Uncorked: Brett Woonton & Charlie Young

14th March, 2017 by Lucy Shaw

Brett Woonton and Charlie Young founded Vinoteca in Farringdon in 2005, taking the enotecas of Spain and Italy that double as wine shops as their inspiration. The thinking behind the brand was to create a convivial atmosphere in which to serve high quality, characterful wines available to take away at retail prices, served alongside fresh, seasonal dishes. Waiting five years before opening a sister site, the duo branched out into Marylebone in 2010, with a site in Soho opening in May 2010, followed by Chiswick in 2013 and King’s Cross in 2015. Each of the five sites offer around 285 wines by the bottle and 25 by the glass.

What vintage are you?

Charlie Young: 1969. A little thin on top but the mid-section is fleshed out nicely. Arguably some freshness, but in reality pretty developed and a little leather-like. There’s a good sprinkling of white pepper (in the face region), and the ageing potential is good, although you’d suspect that with age will come a stubborn cantankerous character.

Brett Woonton: 67’. A shocking vintage. Fifty this year and searching high and low for something drinkable and affordable to celebrate with, the only thing is a Chateau d’Yquem at over 4k a bottle. The search goes on…

What bottle sparked your love of wine?

Charlie Young: Receiving my first wine training while working as a salesman for Carlsberg Tetley in 1990. I immediately studied WSET and embarked on a 7-year wine adventure, mostly in France and Australia.

Brett Woonton: When I was 18 and working in hotels in New Zealand on a wine training session we tasted a 64’ Chateau Cheval Blanc and I was blown away by how fresh it was – I couldn’t believe a liquid so old could be so delicious. I was hooked.

Ambition or talent?

Charlie Young: Hmmm. A bit of both. I would say quite a lot of both if I wasn’t prone to understatement.  

Brett Woonton: A bit of both. From my experience find what you like and are good at, and that gives you the drive and ambition to get to where you want to go

What would you be as a wine?

Charlie Young Well, if you print my vintage details above you’ll have most of the answer. For the actual wine, I’d be a northern Rhône Syrah (minus the Viognier) – some toughness and ruggedness but with an underlying elegance (sadly not sartorial) and even some perfume, on a good day.

Brett Woonton: Riesling. It can be crisp, cleansing and lean, but can also be complex and sweet. It’s never boring and always surprising.

Where are you happiest?

Charlie Young: When surrounded by wine, and tasting with the fantastic staff at Vinoteca. Also when I’m with my wife and daughter, just messing around.

Brett Woonton: At work, when we do our twice yearly wine list tastings – we involve all the staff and taste loads of potential new wines, with lots of chat and banter about the wines, I love that buzz. In life, after a hard day at the beach firing up the barbie and sucking back a couple of cold beers.

What’s your greatest vice?

Charlie Young: The fermented grape.

Brett Woonton: A cheeky half pint after work.

Best advice you ever received?

Charlie Young: Advice from generous people in the restaurant trade after looking through our business plan when we were starting out. The advice was for nothing, but the resulting change and focus it brought was beyond value.

Brett Woonton: Mr Stevenson, my art teacher at high school said, ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously’. This has stood me in good stead all my life and is the basis on which I’ve approached wine – the wine industry still takes itself too seriously sometimes and Vinoteca and its friendly aproach to wine is our contribution to changing this.

Your cellar’s underwater, which bottle would you dive in and save?

Charlie Young: An old vintage of Vin Jaune.

Brett Woonton: A bottle of 59’ Vouvray, Huet.

What’s the best and worst thing about the hospitality industry?

Charlie Young: Best thing is the people – customers and staff. Brilliant people. Worst thing, especially in London, is the rising costs.

Brett Woonton: It’s a great industry to work in, full of opportunities, massively sociable with lots on inspirational people. Staffing is a big problem, which is only going to get worse. It used to be mainly chefs but it’s now front of house staff too. Brexit has caused huge uncertainty in the sector.

What’s on your wine bucket list?

Charlie Young: Red wines with age that are the best on earth but don’t cost the earth. This includes Madiran and Bandol. Oh, and Lopez de Heredia Riojas. Oh, and Gattinaras, Boccas and Spannas. Oh, and…

Brett Woonton: Older Chenin Blancs, Rieslings and Barolos, especially six bottles of 67’ Barolo Riserva, Giacomo Borgogno for my 50th. 

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and why?

Charlie Young: Clint Eastwood (but I don’t want to get started on gun law). Because he really is the man. Jane from Rod, Jane & Freddy – the first person I ever had a crush on, aged 6. And Jeff Buckley. We just didn’t get enough of him.

Brett Woonton: Michelle Obama, because she’s hugely inspirational and you’d want to listen to what she has to say. Steven Fry because he is incredibly sharp and witty and we would have the best after dinner Qi ever, and Michael Broadbent for good wine stories. He’d hopefully bring a quality bottle of claret to dinner.

Personal satisfaction (Parker points out of 100)

Charlie Young: 92

Brett Woonton: 95. Still have a bit of work to do, not quite balanced yet but with a bit more time to mature we may just get there.

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