staff to compare it to a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc and the Sussex Reserve is an aromatic field blend, great for the beginning of a meal.
Do you think price and margin holds the English wine category back?
It does to an extent, but there are plenty of people who understand why it costs what it does and who make an active decision to support local vineyards. Customers definitely pick up on that. It is also important as a restaurateur to find a balance across the whole wine list. We have wines which are cheaper and bring in higher margins, and we have some very expensive wines which don’t make as much but customers know they are getting something at great value. It then becomes about the ability to sell volume as people come back because they enjoyed the wines.
With costs in mind, is by the glass the key to success?
My advice to anyone who wants to sell English wine is to sell it by the glass. Customers are more likely to give it a go, so it will be moving in volume, and the bottles will already be open, so it will be easier to do staff training and allow them to taste it and then talk about it. I do think that you have to make a commitment to English wine, but once you do and you are seeing people enjoying it, it is incredibly rewarding.
And what about ‘cheaper’ alternatives like Charmat?
I am biased because we only produce traditional method sparklings and wouldn’t consider doing anything else. Regardless of what happens at Nutbourne, it was really interesting to visit South Africa a few months ago and to see how embarrassed some of the winemakers were over the idea that there is still no national product. We are lucky as a young industry to have that product and I think blurring the lines at this stage is not going to help anyone. Consumers don’t know enough about winemaking to understand and I think we need to have a unified approach and structure.
What is your favourite grape variety and why?
I get most excited about the Pinot noir. From a vineyard point of view, I am often rushing down from London to help out at various times of the year and it is really easy to see the growing stages and colour change. Looking out now I can see big juice dark bunches on the vines, and it is not so obvious with other varietals. From the wine point of view, I love the sparkling but more so our red wine. It is light weight, but we put it through semi carbonic maceration, with some whole berries in the ferment and it is just a really jammy, fun young wine. I can’t wait to taste English pinots in 30- or 40-years’ time and see how they developed.
Do you think we will see more producer-owned restaurants?
I think we have set a very good example of how you can sell your wines and run very complementary businesses, although it is not without hard work! I couldn’t run a vineyard, but dad has become one with the vines and he had helped to guide the restaurants. I hope to see more restaurants open at vineyards. The UK seems to be obsessed with tea and cakes, but the vineyard is not the right place for a café. We need to make sure we can provide visitors with incredible food to go with the wines; people need cured fish with low dosage sparkling white, not cappuccinos and custard creams.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business what would you be doing?
Perhaps a winemaker. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be able to go winemaking in New Zealand, Napa Valley and Champagne, before coming back to Nutbourne. I really enjoyed it and it was definitely something I think about all the time. I married a New Zealander and I think it would be very possible to have a global wine business.
What would your advice be to anyone thinking about this sort of venture?
The hardest thing about running a restaurant is the staffing, so find a way to get people to really believe in what you are doing and find a different approach to make sure they really care about the business and are motived to stay. We are opening a new site in Soho in October 2019 called Sussex. It is a huge risk, not just financially, but because opening something new is always going to impact on the reputation of the rest of the business. That said, wine is fun and romantic; the focus shouldn’t be on margins or upselling, it should always be on the customer and making sure they have the best possible experience. It is always rewarding to see people enjoy something you have created and even more so when they keep coming back.
Finish this sentence:
In ten years’ time…
Obviously, I will also have a winery and restaurant in New Zealand, and I will split my time between the two. Maybe that’s more like 15 years’ time…