Meet Ruth Spivey—purveying her wine flair from Craft London to car boots
At Craft London, chef Stevie Parle’s newest eaterie that perches above the Greenwich Peninsula, Ruth Spivey is recommending the house pour fizz—the Sussex sparkler Wiston Brut. “It’s reliably refreshing for a sunny day,” she promises. Spivey is the self-proclaimed informal sommelier of Craft London, where you’ll find her working the Tom Dixon-designed floor three or four nights a week, as well as hosting wine dinners and training staff.
Spivey comes at the wine trade somewhat circuitously, having modelled full-time from her mid-teens to mid-twenties, walking for the likes of Chanel, Galliano and Isabel Marant. It was a period that saw her trot between Paris, New York and LA, as well as spending time working in Tokyo. The job allowed her to experience a gamut of food and culture, she says. “Modelling enabled me to develop a certain joie de vivre. By the time it came time to choosing a second career, I had lived enough to know it would have to be food and wine oriented.”
Spivey says that she’s always liked food and company, so post-modelling pursued her interest at Michelin-starred restaurants Arbutus in Soho, and Wild Honey in Mayfair. She began as a maître d’ before proposing that she spend time in the kitchen. Cheffing didn’t work out, but Spivey was all the while cultivating a keen nose for wine. She studied with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and also attributes her education to travelling, asking questions, and plenty of curiosity. “And the most important and fun (and expensive) method: personal consumption.”
She began running tastings in early 2013, and dabbled in a wine blog, Good Legs Long Length, for a couple of years prior. “Though in a rather uncommitted manner, I must admit,” she says. The tasting evenings, called Fight Club, were held at Climpson’s Arch in London Fields. Street Vin, a pop-up wine bar, launched a couple of months later at Street Feast, a nighttime food market with origins at Dalston Yard, and her first Wine Car Boot was staged at the end of the summer. “It’s just carried on since really,” she says.
In essence an edgy tasting fair, Wine Car Boot is where London’s best independent wine shops sample and sell their wares from, you guessed it, the back of their vehicles. Held in car parks and market spaces all over the city, each wine shop brings five of their favourite bottles, most under £20, for consumers to try, drink in and take home.
Spivey is passionate about getting people out of the supermarket, and more interested in better quality wines. “I also wanted to run a wine tasting that was fun and put as much emphasis on drinking, eating and having a good time as anything else.” At the events, water biscuits have been swapped for street food and spittoons for a sound system. “We go on into the evening so everyone can get stuck in.
When I launched Wine Car Boot, there wasn’t a fair or tasting for independent shops and many consumers, even the most enthusiastic, would still get stuck buying the same wines over and over, orbe bored by the selection.” Though she’s certainly not precious. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not criminal to buy from the supermarket, we all do, and some do have decent bottles. Supermarkets have done a huge amount to democratise and promote daily wine drinking. I’m just trying to even up the balance.”
When the founders of Street Feast offered Spivey a space at their market with free rein to host a wine-focussed stall, she jumped at the chance. “At the time they had craft beer and quality cocktails, but the good wine was missing,” she says. “I turned up on the first week with a hire car, a couple of trestle tables, a few cases of wine and 250 tea lights. Cash only. Just me and a mate. I spray-painted a sign and held everything together with cable ties and gaffer tape—literally. It went down well and luckily I had the support of the Street Feast team, who quickly helped me pull it into shape.”
The following week, Spivey turned up again, this time with more tables, more lights, and a proper bar. “Every week I added a few more bits until it became a proper bar with 40 or so seats, suitable storage, its own identity and regular customers.”
The space at Dalston Yard proved to be the perfect place to launch Street Vin. “It was a haven away from the crowds where you can bring in your food, grab a table and settle in for the night.”
Spivey looked for drinkability, authenticity, quality and value in the wines she purveyed at Street Vin—and never hesitated to incorporate something a little different. “I’d have some bottles on
for fun or nostalgia or locality too— magnums, English sparklings and Lambrusco, for example. Nothing was gimmicky but I firmly believe wine is to be drunk and enjoyed.”
Nowadays, the team at Street Feast run Street Vin, so she can focus on Craft London and Wine Car Boot—the next event is set for later this year. She’s also taking the show on the road, to South Africa in September, with plans to visit Melbourne in 2016.
And Spivey’s pick for a top drop? “I’m into Muscadet at the moment. It went out of fashion but is starting to reappear. Not too heavy, lovely and crisp—bring on the oysters.” Flexing her sommelier chops, Spivey also has a few reds up her sleeve that can match the mild weather.
“There are plenty of crisp, even chillable reds that work for the warmer seasons and with lighter dishes. I will happily drink any of Mac Forbes’ wines, from the Yarra Valley in Australia any day—I list his YV Pinot Noir at Craft London; it’s a perfect session red. I have a bag-in-box on the go at home at the moment— vivacious Malbec from Cahors by Fabien Jouves. It’s fun juice on tap!” Clearly, Spivey offers a fresh assessment when enthusing about her trade, perhaps because wine has always been her drink of choice. “It’s a complex subject with a never-ending amount of discoveries, so it will keep you enter- tained and interested for a lifetime.”
Welwyn Garden City
Signature go-to cocktail (when not ordering wine, of course)?
At craft the More Please—a mix of gin, egg white and chamomile. Else- where: a Daiquiri, Amaretto Sour or Clover Club (all unfortunately girly).
Any hidden talents?
Does tennis count? I’m quite good at throwing too.
What’s your daily uniform?
Navy (the colour not the actual uniform). At work, a dress—with pockets—and ballet pumps. At home, as scruffy as I can get away with.
What are you reading?
Usually a wine list!
Wine Car Boot coming to Greenwich Peninsula on Saturday 17th September.