Why Wine in Winchester?

George Sallis hunts for wine, meets David Nicholson and they discuss why it’s so important to do what you love…

The Black Bottle
The Black Bottle

Father’s day in Winchester; having unsuccessfully spent all morning and the better part of the afternoon attempting to convince my 3 year old daughter of the virtues and magnitude of this momentous occasion, I eventually threw in the towel, devoured a large roast and took solace in a light bottle of Fleurie that seemed to evaporate extremely quickly. Worse still, my imaginary wine cellar was now barren, my taste buds were indicating strongly that I needed more and my rapidly expanding waistline was begging me to get out and about. I also needed to decide on the theme of my inaugural piece for the all-new Winchester Guide. My day and night revolves around an all-encompassing theatre in London, so I was not keen for it to be theatrically-based. A quick call to our newly appointed editor to ask his opinion resulted in a simple assignment: ‘Write about something you love in Winchester,’ to which I responded, ‘Excellent. I love wine.’  Surely, I mused, there must be a plentiful supply in this city even relatively late on a Sunday afternoon.

If I wanted to take the easy option and replenish the aforementioned cellar, I might be lucky enough to catch Majestic Wines, the wholesalers on Andover Road. This would require a purchase of at least 6 bottles though, which I was doubtful I could justify to myself or more importantly to the ladies of the house, even on father’s day.

Kingsgate Wines and Provisions, opposite the Wykeham was closed, I had also just missed Wine Utopia, a new merchant on St Thomas St that I was particularly interested in as my previous visit had been when they had only just opened in August last year.

The Black Bottle
The Black Bottle

As I walked along the river and up past the Bishop on the Bridge it hit me like a thunderbolt: The Black Bottle on Bridge St would definitely be open. Increasing my pace, I made a bee-line for it.

It’s a lovely, characterful old building, which dates back to the 1800’s and used to be a greengrocers and a women’s refuge. A keen member of staff asked how she could be of assistance. I informed her that it was imperative that I get a glass of wine as quickly as possible. ‘We have 32 wines that you can sample and a choice of 140 wines by the bottle’. This completely stumped me, so much choice, I didn’t know what I wanted now, ‘surprise me I said’. As the lady poured me a glass of Morgon 2011, I introduced myself as one of the contributors of the all new @Win_Guide and asked if it was possible to interview someone. She told me that the person I really should be speaking to was a chap called David Nicholson and if I was lucky I might be able to find him at The Black Boy. A quick meander around the premises glass in hand not only refreshed my taste buds but also my memory. The building is a mini-maze of rustic charm, special wine sampling machines are on-hand in each room where you can buy credits on a card and sample away small, medium or large measures to you heart’s content. This needed closer inspection and definitely more time, for now though it was time to head to The Black Boy.

A quick walk up Chesil Street, brought me to The Black Rat, the Michelin star restaurant on the corner of Wharf Hill where the Grade 2 listed Black Boy resides. I caught a glimpse of an advanced development on the opposite side of the road and made a mental note to find out more about it. I asked the bar tender in The Black Boy if David was available for a quick interview, took a seat in the eclectic surroundings of the garden and then as if by magic David appeared.

Apologising for the impromptu nature of my visit, I was met with a warm handshake. As we were exchanging pleasantries I was taken aback by his deep authoritative voice and presence, the theatre part of my brain kicked in and I wondered what kind of role I would cast for him in a play, a young Orson Wells came to mind. David and his team have been running The Black Boy since 1995. The Black Rat followed on some 10 years later, after which came The Black Bottle in 2011.

Why Wine? I asked him, ‘because I want to dispel the myth behind it, wine should be for everyone and I love it’ he responded. ‘The Black Bottle is all about the experience’ he went on to say, ‘we are not wine merchants, I want it to be a place where people can come, relax and sample an array of good quality well-priced wines, in a lovely old building. They can buy a bottle of their favourite with a 10% discount and take it home.’ Neat idea I thought and what a great ethos. ‘The three key principles behind a good wine are the maker, the region and the vintage, as well as offering a range across the spectrum’.

We briefly discussed the wine choices at The Black Rat, a restaurant favourited by a host of high profile people, some of whom I know well from the theatrical world and speak very highly of it indeed. I made another mental note to eat there soon. He informed me that if it’s a weekend, they are booking three weeks in advance. This reminded me of my other mental note, ‘do you know anything about the development at the top of the hill’ I asked, ‘that’s going to be a B&B with ten en-suite double rooms, we are going to call it The Black Hole and its opening in August.’

The Black Boy, The Black Rat, The Black Bottle and now The Black Hole, I resisted the overwhelming number of gags that immediately sprung to mind as to what would be his next venture as I was certain he had probably heard them all.

