26 Nov 2015 We're republishing this article about Ruth's Wine Car Boot events today because tomorrow night and all day Saturday we will be at this season's Wine Car Boot event at King's Cross in London. Richard will be manning the JancisRobinson.com table and I will be there 5-6 on Friday (before dashing to Dulwich to host a wine tasting there) and will be at the Wine Car Boot 11-2 and 5-8 on Saturday. (Grandson's fifth birthday party inbetween.) Also there will be bookseller Pages of Hackney and I will be delighted to sign and dedicate books such as the brand new 4th edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine. You can find out more and buy tickets here.
30 Aug 2014 First, a vocabulary lesson for readers outside the UK. Car-boot sale is what Brits call the casual marketplace the Americans call a yard sale and the French call a vide grenier (attic emptying). Second, my subject today is a human whirlwind and part-time model called Ruth Spivey ('33 but feel free to make me 28') best known on the London wine scene for organising every six months quite staggeringly distinctive events called Wine Car Boot.
'Wine car boot sounds like recipe for disaster, doesn't it?', she observes cheerfully, 'but it's always afternoon and no one drives.' I went to the most recent one last June, in an open space in the regenerated Kings Cross, and have never experienced such a cool, friendly atmosphere at a public wine tasting.
In the middle of what looked like a large encampment, at trestle tables with checked tablecloths and cheerful little pot plants, young families were feeding themselves and their toddlers with delicious food while chatting over a glass of wine. Around them, serving an array of truly characterful mid-priced wines from their own jauntily branded van, was a hand-picked selection of 18 of London's finest independent wine merchants plus some top-quality food trucks.
It was Jonathan Downey's East London Street Feast food cart event that gave Spivey her first independent break in spreading the gospel of wine, in which she is a very new style of evangelist. She still operates Street Vin, the wine-bar element in these weekend night markets, undaunted by the fact that she doesn't actually have a van and, initially anyway, had to hand-deliver the wine and haul the leftover bottles up to her second floor walk-up in London Fields.
I wondered whether this mix of alcohol, opinionated locals ('in East London everyone thinks the world revolves round them') and late nights wasn't a bit much for a young, size 8 female to handle. She assured me, 'it doesn't get any more rowdy than any other bar, and on Saturdays it's a much older crowd anyway, something the hipsters can bring their parents to: pork buns, tacos, good wine – just like their own dinner party'.
One essential prerequisite was to arm herself with a personal alcohol licence, involving a payment of about £300 and a one-day course ('I'd worry if someone failed it'). But she assures me that Street Vin is really quite profitable ('No, I'm not living off my modelling earnings; I should have saved more') and that the third Wine Car Boot last June was financially viable. Tickets are £10 each, including the first five tastes of wine, a distinctly superior plastic tasting glass and a six-bottle carrier. This must be one of the best-value deals in wine and is presumably underwritten by the merchants' £350 participation fees. But they are certainly not complaining.
'Bringing together London's leading independent wine merchants under one roof is no mean feat', comments Edward Hayward-Broomfield of Lea & Sandeman, a merchant so pukka west London that they are a relatively recent recruit to Wine Car Boot, 'but Ruth pulls it off in style and with a smile. Her vision to make interesting quality wines accessible to everyone is shared by all of us.' Retail prices per bottle last June varied from £6.95 to £25.
Merchants are now queuing up to join Wine Car Boot, but Spivey has decided to exclude the many independent wine retailers who sell only online since a big part of her philosophy is that merchant must actually meet customer. She insists that visitors to Wine Car Boot be able to visit the retailers afterwards and follow up by buying the interesting wines they have been exposed to, by the single bottle. Even such a traditional and venerable a wine merchant as Berry Bros asked to join in last June. Ruth let them in but, mindful of the weekend uniform of the most traditional sort of wine merchant, she says she was thinking of instructing them beforehand, 'no boring wine talk, and no red trousers', before confessing, 'I'm actually looking for a pair of them from Net à Porter for myself'.
She will look as stunning in them as one would expect of someone whose email address ends 'goodlegslonglength.com'. With more than a suggestion of Audrey Hepburn about her, she has been featured in a wide range of the smartest magazines and in ads most recently for E45, Veet, Head & Shoulders and, surely the enemy of wine in France, Coke (Diet version of course). Her full-time modelling career lasted between the ages of 16 and 25 and in her time she has lived in Paris, New York and LA as well as working in Japan.
It all gave her a taste for the good life and restaurants in particular. She thought initially she would like to cook, but a stint in a London restaurant proved that her flesh was probably too weak. It was a copy of Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia she bought for her brother – then her flatmate and now running his own environmental technology company in Austin, Texas – that lit the wine flame for her. Soon she was visiting as many vineyards as she could, though never made it to Domaine de Triennes in Provence. 'I got lost with next to no petrol, zero phone reception and a very angry (now ex) boyfriend who didn’t even like wine anyway.'
She may seem to me like the spirit of trend-conscious youth, but her personal wine tastes are surprisingly traditional. 'I still really like claret, and I'm probably the only female under 60 who uses that word. I'm probably a bit more Old World than New World. I like buttery, oaky big whites.' I wondered what she thinks of the current craze for natural wine. 'I veer towards avoiding it', she told me carefully, 'especially the ones that shout out about it. But I loved that orange wine from DVine Cellars at Kings Cross, mind you.'
The next Wine Car Boot will be in mid November and she is fizzing with more ideas for ways of sharing her enthusiasm about wine: helping train staff 'in a younger informal way', the Flight Club, Wine Table – 'talking to small groups, rather than ching, ching, ching, all listen to me'. I try to make it accessible but it shouldn't be dumbed down too much.'
The morning after we met so I could grasp all that she was up to she sent me an email that began, 'in case it wasn't clear, I'd like to say just how much pleasure wine gives me.'
More details at www.winecarboot.com.
These were some of my favourites from the last Wine Car Boot. It was a hot day so most are white.
Stephan Ehlen Riesling feinherb 2000 Mosel
£9.80 The Sampler
Alex Neiss, Estate Riesling 2013 Pfalz
£10 (from keg) Vinoteca
Dom de Hauts Perrays Brut NV Crémant de Loire
£12.95 Lea & Sandeman
J H Meyer, Ivory 2012 Coastal Region
£14 Vin Vixen
Quinta do Feital, Auratus Alvarinho 2013 Vinho Verde
£15 DVine Cellars
Malibràn NV Prosecco
£15 Vin Vixen
Cantina Terlan, Terlano Classico 2013 Alto Adige
£16 Highbury Vintners
Lioco Chardonnay 2012 Sonoma County
Jean Comyn NV Champagne
£25 Vagabond Wines
Broc Cellars, Cuvée 13.1 Syrah 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands