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Guy: [00:00:01] You’re listening to Good Foodies, and this is episode 5. On this bitesized episode I’ve left the studio to head to my local wine bar to chat to co-founder Kiki Evans about making wine more accessible and more approachable to everyday people. Unwined in Tooting is an amazing bar and pop-up restaurant hidden away inside Tooting Market which I’m just walking into now.

In addition to serving amazing wine, in a really creative and interesting way, they’ve recently launched a new scheme that they hope will help them become a zero waste business. So let’s go and have a chat to Kiki.

The Interview

Kiki: [00:00:42] So basically Laura, my business partner, and I we met going on about 10 years ago now, when we worked at a restaurant. And about six years ago, as pop ups and the recession sort of kicked in, we had this idea of starting a wine pop-up. And from very small beginnings, to hosting things for friends and such, we started doing residencies.

18 months in, we quit our jobs, to do it all full time, and about just under three years ago we finally got our permanent space in Tooting. Our pop up was called a Grape Night In, which we still love the name, but it was a bit long for a bar name so we decided to call it Unwined in Tooting instead.

Guy: [00:01:25] It’s a brilliant name and I really love the stuff that you guys do here, I’m a regular. The selection of wines is really really interesting, stuff that you wouldn’t normally find in the supermarket and it’s a really amazing, relaxed atmosphere. The staff here are so knowledgeable about the wine, they have all these amazing stories.

I don’t know if we’re going to taste any today and get into some of the stories because it is quite early in the morning. But I love the way that you’re taking an old fashioned snooty industry and making it unpretentious and just down to earth. Can you tell me a little bit about that ethos that you guys have?

Kiki: [00:02:03] Yeah, I think from our backgrounds, Laura and I wanted to always bring that side out of wine again. Wine is meant to be enjoyed and to be shared. It’s not meant to be fussed over and studied and analysed too much. And so we always want to show the underdogs, we want to show the grapes that get forgotten about, or the regions that people haven’t heard of. So yeah we go against the classics and find the off the beaten track examples. I’m just looking at the shelves now and there’s so many random countries and grapes and everything.

I think because we also specialise in smaller producers they all take a little bit more care with their labels, they all look a bit more impressive. It’s the stories, behind the bottle or behind the label I guess you could say, that we’ve always wanted to show. And when you actually meet these winemakers and the vineyard owners they’re actually just farmers at the end of the day. So actually it shouldn’t really be a snooty posh industry. It’s just showing different sides of how different parts of the world and different grape varieties can taste, and with all the history and fashion and everything that goes into wine production, it’s a really intriguing industry.

We always want to bring those stories to life. But as you say, we have always been quite focused on our customer service and we always want to make it a really chilled out and relaxed place. So we are not your classic wine bar, it’s definitely a little bit more rough and rugged around the edges, but we always want to make people feel really comfortable. The guys that work for us, we always wanted to train them really well so that they felt comfortable with the product so that they can make the customers feel comfortable.

Guy: [00:03:38] And it is a wonderful place, I think ‘rough around the edges’ probably doesn’t do it the service that is should have. I mean it’s got real charm and real character to it. Can you give us a couple of examples about some of the stories of these lesser known producers?

Kiki: [00:03:55] Where do I start? I think it’s like every one of our wines almost has a bit of that character. I mean we’ve got a wine from the south of Italy, from Pulia, from some producers called Armano, which means by hand. We featured them by the glass quite recently, it’s an American husband and an Italian wife, she’s from Sicily, he’s from California. When they wanted to set up their own winery they couldn’t actually afford land in either Sicily or California, so they moved to Pulia.

But even at that point they couldn’t afford a vineyard so they literally bought a barn, and created their winery in the barn, but they buy grapes from local vineyard owners. So they’ve always been building up these relationships and trying to actually work with the locals to buy their grapes and they produce the wine. So even in sort of the wine world there’s different ways of approaching how to make wine. They’re definitely quite special for us.

