The burgundy façade of Vinarius is temporarily hidden, concealed behind one of the many colourful market stalls of the charismatic Roman Road Market, in full flow on a Thursday morning. Behind the chatter and life of this iconic East London sight, Vinarius is an oasis, a dimly lit cave of treasures, with ceiling high shelves of beautiful bottles at the front giving way to tavern-type tables and striking, black and white photographs of the area at the back.
Vinarius has not yet been open for a year and a half yet it is already a much-loved and important part of this old market high street. The two men behind it, Eugenio and Philippe, opened the place in October 2014, drawn to the buzz and sense of community of Roman Road: ‘We knew the area,’ says Eugenio, ‘as our dear friends Guido Gessaroli and Laura Polazzi live just around the corner. They inspired us with their interest and enthusiasm about the local area.’ Ultimately it was the affordability and business potential of Roman Road that persuaded them to set up shop there.
Vinarius is a wine place for wine lovers. The format is that of the classic and friendly Italian enoteca, or local wine shop and bar, adapted to the contemporary East London life. ‘You can enjoy exclusive European wines by the glass here, or buy a bottle that you won’t be able to find anywhere else to drink at home’. Vinarius charges a very small corkage fee of £5 to share a bottle there, perhaps with some of their delicious burrata or truffle bruscetta, making it one of the most affordable ways to enjoy a good quality wine in a bar or restaurant in London.
Eugenio is a qualified oenologist and member of the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s judging panel. Philippe started his career as sommelier and restaurant manager and has been working in the wine business for over 10 years. ‘One Italian and one French, you can’t get any better than that,’ laughs Eugenio. Their expertise is what ensures the combination of quality and affordability that makes Vinarius so exciting:
‘We are first of all wine merchants as we import most of our wine exclusively from the producers, so we are able to offer a very good quality for a very reasonable price. Wine, in fact, has two important parameters than need to be taken into account: price and quality.’
Unlike supermarkets that evaluate their wine mainly on prices and in big quantities, or luxury wine shops that sell fine and expensive wines as a sort of ‘status symbol’, Eugenio and Philippe put all their efforts into finding and sourcing wines, mainly from Italy, France and Spain, at the best price/quality ratio. Their praxis is to look for the ‘underdog’: unknown producers, little appellations, rare grape varieties that can offer a very good quality at an affordable price.
Small producers not only have the control of the entire process, from the vineyard to the bottle but they also work in a very environment friendly way (most of them are organic and biodynamic, certified or not) and they are very knowledgeable and experienced of the local traditions. This is what makes the wine authentic.
Vinarius likes to collaborate with small producers of other goods too, celebrating local producers, such as White Hat bakery in Bow Road: ‘we have a range of their fabulous bread and focaccia that you can buy in our shop.’ They are also very proud of their selection of craft beers from neighbouring breweries such as East London Brewery, Five Point Brewery, Redchurch Brewery, Wildcard, Kernel and so on. In addition, they have just started the collaboration with Nutbourne Vineyards in West Sussex to introduce a selection of English wines, including sparkling.
This is not the only way they support, and are supported by, the community around them. Eugenio talks of helping local projects such as the Roman Road Food Assembly, which Vinarius hosted for months before it was able to find a home in the Idea Store. They host charity wine tasting events, last year raising over £600 for organisations such as the MS Society and the Red Cross. ‘We are keen supporters of all projects that can help local communities through donations, such as schools and the Roman Road Trust, getting involved in their initiatives and taking part in community events.
Has their presence in the community changed local attitudes to wine drinking, muses Eugenio. ‘We like to think so, and when local people enter the shop asking for a bottle of Pecorino or Grechetto then we do really think we are changing in a very positive way the wine culture of the are.’
Quick fire questions
What is the future of the community?
All the local communities are changing a lot and in a very promising way. It is now important to keep them together and integrate with the new comers: residents, visitors and businesses which are investing in the area, try retaining the feel that has always made the East End special.
How important is the market to the area?
We think the street market is very important for the area in terms of identity and tradition.
What are your favourite places in the area?
SNAP store, Buon Appetito Restaurant, Morgan Arms Pub, Muxima Coffee, are amongst our favourites, together with our neighbour G Kelly which is the oldest business in the area.
Tell us about the artwork on your walls?
Our current show is a photography exhibition by local artist Liz Clough. Our company partner and curator of Vinarius art space, Lucia Bonadies is an artist with a BA Hons Fine Art. Vinarius hosts solo and group shows: we have had exhibitions of works by David Hoffman, Lucia Bonadies, Sabrina Andrea Sachs, Red Door Studios Collective.
What can we expect in 2016?
We have a rich calendar for the next months: from our flagship and very popular Wine Tastings to the Vinarius Supper Club, where we showcase food and wine from important wine regions of the world. We also just launched the Wine Academy where people can learn the basics of how wine is made and best way to appreciate it.
Finally, if Roman Road were a wine, what would it be?
A classic wine appellation that needs to be rediscovered, like an Italian Verdicchio or a French Maranges.
Vinarius’ contact details
536 Roman Road
020 3302 0123
Credit: photography by Roman Koblov