10 year old Madeira wine
Justino’s Madeira Boal 10 Years Old

Thanking David, I headed back down to The Black Bottle for one last look around. Kevin Conac the knowledgable French manager was there to greet me this time and presented me with a wonderful glass of old Madeira wine. ‘It’s currently Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir month, we change the wines every month as we like to feature something new from across the various regions and climates around the world, whether it be South African or Californian, French or Australian, all of which can be complemented with a cheese of the month (supplied by the Cheese Stall in the high street market) and a selection of cold meats. We also had our first Prosseco evening for ladies on Saturday whilst the football was on, it went down very well indeed’

We finished our conversation as I polished off the ten-year old Madeira. What a lovely father’s day I thought to myself, certainly no need to whine in Winchester and isn’t it just wonderful to do what you love.

George Sallis is Artistic Director of The Lion & Unicorn Theatre in London, Giant Olive Theatre Company and the GOlive Dance and Performance Festival. @GeorgeSallis 

A Nice Little Project

Rebecca JS Nice previews choreographer Debbie Lee-Anthony’s piece A Nice Little Project.

Debbie Lee-Anthony
Debbie Lee-Anthony

A warm welcome to The Winchester Guide! I’ll be sharing my perspectives from high up on the hill at the university and down to the depths of the cathedral crypt. En route I hope to accomplish two things: uncover historical secrets about medieval Winchester, and discover quirky performances, events and local arts practitioners who are beavering away unnoticed.

The University of Winchester is my second home. Please allow me to introduce it to you as an inviting public space, rather than as a place for rowdy students who keep the city up all night. The Uni hosts an array of seminars (on subjects ranging from medieval history to criminology) and organises international writing conferences. Professional dance companies perform in its studio theatre. The Chapel on campus in particular is an unusual venue; often used for professional theatre, it should be identified with far more than its religious functions. The Chapel was designed by local architects Colson and Son of Jewry Street. It was consecrated in 1881 by The Bishop of Winchester who, quite fittingly, used the text from St Matthew: “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”. It’s a motto that we at The Winchester Guide can certainly claim as ours.

Make Every Word Hurt #1 is a night of cabaret-style entertainment to be unveiled in the Chapel on June 26, 6.30-8.30pm, and theoretically ideal for anyone who fancies a glass of wine and some laugh-filled live performance. With any free small-scale event, however, it’s often a punt as to the quality of experience you’ll have. Nevertheless in A Nice Little Project the choreographer/performer Debbie Lee-Anthony promises to question and provoke audiences about a subject anyone can relate to: being nice (or not, as the case may be). She’ll use speech, autobiography, audience contributions and dance to investigate this appealing theme. The intimate setting of the Chapel might well be the perfect environment for Lee-Anthony and her audience to engage in a dialogue, no doubt helped along by a little libation and the light-hearted nature of the work itself.

Debbie animatedly discusses the future of the arts in Winchester, a topic close to her heart as she also lectures at the university. “There are graduates based in the city now,’ she enthuses, “working with Wessex Dance Academy, Integr8 Dance and other project-based performance work who need to be encouraged, nurtured and offered opportunities.” She notes the popularity of festivals such as Winchester Hat Fair, stating that “performances are here all year round but people don’t know about them or aren’t encouraged to come out for them”. This is a gap The Winchester Guide intends to fill, informing our readers of as many outstanding arts events – whether one-off or ongoing, small or large-scale – as we possibly can.

But back to Lee-Anthony. She’s on a high right now, having just won the Senate Learning and Teaching Award 2014 for knowledge exchange at The University of Winchester. In a few weeks she will be attending the Impulse Tanz 2014 in Vienna, studying with Forsythe company dancer Nicole Peisl and ex-Limon dancer Risa Steinbuerg. Lee-Anthony’s passion and drive for performance, and her uncanny ability to connect individually with audience members, makes now a prime time to catch her in performance.

Billed as a pop-up-poetry event by Creative Connections at The University of Winchester, Make Every Word Hurt #1 will be followed the next day, June 27, by a free symposium called Make Every Word Hurt #2 (location: on campus at the Stripe Lecture Theatre, 10am-3pm). Various papers will be given by writers, academics and poets, lunch and coffee will be provided. For more information please email Vanessa.Harbour@winchester.ac.uk

Writer, dance critic, history geek and Winchy lover. Rebecca is a mature student at The University of Winchester studying Choreography and Dance combined with History. After teaching for eight years, she now writes for various publications and blogs about dance and all things arty-farty, whilst drinking copious amounts of tea and day dreaming in Winchester’s many café windows. @rebeccajsnice

Winchester loves Art in June

Ieuan Rees, Creative Director of WinchesterloveArts, introduces the best this month has to offer.

One of the things I love about Winchester in June is that there are so many theatre and music events going on. Here are the ones which stand out for me. You might enjoy them, too!

Integr8 Dance Off 2014
Integr8 Dance Off 2014

The Theatre Royal is showing INTEGR8 Dance OFF 2014. Returning for a 3rd year in this showcase performance talented young dancers from the Winchester area come together for one weekend (20-22 June) that covers a dazzlingly diverse range of movement styles. A collaboration of local schools, dance companies and young people, INTEGR8 Dance OFF 2014 gives these potential future stars a platform that allows them to shine.