One of my favourite wines of the summer, and it seems to be maybe turning summer a little bit now, is from the region of Gataria which is right in the north of Spain. And they make a great wine style called Txakoli but it’s spelt T-X-A-K-O-L-I. Not how you expect it to be. But it’s a really fresh mineral white wine. It’s got a little bit of a spritz to it so it’s really refreshing in the summer. Unless you go to San Sebastian, in the Basque country, you’ve probably never tasted it before.

All sorts of random small producers who might only make a couple of thousand bottles of wine, and being in London we’re so lucky because we have wines from around the world. Not many places like London that you can have an Indian wine sitting next to an Italian wine or a Spanish wine sitting next to even a French wine or an Australian wine. You go to Spain you drink Spanish wine, you go to Italy you drink Italian wine, even when you go to Australia and you drink Australian or New Zealand wine. So it’s quite fun to be able to actually put all these different nationalities next to each other.

Guy: [00:05:55] Brilliant. We are sitting in the bar at the moment. You may be able to hear some of the background noise of the market outside. We’ve got the shutters down to try and keep the noise to a minimum. And we’re sitting next to this amazing shelf of such a range of different wines, all sorts of different shapes and sizes, and some really amazing beautiful labels.

And most of the things on the shelf are bottles of wine as you probably expect, but something that we rediscovered coming here to Unwined was wine in a box. Like a bag in a box, a throw back to the 80s. And this is something that you guys have been pushing a little bit, in terms of pushing the boundaries of the traditional way of drinking. Can you tell me a little bit about the bag in the box wine?

Kiki: [00:06:36] Well yeah as you say bag in box wine has definitely got a bit of a reputation that precedes it, but it’s been relabelled as a BIB. So Bag In Box it’s sort of the short form of it. The thing is that actually it’s such an efficient way of transporting wine, having a bag in a box. I think most of the boxes started, in a commercial sense, started with about five litres, and that’s more than a box of wine. So it’s really efficient in terms of transport but then actually when it comes to us it means also that it can be more affordable. There’s no glass bottle price or anything included in it.

There’s quite a lot of these independent, really interesting producers who are now starting to look towards bottling or packaging their wines in BIBs because it gives them an opportunity to actually offer something at a more affordable price which obviously in today’s market is quite key. But also for us obviously we’re not going to be selling loads of BIBs of five litres. For us it was always more about being able to offer people wines in varying sizes as well. So we have carafes of 250ml or 500ml or a litre. And actually they’re really affordable. You basically pay a deposit for the carafe, we fill up with wine, you take it home, drink it, come back and refill it. So also in that sense we’re reducing waste a little bit as well.

It’s great that we have a lot of glass recycling around here but still at the end of the day if we can reuse something rather than just throw it away after one use, then we prefer to do that. That’s why we’ve been really quite keen to promote the BIBs. I must say that it’s a little bit harder to do in the winter, I don’t know why. In the summer I think people are quite keen to always have something quite light and refreshing and easy to go to. So having a litre of rose or white in the fridge is quite handy.

Guy: [00:08:30] And does it last longer, if it’s in this enclosed bag in the box, perhaps in the fridge? Does it last longer?

Kiki: [00:08:39] It does. I mean basically because of the way that the bags work, when you draw out wine, it’s in a vacuum so it essentially seals the wine in there. And so it doesn’t have the connection with oxygen which happens when you have a bottle. But in itself, the actual bag will hold the wine at a better condition for a lot longer. So when we open, say a 5 litre bag and box, it will probably last up to about three weeks. So it really does reduce the waste of wine as well.

Guy: [00:09:14] And that’s something else that you have, well you recently started this new scheme which I think we’ll talk about in a second. But it was really in response to an issue or a challenge that you found in the business, which was that at the end of the week you were having quite a bit of wastage. Both in terms of the wine that was opened and also with the food, because you also run a pop up kitchen in the bar don’t you. Can you talk to us a little bit about the the challenge of having so much waste?

Kiki: [00:09:42] Yeah. So we have pop-up chefs take over our kitchen for residences for six to eight weeks. We just do food from Thursday to Sunday so the kitchen is closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Sundays are a bit of a funny one I think, particularly in suburban London, a lot of people go to pubs on Sunday or they go out for brunch and so being a wine bar we have a slightly odd fit in the market on a Sunday.

We’ve done bottomless brunches and we’ve done a few different ideas but it doesn’t really seem to suit the area that we’re in. We were actually finding that on Sunday’s quite often we could have a few customers, or we could have none, or we might have loads. So it was very difficult to predict how our Sunday services were going to be and because we’re such a small space and we have pop up chefs, waste is a real financial risk to us. Not just in terms of we don’t want to do it, and the environmental impact that it has, but actually in terms of business it can be really really damaging.

We thought through a few different ideas of how to reduce our waste on a Sunday and be ready for the next week with a clean slate. So we came up with this idea of Waste Not Want Not Sundays. Basically the idea being that instead of having a bottomless brunch, or something that we know ahead of time what we’re going to be selling, essentially on the Sunday morning the chefs will come in and see what ingredients they still have in-house, and instead of going out and buying anything new or creating any new dishes, they will literally reinterpret their menu with the ingredients they have and come up with what we call a Chefs Feasting menu.

It’ll be a series of snacks then a main course and a series of sides. So all things adapted from their current menu, the ingredients that they already have in-house, but sort of recreated into a new way. So essentially just trying to reduce our food waste to zero by using what we already have and just be a little bit more creative with it.

But in the same vein then as well with our wines, because we sell wines by the glass as well, that we wanted to make sure that we don’t have any waste for the couple of days that we’re closed. So basically all of our wives by the glass we do at a discounted price on a Sunday. So by the time the afternoon rolls around we might be out of a couple of things, but it just means you get to try a few different things. It’s quite a nice way of encouraging people to have a really leisurely enjoyable Sunday afternoon, but at the same time reducing our waste, so ticks quite a few boxes. It’s worked really nicely.

Guy: [00:12:18] I really love that and I think the Bottomless Brunch is something that you see in quite a lot of places, especially in big cities like London, and it feels a bit overindulgent on a Sunday. Whereas Sunday should be a nice day to chill and relax, wind down the previous week and maybe get ready for the week ahead.

And so I really like that approach of instead of indulging, let’s just take it slow and use up what we’ve got left over. It’s a really nice idea. I mean we were in at the weekend, we came across this new scheme of yours for the first time, and it was like “Right, what’s open, what do you need to get rid of”. It gave us an opportunity to try some things that maybe we wouldn’t ordinarily have picked off the menu. Is that the kind of experience that you’re seeing from from other customers as well?

Kiki: [00:12:58] Definitely. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said Sunday’s are meant to be relaxed and chilled. And I think that’s the thing about doing a Bottomless Brunch, you almost feel like you need to get your money’s worth. So you force yourself to, as you say, to overindulge and have a bit too much.

Whereas just doing by the glass until it runs out, absolutely people will generally have more than one glass, but they’ll do it at their own pace. Which is really nice, and especially when we get towards the end of the day, when one or two of the wines might actually be out because we haven’t got any open bottles. It’s quite interesting to see people just go “Okay well let me try the other one then” which they might not have naturally gone for. So it’s encouraging people to have a little bit more variety as well.

Guy: [00:13:42] And so what has been the impact of that, not necessarily just from a customer perspective, because we’ve talked about that a little bit, but from the business side of things? Have you managed to reduce your waste by a significant amount?

Kiki: [00:13:53] We’ve just been doing it for about a month now so it’s a little bit hard to gauge completely, because I think the word is still getting out. But definitely it feels that it’s attracting quite a lot of people and quite a lot of people really understand the idea of what we’re trying to do. That was probably the scariest thing for us, is to say to people, come and book and come on a Sunday but you won’t know what you’re eating until you get here. And I think, because that’s the thing, quite a lot of people do come to us specifically for our changing chefs and our changing menu, so they have specific things they might have seen that they want to try. So in terms of that, so far, as far as I know from the chefs, it has gone quite well.

The waste has certainly been reduced. I think we’d still like to go further and get our waste to zero. I think we’re sort of at the point where we’re almost there but we might still have a little bit of waste, but at the same time to be honest, we close on a Sunday night so quite often at the end of service the chefs and the staff will sit down and have a little meal or something. So to be honest, we’re definitely not in the vein of just throwing things out for the sake of it. We do try to find a way that it will work, but it would be great to be able to actually be able to sell all the food, particularly because our concept is that the chefs take the food takings, and we take the drinks takings.

