The Oenophiliac

Bringing you stories from the world of wine and beer.

Harpers – Mike Matthews on the intriguing story behind Red Squirrel Wine Club

Red Squirrel Wine was brought to my attention via a story I read in my local paper. As a wine guy, and someone who lives in South West London, the notion of commercial wine being produced on my doorstep I found rather intriguing, more to the fact, I had no idea Richmond had any vines.

The story in the paper made mention that a local resident was to resurrect an old wine production tradition, the last of which ended in the 18th century, from local vines based in Richmond, Surrey.

A week or so later another story cropped up, this time an appeal. The appeal was for any grape growers in the borough who could help supply Red Squirrel with any grapes as the crop had been stolen. My intrigue began to pique, so much so I decided to track down this budding producer, find out what the score was and who the hell would nick a load of grapes?

The aforementioned budding producer is Nik Darlington, a political journalist and local historian who can be heard on BBC radio offering up his views as a political pundit. These mystical vines that had intrigued me actually grow wild down Nik’s quiet street. This revelation solves the case of the rogue grape thieves. The vines are open to the general public where anybody can pop along and pick them.

The age of the vines have been estimated at around 40 years old and are reputedly from the European Vitis Vinifera vine species, samples were due to be sent to Plumpton for clarification before the original crop was lost, in the meantime images of the grapes were sent to vineyard consultant, Stephen Skelton MW, to cast his eye over.

As for the appeal, well this literally bared fruit as two local grape growers from Hampton and Twickenham came forward to offer their produce. Nik, in collaboration with Green & Blue wine bar, East Dulwich, is unsure whether to produce a wine this year as the fruit was too late to harvest. His efforts may not all be in vain, now with his new contacts he may try again next year with the hope of creating around two cases of experimental wine.

This was just a side project. Darlington’s main aim now is his new online business, The Red Squirrel Wine Club. The wine club was launched earlier this month on the back of a soft launch where, through word of mouth, they had secured 550 pre-launch subscribers.

Customers who visit the website can choose from two price points, each containing six bottles, firstly the Richmond Box – £59.95 and the Gold Box – £79.95 plus P+P. The wines have been handpicked to highlight the diversity of styles and blends that are available from around the world; you won’t find these wines in any supermarket. These include two rich reds from Germany and a Pinot Noir from Slovenia although you’ll also discover whites like Austrian Pinot Gris, Croatian Malvasia and Washington State Riesling.

Amongst these uncommon gems the traditional wine producing regions are represented but the focus is on locating the rare, sometimes unusual wines of the world.

If you’re unsure of what to buy then each wine comes with its own video tasting note from Nik himself via Squirrel TV. The range will change throughout the year to reflect the seasons, so you’re not limited to the same wines week in week out.

I tasted two wines from Red Squirrels winter range,

Meinklang Graupert Pinot Gris – Burgenland, Austria, 13% ABV. The nose

Meinklang Graupert Pinot Gris – Austria

exhibits soft spice and tropical honeyed aromas. The palate has a lovely creamy feel to it culminating with big dollops of tropical, peach fruit. The acidity levels are well balanced and sit very well with the fruit. This is a good example of what Pinot Gris (Grigio) can do and from a country which people might ignore. This wine features in the Gold Box package.

Tapiz Bonarda – Argentina

Tapiz Bonarda – Mendoza, Argentina, 14% ABV. Big and rich with good concentration of black bramble fruits and plums on the nose. The aromas are reciprocated on the palate with some added spicy notes and minerals. People mention Argentinian wine and the first thing they tend to think of is Malbec. There is definitely more to Argentina than Malbec with Bonarda being the great alternative. This is a varietal which traditionally has been used for blending. Now it is standing firmly, and quite rightly, on its own. This wine features in both Richmond and Gold boxes.

I’ve always been vocal about innovative businesses. I like creative thinkers, you have to be nowadays. Nik has had some time to think about his concept. After spending some time travelling Moldova and seeing how local winemakers were grubbing up their indigenous varietals for more commercial international grapes, it seemed a shame for these places to sacrifice their heritage to appeal to a mass market.

This is how the Red Squirrel tag came to fruition. Darlington likens it to the big grey squirrels sweeping in and kicking out the native red squirrels. Interesting analogy I thought. It’s always good to see someone supporting the smaller producer, encouraging wine drinkers to try something new. I’ve been shouting about boutique wineries for years. Here you have a business willing to go out and source traditional wines from traditional winemakers.

For more information visit

Story by me!

Featured in Harpers Wine & Spirit Trades Review Online – Industry Blog

Mike Matthews on the intriguing story behind Red Squirrel Wine Club

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