The Old Cellar, High Street, Ripley, Surrey, GU23 6BB
The upside: A truly inspiring wine and cheese shopping experience!
The downside: Only open 5 days per week, but until 8pm.
The flipside: Fantastic tailor made and off the shelf events!
When Cellar Wines opened in Ripley it was impossible to predict what an impact this unassuming new wine retailer could possibly have on our wine loving community. Ripley itself has emerged over the last few years as a bit of a culinary hotspot. Drakes a Michelin star restaurant is opposite, Pinnock’s an award winning coffee shop has been pivotal too, plus a fantastic farm shop at A. Luff & Sons at Ripley Nurseries on the outskirts of the village. In addition, local community leaders set up a monthly farmers market (second Saturday of the month) which has gained a dedicated following! That said it was a good bet that a wine shop would also be well received.
Cellar wines is housed in a historical fifteenth-century building which during the second world war was purchased by a pharmacist Kenneth White. He is revered for being the first producer of penicillin for civilians and the shop now has a blue plaque to commemorate his contribution. So with a listed building and a mission for excellence this little shop opened quietly.
When one of the founding partners left, the original investor took the helm and really unique elements started to unfold. Originally focused on French wines the shop now embraces the globe bringing in superb South African wines from the likes of rebel wine makers the Kloof Brothers, Galician artisan producer Benito Santos (I love the labelling on this wine) and award winning wines from Surrey itself. If you have ever stood in a supermarket staring at dismally at same old display of wines then this shop is for you. A bottle of ‘The flower and the bee’ costs only £12.80 here from an artisanal Spanish producer with vines growing on organic soil while in contrast, a bottle of High Clandon Cuvee Reserve Vintage will set you back £45.00. In fact, all the bottles of wine have an interesting story and I would be proud to take any of these to any wine and food event.
If you like advice on what to buy then Manager Andy Walton and assistant David Hefford are on hand to help. What I love about the staff here is their brilliant customer service. There is no wine snobbery at play just a desire to share their knowledge of their truly eclectic and interesting selection of wines and spirits with their customers. Prices here start at the accessible for all and rise to aficionado status and this is for some a special occasion retail experience. Guided by knowledgeable staff, a great selection of tasting samples plus a fantastic range of expertly curated options, creates an exciting retail experience. Judging by the rave reviews of the shop it’s a shared opinion.
Local vineyards are featured and celebrated here too. It’s been a hugely important decade in England for winemakers and we have several award winning vineyards in Surrey. Greyfriars and the Albury Estate, for example, are within 10 miles of the shop as is Clandon. In addition to wines you will find local superstar craft gin Silent Pool and newcomer Mews too. Craft beers are also on offer such as Hop Art based in Farnham. A collaboration by native Belgian and Italian beer makers whose products are gaining a large following. Stylish labels and a catchy name help here too but it is delicious beer with four core styles.
To support the wine here they also have a delightful cheese counter with a range of local and imported cheeses. To compliment a range of Cornish charcuterie including a fantastic smoked chorizo. Local cheeses include Surrey’s famous Norbury Blue and Dirty Vicar from Michaela Allum in Box Hill. A goats cheese cheddar and a delicious Italian cheese named 3 Latti (made from a combination of cows, goats and ewes milk) also feature. A supporting range of interesting cheese biscuits, Millers Damsels, Mondovino cheese crackers in packaging that oozes 60’s glitz and cocktail bar culture, choose from wild mushroom plus other equally tantalizing flavours. These compliment the cheeses on offer.
But the icing on the cake here is the range of interesting accompaniments they stock to create the perfect cheeseboard. This I discovered when I attended a tasting of South African wines. Cellar wines calls itself a boutique and here’s why. It’s a shop, a bar, a lounge and an event venue it even has a small outside terrace at the back. Book a private party, supper club, buy a ticket for a wine tasting or design your own event. Anything is possible here and that’s surprising in what is a relatively small space. In a lock up down the road, they keep a range of chairs tables, linen-ware, wine glasses, crockery, in fact, anything you need really for a stunning evening of food and wine.
Arriving at the wine tasting evening it was amazing to see how the shop had been transformed into an intimate venue. We were greeted on arrival with a glass of our first wine of the evening from the Waterford Estate (Sauvignon, Blanc) delicious and crisp is set the tone. Now I have to be honest here I was not sure what to expect as other wine tastings experienced have been boring, fusty and bit highbrow for me. Our tutor for the evening was a breath of fresh air. Easy to talk to and a walking encyclopedia of wine it was impossible not be in awe. She led us through the six wines of the evening embellishing each with interesting stories of the vineyards, their geographic locations and how this affected the resulting wine. It was an interesting political history too as for a long time South African products were restricted because of Apartheid.
Now this was the best wine tasting I have been too because not only was our tutor a brilliant speaker but also because she wasn’t too prescriptive about how you drank your wine, more advisory. This meant you could drink at your own pace and we weren’t forced into naming fruit/nut/food notes and other associations that I have felt under duress to do with previous events. But one of the highlights of this wine tasting was the addition of cheese and charcuterie nibbles that were in perfect harmony with the wine. Whoever put this together knew what they were doing. For example Keens Cheddar on olive oil crackers with Piccalilli was served with my favourite wine of the evening Mullinex Kloof Street Red 2014 (£17.50). Stichelton Toast with Kileen Goat Gouda and Pickled Cherries were stunning with the Mullinex Straw Wine our final tasting and a dessert wine which made a perfect finish. The pickled cherries were fabulous and now on my list for Christmas day offerings. My absolute favourite though was Wyfe of Bath on water crackers with Acacia Honey & Truffle which was served with a Chenin Blanc.
I thoroughly recommend a visit to this enterprising wine Boutique. It is one of the most creative businesses I have been to recently. Why not take it one step further and attend one of their tasting events because it’s an education not only in wine but food pairing too! Be warned they are not open on Sundays or Mondays but they do have an online shop.