For the chefs it’s definitely much more key that they actually sell all the food and make it a profitable weekend for themselves rather than having food costs and food waste that hasn’t added to their business. So with our wines it’s definitely working quite nicely. As I said it is quite easy to encourage people to have an extra glass if it’s a bit discounted. So yeah, that’s worked really nicely for us. But the food I think we just need to get a little bit more buzz around it, so a few more people are encouraged to come down, and we can really get the food waste nailed.

Guy: [00:15:46] Speaking of buzz and changing tack slightly to talk a bit about the way that you do that, and the way that you present some of the offers and the menu and the changing selection of wines. It’s something that I love that you guys do. I think it’s monthly that you do it, it’s like a monthly theme, where you pick a selection of wines, perhaps from your shelf or you maybe go and get some some new ones in, to make a bit of a make a bit of an event around what’s on the menu. Can you talk to us a little bit about the themes that you use?

Kiki: [00:16:16] Sure. So I think that was part of even when we were a pop-up, we always had this idea that we wanted to talk about wine a bit differently. We wanted to make it a little bit more I guess accessible. We wanted to take away this poncy side to it so we always have aimed to talk about wine in everyday terms rather than wine speak. We are trained sommeliers, so sometimes we slip into it a little bit, but the mechanism that we’ve used, to use themes and to relate them to topical events and everyday things.

We use that to help us write our wine lists at the bar, it helps us to write our newspapers for our box wine subscription and such, and it just helps us because there’s so many wines out there and sometimes it can be really difficult to find focus. So sometimes it can be a little bit tricky but we essentially use these themes to help us focus what we’d like to showcase.

So this year already, what have we done? We did one earlier in the year around the Spring statement budget time, called Bang For Your Buck. The idea was, because there was a threat that the duty was going to rise on wine again, that we wanted to showcase some ideas of how to get more value for money. This is generally something we do here in the bar anyway and with our selection, but we really wanted to highlight that, so our wines by the glass all had a little moniker on them, with a tip of how to get more value for money.

Kiki: [00:17:46] The royal wedding is coming up soon so we’ve currently got a theme inspired by royalty. Across history there’s so many different connections between the Royal Court and wine that we want to showcase a few of those stories. Royal weddings don’t come around that often so we had to take the opportunity while we could. One of our most fun themes was a rainbow theme. We had different wines for the different colours of the rainbow. There were no actual blue wines, don’t worry.

Guy: [00:18:13] It’s funny you say that, I was in the Basque region, you mentioned San Sebastian earlier, and over there I actually found a blue wine. It was like a blue sparkling Moscato type thing. It was really tasty actually.

Kiki: [00:18:29] Oh really, I have heard of it. I haven’t actually tasted it. But I think there’s a bit of controversy over whether actually it’s allowed to be called a wine or not because the colour is not naturally from the grapes as far as I know.

Kiki: [00:18:42] But we were a little bit liberal with that theme, but we had a green wine which was Vino Verde, from the North of Portugal. We did have a wine for Indigo I think, but that was a Touriga Nacional that is another Portuguese grape, but it was grown in Australia. It’s got a very violet-y kind of really blue tint to the red wine. So that was quite interesting. That was quite a lot of fun.

Kiki: [00:19:05] We’ve done so many themes now, but yeah we get quite creative with them. And one of the girls that works for us, Consuela, she’s an artist as well, so she makes amazing props and decorations for us. It’s so much fun. We can really get into the theme and talking about this relationship between wine and sort of endless ideas of connections with everyday topics. I came up with a crime theme the other day, hopefully we can do a crime and mystery theme at some point.

