🤌 A Loose Education With Tutto Wines
We didn’t know it at the time, but in 2010 myself, Alex Whyte, and another mate Limbo somehow got invited to Marcel Lapierre’s final bacchanal before he passed mere months later at the age of 60. If you’re not familiar, Lapierre was a Beaujolais winemaker and basically one of the founding fathers of experimental winemaking. If natural wine’s your thing, meeting Marcel is like being a musician and getting invited to dinner at John Lennon’s with all the other Beatles...only half of our group had no idea who Marcel was. Lol. Sorry.
There was a lot of wine drinking on that road trip. It was a fun, not PG-rated affair. And it was, importantly, for Alex — who was studying something entirely unrelated at uni — the thing that set him off onto the trajectory he’s on now. Not long after, he and business partner Damiano went on to create Tutto Wines, a natural wine importing outfit based out of East London. They’re also known for their tasting events with producers from all over Europe, and more recently due to that big bad virus, an online shop.
All natural wine roads lead back to Australia and, as you will see, Giorgio (read his Good Chats here). Which brings us to Stefania, a sommelier born in Piedmont, who has spent most of her career working with Australians. She followed Aussie chef James Henry from Paris to Hong Kong before eventually landing in Sydney for a stint at Fred’s. In 2018, Damiano and Alex brought her on board at Tutto and now here we are.
We are in Hackney. And besides our trip down memory lane, there’s a lot going on as the city opens back up. There’re a few encounters with big names. There’s a spiel on why Brexit is making finding hospo staff and importing wine a nightmare. And also a few eating and drinking tips for when we can all visit in approximately 500 years. Read on...
Joel Amos: You, me, Damiano, eating and drinking our way through the Jura in 2010. Let’s start with the condensed, PG version of that story…
AW: Oooooh. I seem to remember you’d just finished harvest in Burgundy and I think the three of us met in Beaune and then drove to Pupillin. I remember we rented that little pink house that was right next to the Houillons’ (a legendary winemaking family in Arbois) and we bothered Anne each day until we got a seat at the table, which was an incredible experience. I think we each left with a 2005 Savagnin for about 15 Euros.
Other than that I can only recall that you’d arranged visits with Stephane Tissot and Jacques Puffeney (two other Arbois/Jura legends), that we spent most of our time drinking La Sorga and Octavin at Les Jardins de Saint Vincent, that I’ve still never laughed so hard as I did over that Poulet au Vin Jaune and the only thing we had to listen to was Damiano’s Red Hot Chilli Peppers CDs in the hire car. We were absolutely clueless in hindsight and god knows what everyone made of us, but it was great fun.
Joel Amos: That was basically where the idea for Tutto came about, right?
AW: Perhaps the seed was sown, but I think we came up with the idea late one night polishing glasses when we were both working at Brawn. On that note, it must be said that Giorgio (this guy) had a massive influence in terms of opening our eyes to a whole world of Italian wine that I certainly did not know existed. Being served Paski and Volpe Rosa from Cantina Giardino side-by-side to explore the nuances of Coda di Volpe on my first visit to 121BC set the tone for what was to be a rapid time of learning. We remain great friends to this day.
The best party you managed to get invited to and why was it the one at Lapierre’s gaff?
AW: I don’t get invited to many parties so I think that would have to be it. I was studying in Amsterdam at the time and had about a month’s break — so we hired a van and set off around France.
It was of course before the days of Instagram and iPhones. We’d write down the names of vignerons whose wines we’d enjoyed and, Dr. Jason, who spoke French, would call up and try and try to arrange a visit. Somehow we blagged our way into seeing Philippe Pacalet, a Burgundy winemaker known for his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, who seemed a little shocked at first as we poured out of the van. But I think, in the end, he found us pretty amusing, gave us some wine and suggested that the next day we should go and see his uncle, Marcel Lapierre.
