Supporting artisan producers - help Errington Cheese fight closure

Recently a campaign on Twitter came to my attention – the plight of the Errington Cheese company in Scotland which faces closure over unfounded concerns that raw cheese (cheese made with unpasteurised milk) is dangerous. They have taken their fight to court, and the outcome will impact on artisan cheese producers across the UK.

As a small company selling Italian artisan wine, this cause is close to my heart, and I wanted to do something to help. I made a suggestion about holding a wine and cheese evening to raise funds, with our wines from Emilia Romagna that are absolutely made for pairing with artisan cheese, it would have been lovely but with everyone already so busy at this time, I knew it would be a tough thing to pull off at short notice. So I racked my brains for another way of helping and this is what I came up with.

I’m going to donate £1 to the Errington Cheese Campaign for every bottle of wine bought between now and Christmas if you put the word CHEESE in the voucher code box. 

The money won’t be sent to the fund automatically, we’ll have to write a list of all the people who say CHEESE, we’ll tot up the numbers and send the appropriate donation and then we’ll send an email to everyone telling them how much we raised. You’ll just have to trust us. 

We can do this because we are a very small company, a family company in fact. And to be honest it's not easy being a "micro-importer" in a business so skewed towards mass production. People think that if you sell wine you must be making massive profits, that the margins are huge because there are always “offers”. 

We don’t really do offers because we don’t have huge margins, we make our prices fair in the first place. The other thing is, we sell real wine, not junk wine.

I set up the company with my brother because when I moved back to the UK after living in Italy for many years, I missed the kind of clean-tasting wine made on a small scale that I was drinking there. In the UK I could only get two kinds of wine: Supermarket wine and ‘Posh’ wine. 

I wanted wine that was the wine drinker’s equivalent to craft-beer, I wanted to take the pomposity out of drinking good wine, highlight how much it is about people and places.

There are millions of bottles of wine sold in the UK every year and we only need the tiniest fraction of that market to thrive. For our business to be sustainable we need to sell approximately 600 bottles a month, I am probably one of Love Lane Wines best customers, buying on average 6 bottles a month so if there are 99 other people out there with my kind of values, we're sorted. Or 198 people buying 3 bottles a month, or 594 people buying one bottle a month. Or whatever. That's what I thought.

Our business goes against the existing status-quo of the drinks industry - we have an honest pricing policy that means the producers get about 30% of what we sell the wine for - as opposed to the tiny percentage that goes to the grower when we buy wines from mainstream channels - yet at the same time because of our lean business model and relatively low overheads, we can offer customers very competitive prices for our products. 

Buying wine from us is the next best thing to going to Italy and visiting the vineyard yourself. But we can only do this if we achieve a kind of “critical mass” of customers and that’s proving more difficult than we expected.

Business advisors tell us we must buy bigger quantities of wine and drive down the producers’ prices, that we should hire sales reps, spend more money on marketing, send endless emails to people inducing them to buy our product. That’s not the way we wanted to do it, it’s not really our style. 

I wanted a simple, small-to-small supply chain that trims off all the useless bits and focuses on making available a quality product through human connection, not what William Morris called “puffery of wares”.

My desire is to have a company that establishes a kind of “virtuous circle”, I want an income to support my artistic practice for example, my brother manages his side of the business while volunteering at a mental health charity. We have a great venue that we like to be used by creative people and for community events, we want to support up-and-coming chefs with our DIY Diner.

And this year I want to support Errington Cheeses. So here’s to Real Wine and Real Cheese, let’s hope they win their case and we can celebrate with a big wine and cheese evening. 

You can also donate to the Errington Cheese Campaign via Just Giving, here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/joanna-blythman

 

 

All I want for Christmas

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

William Blake

Once I showed our website to a friend who had many years of marketing experience. As soon as he read the opening line, "we are a small, Liverpool-based company" the first thing he said was: "Don't say small, small is bad. You don't want people to know you’re small”. Similarly, a business mentor said we should change our email address from lovelambrusco@gmail.com because 'that tells me you're small.”

We did change our email address to cheers@lovelanewines.com but our website still says we’re a small, Liverpool-based company. Because we are. Why hide it when there are so many good things about being small?

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Small means we know exactly where our wines come from. We've been there, met the people that make them, seen how they're made. Small wine producers tend their vines with love and care, the grapes are picked by hand and turned into wine right there. The flavours are a direct result of this, not tampered with to suit a generic palate. Buying wine from us is the nearest thing to going to one of these Italian vineyards.

This is how we began, quite simply with a pallet of wine arriving at our house direct from Monte delle Vigne in Emilia Romagna. (In reality it wasn't simple at all, everything about the wine trade is set up for large companies and it's been a challenge becoming a 'micro-importer' but that's another story). We have gradually added to our range of wines and will continue to do so, but only with wines that meet our exacting, high standards. Small means attention to detail. Each wine in our range has been chosen with great care, and each has their own very distinct personality. I thought I'd share with you the reasons we chose them and what makes each one special.

Malvasia Classic

I'm very fond of Malvasia. It is my 'go to' wine on a Friday evening. It is soft, gentle and sparkling. I completely get why Prosecco is so popular, you feel like you're really treating yourself. But there are many more Italian sparkling wines to discover and Emilia Romagna is a region with a particularly strong tradition for them, Malvasia di Candia Aromatic is a grape that's been around for centuries. This wine is beautifully clean-tasting, fresh, fruity and not too strong which means you can have an early-evening treat without ruining the night.

Bottle £12 Case of 12 £144   BUY NOW

The first 10 people to use the voucher code XMAS12CASE can get a case of either Malvasia Classic or Lambrusco Classic or a mix of the two for £120. BUY NOW

Lambrusco Classic

Lambrusco was the whole reason we set up Love Lane Wines in the first place, our mission was to bring authentic Lambrusco to the UK and we started our company under the name Love Lambrusco. Not many people realise that the sweet and sickly 'Lambrusco' available in UK supermarkets bears no resemblance to the real thing which is instead a dry, crimson, fruity, slightly sparkling wine that is highly versatile and food-friendly. There's lots more I could say about Lambrusco but the best thing is just to try it for yourself and find out why our followers call it "Purple Loveliness".

Bottle £12 Case of 12 £144   BUY NOW

The first 10 people to use the voucher code XMAS12CASE can get a case of either Malvasia Classic or Lambrusco Classic or a mix of the two for £120. BUY NOW

Lambrusco Selezione

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Made from 100% Lambrusco Maestri, the same grapes as Lambrusco Classic, this is simply a slightly smoother, more refined version. You might call it "Purple Elegance". To paraphrase Martha Stewart, the love-child of red wine and champagne. It comes in a beautiful bottle making it an excellent Christmas gift, especially when presented in one of our bespoke gift boxes.

Bottle £14 Case of 6 £84   BUY NOW

The first 10 people to use the voucher code SELEZIONEXMAS will get their bottle delivered in gift packaging

Lambrusco I Calanchi

I Calanchi is also made from 100% Lambrusco Maestri grapes but aged slightly so has a deeper, more full-bodied taste. It's a beautiful wine made in very limited quantities making it even more special. "Seriously special purple loveliness", I rather enjoy this with Christmas dinner as it has a deep flavour but isn't too high on alcohol. (Christmas Day is a long day after all!)

Bottle £15  Case of 6 £90   BUY NOW

Rosso

This is a still red wine that is a blend of Bonarda and Barbera grapes, very fruity and easy to drink, soft and silky but not heavy. In Italy it recently won the "Tre Bicchieri" award, a prestigious accolade proving it's got all the right credentials for impressing the experts. But you don't need to be an expert to enjoy this wine, Rosso is brilliant for any situation that calls for a nice bottle of red. Not too heavy and very quaffable!

Bottle £16 Case of 6 £96   BUY NOW

Nabucco

Nabucco is total luxury, a highly-acclaimed wine that has won numerous awards. I would describe it as the perfect bottle of very posh, Italian red wine and despite the high price tag, would never hesitate to recommend it. We supplied it to the Connaught Hotel for pairing with the eight-course lunch prepared by Massimo Bottura for the launch of his book "Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef". (If you don't know who he is, google it, you'll be impressed). Perfect for accompanying Christmas dinner, and an excellent gift for someone who likes serious wines.