The Theatre Royal is also catering for opera fans this month with Donizetti’s
 L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) 
in a modernised English version by Thomas Eccleshare (11-12 June). Winchester’s young theatre-goers will be puddle-jumping pleased as punch with the new production of Peppa Pig’s Big Splash (18 -19 June 10am, 1pm, 4pm)

Winchester Guitar Festival
Winchester Guitar Festival

The Winchester Guitar Festival is returning again this year (13-14 June). Internationally renowned guitarist Gaëlle Solal is providing one of two celebrity recitals at St Lawrence Church. Gaëlle reworks classical pieces such as the stunning Bach’s prelude. She’s also leading an afternoon master class at Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday, 14 June – a great opportunity for experimental guitarists! The festival this year has invited students from Peter Symonds College to provide lunch-time youth recitals, with a young artist’s platform taking place at St Lawrence Church on 13 June at 1pm.

The Link Gallery at The University of Winchester is exhibiting Angela Williams: An Eye for Fashion – Norman Parkinson Photographs British Fashion Designers 1950-1964. This careful selection of silver gelatin prints presents an excellent visual history of designers who transformed the perceptions, outlook and creativity of fashion.  It is a revealing look into the innovative techniques of the era, some of which are now a gold standard in fashion photography.

Martha's Man
Martha’s Man at The Railway

Finally, Martha’s Man is playing at The Railway, Winchester, on 13 June. Having supported bands such as Passenger and Seahorses and, more recently, performing at the E4 music stage at V festival, the acoustic-pop solo artist is launching his debut album ‘Tale of the Robin’. I’ve played his EP ‘If your heart feels mine’ on loop for a week now and am thrilled that he’s performing in Winchester. Once again The Railway has re-affirmed its reputation for providing some of the best music and comedy in the city.

Our next guest blog will be brought to you by Rebecca Nice. Writer, dance critic, history geek and Winchy lover. Rebecca is a mature student at The University of Winchester studying Choreography and Dance combined with History. After teaching for eight years, she now writes for various publications and blogs about dance and all things arty-farty, whilst drinking copious amounts of tea and day dreaming in Winchester’s many café windows. @rebeccajsnice

What is it about Winchester?

A military marching band in Winchester High Street
A military marching band in Winchester High Street ©GOlive

What is it about Winchester? Over the last few weeks I’ve stumbled across outdoor Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew), a brass band, a man in a top hat and tails clearing up litter, face-painting, a real ale festival, a magic show in amongst myriad markets and acoustic guitarists punctuating my various journeys through the city.

I’ve been back in Winchester for two years now having been away for over a decade. The year I moved back was the Olympic year, which saw hoards of Wintonians gathering together in the cathedral grounds to picnic and cheer on our newly found sporting heroes. As autumn fell we marched together in a spectacular torchlight firework procession. Ice and rain aside, even the most hardened humbug couldn’t resist indulging in a little Yuletide fare at the now nationally- renowned Christmas market set against the romantic backdrop of Winchester Cathedral – an iconic landmark which just can’t be ignored as the centre point of this fine city.

Ancient woodland in Winchester
Ancient woodland in Winchester ©GOlive

But Winchester is more than grand or strictly seasonal events, nor can its splendours be pinned to just one admittedly stupendous edifice. We have a university, an art school, the Riverpark Leisure Centre, the Buttercross (Winchester’s 14th century commercial epicentre), theatres and museums, parks and gardens, pubs and restaurants (or two-in-one, like the Wykeham Arms, the Queen Inn or the Black Boy, among many others), hidden book-stalls, the library, the Discovery Centre – a place where one minute I can be singing ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ with my two year-old in a room full of babies and toddlers and the next I can be admiring Grayson Perry’s ‘Walthamstow Tapestry.’ We’re surrounded by ancient woodland and lush green agriculture, feeding our famed and fortnightly farmers’ market. There’s live music, comedy nights, Anthony Gormley’s Sound II, the naked man on a horse and other sculptures, the great medieval hall on the grounds of Winchester Castle with its legendary Arthurian Round Table, King Alfred’s statue and both Jane Austen’s last home and final resting place. We’re dripping with history but can also boast of an exciting creative economy.

Like any thriving community Winchester is made up of loads of fascinatingly varied individuals united by our locality. Although there’s a lot going on in this city most of the time I’m not convinced that everybody knows about it. To redress the balance I’m gathering together a team of smart and insatiably curious people who are hoping to change all that via the brand-new Winchester Guide, or WinGuide for short. The passion of our contributors will reflect the many different voices in the city and its many colourful strands of culture and possibility.

We’ll bring you an overview of some of the best that our city has to offer with informed opinions on arts and culture, lifestyle, events, food and drink and much, much more. We aim to provide you with a lively, friendly and eclectic mix of reviews and previews, snippets and offers, must-do’s and must-sees. We also warmly welcome your contributions and invitations to be featured in the new Winchester Guide. Ideally en route you’ll discover, along with us, some of Winchester’s hidden gems and best-kept secrets.

Our first feature will be coming out next week and will be brought to you by Iuean Rees, one of our many contributors. Watch this space and follow us @Win_Guide.

Winchester Cathedral and grounds
Winchester Cathedral and grounds ©GOlive

The arts & culture guide for the city of Winchester in Hampshire.