Of course, none of the four idiots in the car had any idea who Marcel Lapierre was at the time and the next day we found ourselves driving around Villié-Morgon. Suddenly, a man wearing a hat, smoking a cigar came into focus and beckoned us over. He leant into the car, arm outstretched and introduced himself — ‘ah, the four Australians, c’est Marcel Lapierre’.
We went to the cellar and I remember it was the first time someone had explained the influence that adding sulphites can have on a wine — tasting the same wine with and without sulphites side-by-side was a very important education.
As we were leaving, he asked us what we were doing in a couple of days’ time and we said we’d be in Lyon. His reply? We would not be in Lyon but would be back here for his party. He didn’t seem like the sort of guy you argue with. So two days later as we drove towards his farm, it was clear some sort of festival was about to begin. Little did we know this was his legendary annual party.
There were signs for parking, camper vans and tents everywhere. I remember we drank a bottle of Valette, a winemaker revered in France, to calm the nerves as we walked down the hill towards the party. Marcel greeted us with some glasses, which he filled from a thousand litre cuve of sans soufre Gamay.
It is all a bit of a haze. There were pigs on the spit, a stage with a band, some wrestling in the mud with the shoulder bone of one of the pigs, but most importantly I remember seeing other vignerons, cavistes, chefs and sommeliers that we’d met on our trip. That sense of community and it being about something more than just wine is something that has really stayed with me.
I’ll never forget that just a few months later, I was sitting at the library at Sydney Uni and one of the guys on the trip sent me an obituary written for Marcel by Eric Asimov in The New York Times. None of us had any idea that he had cancer or that it would be his last party but it made his act of kindness and generosity in inviting four kids from Australia resonate even more.
One of you grew up in Perth, the other in Piedmont. How’d you both end up in London? Also, why London?
SG: I ended up here in 2018 because of Tutto. London is great. Art shows, great food, big parks. And it’s close to home. After years spent traveling everywhere I was really looking for a place to put down roots and I found that in East London.
AW: I was actually born in Wales, so I had a passport already. I guess I just wanted to move to the other side of the world and I’d lived in London briefly before and enjoyed it...so that’s where I ended up. It is dark and raining as I write this and will likely remain so for the next few months, so ‘why’ is a question I ask myself regularly.
In terms of work, the proximity we have to so many great wine regions is a real blessing and being able to visit our growers regularly is something that perhaps we took for granted before the pandemic. I’m not sure how friends like Giorgio and Cam do those marathon jaunts from Australia to the other side of the world but I have a lot of respect for them.
Stefania, you’ve had stints as a somm in Paris, Hong Kong and Sydney...but that was never originally your plan. How’d you end up in the business?
SG: You’re right, it wasn’t the plan. I graduated from university in 2010, right in the middle of a recession, which can make one either pessimistic or free to explore something different than the initial plan.
Growing up in Italy, gathering around the table with food and wine always felt normal. My auntie is a somm so I used to follow her around tastings and restaurants. When I first moved to London in 2010 I was missing that sense of familiarity and connection that sharing a meal can offer. In the end, it wasn't a particular bottle that made me decide to work in wine, but the longing for community and conversation.
In 2013 I joined Bones, a restaurant in Paris headed by James Henry. The place was buzzing, it was right at the centre of a very exciting shift in the Paris dining scene and the cellar was amazing. Such a great learning experience. I met very talented people there, many of which I remain close friends with to this day.
How’d you end up at Tutto, and what do you do day-to-day?
SG: I was visiting friends in Copenhagen and I saw the ad for the job at Tutto on Instagram. I had always admired the integrity of their work and the brand’s genuine voice so, even if I wasn’t planning on moving to London, my instinct told me to get in touch with Alex and Damiano anyway. It was the right decision.
A typical day at Tutto? We’re a small team. From dealing with deliveries to creating content or organising the shipment of new wines, every day is different. After the pandemic, it will definitely mean a lot of events and visits to winemakers.