Guy: [00:19:34] It’s brilliant, it really is a very creative way to do things and I’m sure that that helps to bring people through the door in the first place but then keep them engaged. And something else that I, I mean it’s just like me showering your in praises, “I love this I love that I love the other thing”, but you’ve touched on this earlier, you do this box wine subscription. We can maybe talk a little bit about that. But there’s one aspect of it in particular which I am a big fan of, which is your printed written newsletter, which you’ve actually designed and written just like a real newspaper. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Kiki: [00:20:11] So when we started the box wine subscription we gave a few boxes out to friends to get a bit of feedback. And originally we weren’t going to include printed material we just wanted to do it all online. But that was the one main feedback that we got, it was that people actually wanted to have something physical and something that they could actually tangibly touch and read, because that’s the thing, you don’t necessarily want to sit on the sofa and read a computer, you want to have something.

We thought about how we want to do our tasting notes and make it a little bit more fun and interesting. So we came up with this idea of doing a mini newspaper which is called the Grape Times. And with our box wine, I probably haven’t really thought about it before, but it’s touching on what you were saying beforehand, it’s not particularly extravagant, it’s just four bottles of wine and it’s a monthly subscription. There’s two whites and two reds. They’re quite affordable wines, they’re quite easy drinking wines.

We always have them themed as well so there’s a link between all of the wines. But yeah we just wanted to lay it out in such a way that there is a bit of an introduction and description about how the wines are linked together and the topic that we’re talking about, a bit of information about all the wines, and then also as any good newspaper or magazine, there’s a recipe which pairs with one of the wines, that we get from our current chef. There’s usually a little game or something that we try to fit in there as well.

It’s just trying to present the information that we want to give but in a slightly more fun, engaging way. That’s where Laura and I work really nicely together, Laura’s got a little bit more of the actual wine qualifications whereas I’ve got a bit of a design background so I get to be a bit playful and creative with what we do as well.

Guy: [00:21:57] Brilliant and even to the degree of the tasting notes which are things like “pairs well with the first barbecue of the summer”.

Kiki: [00:22:03] I think that’s the thing as well, tasting notes can be quite boring, so we always try to find something a little bit fun to pair it up with or to say about it. As I said before it can be quite easy to fall into the trap of wine speak so trying to find ways that wines can be described in a different way.

We do a lot of private events as well, so one of our most popular events particularly in the summer is a package called Groovy Grapes, which is actually a music and wine pairing. We actually play different songs and play different genres to different wine styles and that goes down really well. We get people to make their own playlists, so instead of having to actually describe the why and talk about the wine in actual wine terms we compare it to a song, and it totally makes sense to people.

We have another one called The Cool Kids which is about more classic grape varieties, a little bit more educational, but still try to be in a fun way. Again instead of trying to force this, misunderstood language of wine speak out of people, they have to draw the wines as little characters instead. People are very nervous about their drawings skills, but actually because everyone’s inhibition is low because everyone’s on a similar playing field, it really makes it quite a lot of fun. So yeah we always try to find different ways or different games to encourage people to talk about the wine but in not such an intimidating way.

Guy: [00:23:34] Brilliant and just to wrap things up. It’s been amazing being able to chat to you and hear about all the fantastic things you guys are doing. What’s next for you?

Kiki: [00:23:45] That’s a very good question. I think we do do a lot of things, basically everything to do with wine, we have a bit of a go at it have a bit of a play with. So hopefully just keep doing what we’re doing, encourage more people to experiment and enjoy different wines and understand a little bit more where the wines come from and who makes them. I think that’s the whole point of what we do, is we want to bring wine to more people and show people that it doesn’t have to be this difficult thing to understand

Guy: [00:24:16] Kiki Evans from Unwined in Tooting and a Grape Night In. You can find out more about them, their monthly wine themes, and the pop-up kitchen at agrapenightin.co.uk.

On the next episode we’re going to be changing gears slightly and talking to Alessio d’Antino from Crowdfooding. We’ll be talking about the collaborative economy and building an innovation hub for food entrepreneurs in West London.

If you’re enjoying the show we’d really appreciate it if you’d leave us a review on iTunes. It’s a great way for people to find out about the show and to learn about all the amazing things that businesses like Unwined and CrowdFooding are doing. So for more details check out our website at goodfoodies.co.uk. Right, it’s time for me to head back to the studio. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next time. Cheers.