Bottle £26 Case of 6 £156   BUY NOW

Brut

Made from Chardonnay grapes, the same ones used for champagne. I would describe this wine as the absolutely perfect bottle of bubbly, a drink for celebrations. Just to give you an idea of its class, it was served at the premier of the film "Blood of my Blood" at the Venice Film Festival last year. A lovely treat for Christmas and with its beautiful bottle a lovely gift. 

Bottle £16 Case of 6 £96   BUY NOW

Callas

Callas is another serious wine that has won numerous awards and also made an appearance at the Connaught with Massimo Bottura. Very elegant, fruity with a dry aftertaste it is made from Malvasia di Candia Aromatic. Callas is to white wine what Nabucco is to red.

Bottle £24 Case of 6 £144   BUY NOW

 

 

 
 

Milan

In 1994 I bought a one-way ticket to Milan having had the idea of leaping into the unknown and starting a new life there - note that these were the days before low-cost air travel, before the euro and most significantly before everyone used the internet. It was a time when going to another country really felt like a big adventure . 

If anyone asks me why I did that - which of course they inevitably do - I never know quite how to respond, how to put it into words. The best I can do is say that it was a crazy idea that I got into my head and wouldn't let go of until I had at least attempted to put it into practice.

And somehow I did, despite speaking hardly any Italian at the time and not knowing anyone. I was fascinated by the notion of starting from scratch, with nothing, landing in new city and seeing the process unfold whereby one thing led to another. It wasn't that I was running away from anything, there had been no acrimonious break-up to get over, this wasn't Eat, Pray, Love. I wasn't trying to 'find myself', I just wanted to try doing something that had no evident rational explanation. Having dutifully worked my way through school and university, completed a seven-year-long training as an architect, gained a certain amount of professional experience and generally tried to be sensible about things, just for once I wanted to see what happened if I let intuition overrule reason.

So having concocted this idea - I started telling everyone I had decided to go and live in Milan even though I didn't have a clue how I was going to make it happen - I'd never even been there but I thought it sounded glamorous, most of my friends were gay men at the time and I reckoned they'd be impressed. And in fact one of them came up trumps, in the most unlikely fashion. Milan may be famed for fashion, it was astrophysics that gave me the way in. My friend Peter, who has since become quite famous and writes a beautiful blog called In the Dark - is a cosmologist who was working in such a specialised academic field that he regularly worked with departments around the world - one of which was Milan. He was due to go there for work and kindly offered to take me as his companion which meant a place to stay for over three weeks. And so It began.

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It turned out that my instinct was right and Milan was the perfect place for me. This industrial city in the north of Italy is not the most attractive or welcoming city to visit as a tourist, not romantic like Florence or Venice but to me it offered a whole new vision of what being an architect meant. Milan has a great tradition of architects doing a whole range of things. Here architects had been known to design plates, chairs and even typewriters. A training - or formazione - in architecture could be the starting point for all manner of things. The reason Italian design is famous all over the world is because enlightened industrialist called upon architects to conceive and style their products.

I worked in Milan for ten years, as a scenic artist, as an architect, as an interior designer; I began working for a magazine called Domus founded by Giò Ponti, a classic example of an architect who did all kinds of things. I spent my earnings on Prada shoes and acquired a taste for expensive furniture.

When I later began a family and we bought a house on a hillside, my work expanded further and I decided to gather the various strands into a project called the inhouse gallery. I described it as 'an ongoing project about the creation of spaces and places along with the making and collecting of things to put in them.' The inhouse gallery was not only a way of connecting art and architecture but also of connecting all this with everyday domestic life and over the years it evolved into a series of tales about life lived in various places. 

Thus it followed me back to Liverpool where I became a resident artist at Bluecoat, giving me the opportunity to further develop my artistic practice. In 2014, I staged an exhibition entitled "Penthouse" there, this time I brought the domestic realm into the gallery space and introduced another element, conviviality, into the mix.

The dining table - la tavola - became yet another strand of the inhouse gallery, with Italian home-cooking provided by my partner, Luca. We needed the right kind of wine, the kind made by small producers that is not readily available here, so we brought our own over from Italy and people liked it so much that Love Lane Wines was born.

