CARTE BLANCHE WINES – TENSION SEEKING
Carte Blanche Wines was founded in 2009. We represent producers who make wines we enjoy drinking, mainly as a result of the care and attention that has been lavished upon them by diligent, skilled producers who share a common ethos. We supply many of the UK’s finest restaurants and work with a growing group of like-minded, albeit strictly independent, wine merchants across the British Isles.
In the beginning we felt it necessary to expound the virtues of biodynamic production and ecologically sound wine making. Although in the main the wines on our list are produced in this way, there is now so much noise surrounding this movement that it’s all too easy to become distracted from the real reason we choose our wines.
I have always been a great believer in origin and how it is expressed though a medium. In our case this is wine, and origin is referred to as ’terroir’, another term that generates a lot of noise. I feel that place, tradition and human intervention combines to create a sense of origin and as such look for wines I think embody this in an attractive and focussed way. Much of our time is spent with producers in vineyards and in the region of production to try and gain a sense of what this ‘origin’ should bring to the wine. This is a constant learning process and an enjoyable one too.
Drinkability is often an underrated quality in wine, but it is one we seek relentlessly. Great wine is usually as delicious in its semi-formed state as it is when it is fully mature. I remember tasting at Tertre Rôteboeuf when this light-bulb moment hit and both retrospectively and since I have always thought this to be the case. But whether it be the rarefied or the everyday, I like tension*, freshness and vitality in our wines. Of course there is a place for oak and extraction and so on, but all things in moderation. It’s drinkability over ‘showiness’ every time.
We have been blessed to forge friendships and business relationships with many producers who have since become stars in their own right, and list one or two agencies who were stars before we met. As importantly we have many producers who may come from less popular regions, and their relevance and ‘star’ quality is no less bright for that. We give everyone the same skyscape in which to shine.
*a note on Tension: A friend, who owns a Galician restaurant, and I were drinking some wines recently and he remarked that although he liked a particular wine, he favoured another as he felt it had more ‘Tension’. Perfectly framed, I thought, and it is a character that sums up the wines I enjoy- more tension, less flap. A few weeks later another friend, a journalist, was discussing something similar and I mentioned ‘Tension’ and she agreed this was it, but took another tack. Whereas I felt tension was part of the taut nature of a wine’s physical being, she pointed out that the best people she knew in her life were those that had faced struggle and difficulty in their lives; they seemed to have an extra dimension, an undercurrent of edge. Tension. Not dissimilar, we agreed, to how vines that really struggle seem to produce the best wines. It was an interesting thought and one I will continue to develop and prove.
Ben Llewelyn – Managing Director
Starting at Oddbins in Manchester he quickly learnt that to get on, you needed to be with a wholesaler, whose names were on the back of the many bottles he sold in the shop. He started working for Enotria Winecellars in London in 1999 and built up a client portfolio that consisted of many of the greats; River Cafe, Fifteen, and Hush, as well as handling the accounts of Carluccio’s and Strada. This work allowed him the opportunity to work and travel extensively in Italy, meeting the great winemakers of Barolo, Friuli and Tuscany, many of whom are counted as friends, and eating in some great restaurants. He went on to became the youngest director in the 35 year history of the company.
Having learnt the ropes at Enotria, Ben was integral in establishing a small independent wine wholesaler in London and after two years undertook a significant life change both at work, by starting the MW program, and with the family, by moving to France. Here he gained more detailed insight into the intricacies of winemaking and vineyard management doing some proper work. He is fascinated by biodynamic viticulture, though not wholly convinced by non-sulphur winemaking; he adores wines made by people who connect with their terroir and is yet to be convinced that great wine can really be made without passion, and is still not weary from the fight to convince people of this and all that is great about hand-crafted wine.
He was brought up in Wales, enjoys fishing and now lives in Hampshire with his lovely and ever expanding family.
Ian Barker – Operations Director
Ian had a relatively late introduction to the wine trade. As a frequent customer of his local wine merchant in Bath, he realised that his professional life lacked a certain spark. So in 2002, he wrote a speculative letter to the managing director, suggesting he may be able to help as he had twenty years of business experience in stores, buying and supply chain at Somerfield. This was just what the company required and after a period of consultancy, he became Operations Director of Great Western Wines. Initially sceptical about the mystic surrounding wine, he soon learnt that growers who really cared about what happened in the vineyard made wine that tasted far superior to what was on the shelves of his supermarket employer. Further inspired by a visit to Vinitaly, he developed a passion for Italian wines, especially their luscious whites, and helped the company source a number of top Italian producers. Meanwhile the success of Great Western Wine was becoming recognised, and sadly for him, the company was bought and taken over by Enotria in 2010. Still eager to utilise his skills to help others, he has joined Carte Blanche as Operations Director and is looking forward to making a significant difference to the development of the company, and will endeavour to introduce a few new Italian producers! He continues to live in Bath with his wife Emily, and in their spare time enjoys cheering for Bath Rugby, exotic gardening, visiting their cottage in Cornwall and wondering what mischief the two cats are getting up to.