Natural Wine in The Steel City – Dream or Reality?

Just a little over a year ago I was talking with Isabelle Legeron and we joked about the prospect of RAW wine Sheffield. She jested that the only person who would be there would be me. I didn’t get too offended by that as, well she was kind of right. Sheffield has never been a wine city. People drink in Sheffield, don’t get me wrong but wine has never been something that the people of my beloved city really have grasped… Until now.

The tides seem to be changing for the wine scene in the steel city, slowly, very slowly, but surely. In the past year there has seemed to be a change in attitude towards wine, but more specifically natural wine. Starmoreboss (a long serving independent vintner) took part in RAW Wine Week this year showcasing a delicious natural Grillo/Verdejo that was produced by Badalucco winery and supplied to them by Sheffield based distribution company ‘Naturally Wines’. Elm (formerly Upshot Espresso) has opened up right next to the hot spot that is Kelham Island and serves natural wine with pizza (my two favourite things!), but even more excitingly ‘Table’ by Fin and Bone has recently opened its doors within Sheffield’s brand new independent dining hall ‘Cutlery Works’. There just seems to be a newly found appreciation for wine in Sheffield.

Now, don’t think I’m getting carried away with this. There still is some work to do in order to grow the scene and I’m not just talking about wine. The wine scene in Sheffield may have expanded but in my opinion the city still isn’t ready or willing to embrace it fully. I may be a bit cynical but I realised this in my short time at Veeno. The bar was busy during the weekends but we had to serve things other than wine to appease the local population. Even then, you would get people put off coming in because they weren’t willing to drink something other than Pinot Grigio or the fact that we didn’t do ‘proper food’ and they couldn’t pronounce half of the items on the menu. Veeno Sheffield closed down because of an internal dispute between shareholders in the site and Veeno head office, but if I’m being very honest I don’t think Sheffield was quite ready for such a niche wine concept so it probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer had it not been liquidated after the big dispute.

The above paragraph was quite hard to write because I have had to really be humble and face a hard truth, that something that I believed in and put countless hours into didn’t work out. I could blame it on the shareholders (which I do to an extent) but if I don’t examine my own failures then ultimately I’d never reach the original goal of this website, which is to make wine culture accessible to everyone. Veeno didn’t work in Sheffield. The Steel City wasn’t quite ready for something so precise and ultimately we didn’t change our business model to adhere to the wants of the people of the city.

In my opinion, what needs to happen and what Elm & Table are both doing right is the fact is that there’s very accessible and informal food on offer other than just wine in their venues. They aren’t relying on someone just coming straight to their venue because they want to try this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau (although I did do that, read here). Elm serve Pizza. I don’t know one person who doesn’t like pizza and to be honest I don’t think I would want to know someone who doesn’t like pizza. I see Elm as a wine bar that serves pizza but someone else might see it as a pizza restaurant that serves wine, either way they are appealing to two sets of customer, the wine lovers and the pizza lovers. If someone went over to Elm for a pizza and had a glass of amazing natural wine with their food then maybe that could be the thing that gets them interested in exploring more about it. Table are doing the same thing. They aren’t a standalone venue, they are surrounded by several other venders supplying different food and drink. This gives people a broader choice. I was at Cutlery Works recently with friends and family and I was actually drinking a beer in one of the bars there, my brother sneaked off for five minutes and came back with a glass of Sangiovese from Table. It was that easy.

I think a lot of the time people are a bit scared to try something different. Everybody likes it when a new bar opens up but let’s face it, most general bars serve the same thing, stock similar beers, spirits and wines, so a standalone wine bar isn’t going to attract someone who doesn’t normally drink wine, however if you place that wine bar in the same building as a beer bar and then put communal tables in the middle then it doesn’t seem like such a big thing/commitment to go to that bar and grab a glass of wine.

That might not make sense to you, but that’s the way I have read into people and the kind of things that go on in my head when I’m contemplating going somewhere or doing something that puts me slightly out of my comfort zone.

To sum up, it is really exciting to see other people trying to do what we are doing at Wined Up. The scene in Sheffield is growing, natural wine is starting to take off and I for one feel revitalised and have a renewed commitment to being one of the people who help to continue with the growth.

Also, Isabelle if you’re reading this then maybe you should start researching venues for RAW Wine Sheffield!

– J A M E S

5 thoughts on “Natural Wine in The Steel City – Dream or Reality?

    • James says:

      I agree. There’s much more worth placed on conversation in France. When I ran a boutique bar in Lille I used to get really frustrated when I first arrived because people would sit and nurse a glass or a cocktail for a whole hour and I thought they were being cheap. Then I realised that it’s more the experience that they go for and the drink is an accessory.

      Liked by 1 person

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