This in turn led to the creation of another new space, 17 Love Lane. First a storeroom for our wine, it became a pop-up bar, a dining space, the setting for assorted moments of conviviality blended with music, art, filmmaking and more. 

And now, as if to come full circle, in this latest evolution 17 Love Lane becomes a gallery with the presentation of a series of paintings that have emerged almost accidentally over the last couple of years working in my Bluecoat studio, along with older works and collected artefacts.

 Exhibition opens to the public on Friday 11 November 2016, from 5pm to 10.30pm, continues Tues, Wed, Thurs 4-6 pm & Fridays 5-10.30pm until Christmas. 

Mangiamo Asparagi!

It's the asparagus season so we put together a selection of extremely simple but totally delicious traditional Italian dishes using fresh asparagus, to enjoy with our wines on Friday 20 May. And this is not just any old asparagus but genuine Formby asparagus from Larkhill Farm,  and you can really taste the difference! 

Pop-up wine bar for World Lambrusco Day

21st June has been designated World Lambrusco Day and bars and restaurants across the world, from New York to San Francisco, Melbourne and London hold events to promote "Italy's coolest red wine."

This year we're adding Liverpool to the list and opening a special pop-up wine bar under a railway arch in Liverpool's historic Love Lane. Opening hours will be from 4pm to 10pm on Friday, 12 until 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. We will be serving an Italian-style aperitivo of drinks and light snacks.

 

Decanter Discoveries

On Tuesday 3 February 2015 we were at an event organised by top wine magazine, Decanter at the Institute of Directors in London, entitled "Discoveries from Greece, Italy and Bulgaria". The tasting aimed to explore some of the oldest winemaking regions in the world and introduce a new wine experience from where everything started - where wine culture was born and spread around the world.

Here are some pictures of Beatrice Brighenti and Andrea Ferrari at our table

Lots more pictures can be found on the Decanter website of the trade tasting and consumer tasting  

Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef

In November we went to the press-lunch to launch Massimo Bottura's book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, published by Phaidon, held at the Connaught hotel in London. Eight unforgettable courses served with our wines Callas and Nabucco.

Massimo Bottura is a 3-Michelin-star chef with a restaurant in Modena, Emilia Romagna called Osteria Francescana This short video created by Phaidon really captures his  passion for food and connection to Emilia Romagna, describing it as the land of "fast cars, slow food".

2015 Essential Guide to Italian Wines

October saw the launch of the UK edition of the 2015 Essential Guide to Italian Wines by renowned wine critic, Daniele Cernilli, a comprehensive guide that lists the very best wines from across Italy organised according to region. We were there with Monte delle Vigne, one of a select group of top wine producers invited to present at the press preview at the Copthorne Hotel in Kensington, London on 27th October. 

 

 


a visit to Monte delle Vigne

In August I went back to visit wine producer Monte delle Vigne, near Parma and had an enjoyable and productive time discussing the development of our business with owner Andrea Ferrari. We decided to broaden our range to include four more of their superb wines: Nabucco, Callas, Rosso and Brut. This atmospheric as well as informative video really does give a true feel of their experience and excellence as well as the beautiful setting the winery sits in.

in the beginning

This is the view from my bedroom window in a house I lived in for over five years. It looks out across the Val Ceno, in the Province of Parma, Emilia Romagna, Italy. The house is still there and it's still ours but two years ago I relocated back to the UK and inadvertently ended up living back in Liverpool, the place where I grew up. Aside from being closer to my family, it was the opportunity of a studio at the Bluecoat that really swung it and to be honest I find this mad city a stimulating and liberating place to be.

There are lots of things I miss about Italian life though, one of which is "la tavola", the conviviality of the dinner table, that for Italians is a place of warmth and passion, for animated discussion. Thanks to my partner Luca, we can still enjoy Italian home cooking but finding the kind of authentic wine we were used to getting from our local supplier is not so easy over here.

Liverpool is a city built on the transport of goods from one part of the world to another so the logical step seemed to be to take matters into my own hands and begin importing wine from Emilia Romagna. 

At this point, I turned to my brother for help, who never left Liverpool and has spent the last twenty-five years following Liverpool FC around the world while managing the accounts for a company involved in shipping and logistics. Thanks to his hard work, our first consignment arrives 23 July!