We’re only just out of lockdown. What did you guys do on Freedom Day?
SG: I was trying to get a suntan in Kent.
AW: I think I stayed in as I knew it would be absolute anarchy.
How are restaurants and bars going over there after the neverending lockdown?
SG: It’s exciting to have that much choice again. Everybody in hospitality is working very hard, now even more so since Brexit has made it so difficult to hire staff.
AW: They are thriving again but the main difficulty now is staffing. The combination of the pandemic and Brexit led to many talented cooks and front of house returning home to Europe and further afield, and even the best places in the country are constantly trying to find people to come and work for them. It is a very difficult situation.
Ok, off Covid, onto Brexit. How has that fucked up importing wine from the rest of Europe?
AW: I think if you look at the implications of Brexit as a whole and what that means for society in the UK we can’t get too wound up about what it means for us as wine importers. What is sad is that it is more difficult, costs more and takes longer to get wines into the country, which means that inevitably it is the drinker that misses out. We are trying as best as possible to absorb the extra costs, but with costs going up across the board for restaurant owners, sadly the prices that people pay for a bottle of wine when dining out have gone up considerably.
Do the winemakers you work with have anything to say about that?
AW: I think like many of us, the situation is quite unbelievable and very sad that the UK would like to leave Europe. Sadly, for the smaller growers we work with in places like the Jura, who can only spare a few cases of each wine, the amount of paperwork and tape involved now makes it difficult for them to justify selling us wine and, likewise, we have to ask questions about whether it is sustainable to pour so many hours of work into a few bottles when we have plenty of growers to look after.
SG: It’s been a few months now since things have changed and the winemakers have been very understanding and reacted quickly. As Alex said, it’s difficult for small producers to cope with all the added paperwork. It takes away time and resources that could be spent in the vineyard and in the cellar instead.
I’m coming to London in the probably very far future...name three places to eat and drink as soon as I get off the plane:
AW: Hopefully it won’t be too long! There are so many good places now that it is very difficult to decide, so I am just going to choose one: Towpath. It’s right by our office so we can join you, they are open for breakfast through to dinner, so it doesn’t matter what time your flight arrives, and I think the setting on Regent’s Canal is the perfect introduction to the part of London we call home.
SG: Planque - The wine clubhouse and restaurant by Jon Alphandery and Bianca Riggio, with food by Seb Myers, is a beautiful and versatile space fostering connection among wine lovers.
Koya - Their udon noodle bar in Soho is always my favourite stop when hopping from one art exhibition to another in central London.
Ombra - Top ingredients, relaxed vibe and the best focaccia in London.
Help our friends drink. What are your two favourite wines and one fav spirit in the shop right now?
- Manon’s Pinot Nori 2019. I tasted this with Tim and Mon when I was back at the beginning of the year and it is a little masterpiece from a difficult vintage. We don’t have this in London yet so please drink one for me.
- Domaine du Cabanon, Canta Manana 2020. Alongside Le Coste’s Rosato and Cantina Giardino’s Volpe Rosa, this is my favourite rosé from one of the most important figures in the world of wine we love, Alain Castex. I’ve not had the chance to try this vintage yet and can’t wait to taste it.
- For a spirit, I’d have to go for Grappa di Moscato from Romano Levi. Decidedly olds school and achingly pure, it sorts you out when you need sorting out and the beautiful bottles are a nice keepsake and always remind me of my favourite trattorie in Italy. In Italy, if you spot bottles of Levi on the shelves, you are usually in for a very good meal.
- Gramenon, Sierra du Sud 2020 - A generous yet energetic expression of the French South, perfect for when you have friends over for dinner, now that it’s allowed again.
- Jacopo Stigliano, Hiraeth 2019 - Jacopo’s wines are wild beauties, just like the undomesticated vineyards where he sources the fruit.
- Del Maguey Minero - I dream of visiting Mexico again one day and this mezcal reminds me of how much I have missed traveling these past two years.
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