Melanie Brown | Chef, entrepreneur, restauranteur, now wine producer

This week we’re talking to our own Queen B, Melanie Brown.  She’s founded The New Zealand Cellar in 2014, The Australian Cellar in 2018, The Laundry Restaurant at Walton Lodge in Brixton which just opened last week, and creator of New Press Wines, launching 08 November exclusively at Specialist Cellars and The Laundry at Walton Lodge.  Phew – Mel – you’ve been BUSY with a capital (Queen) B!  

So Mel – what made you want to launch your own label?

In 2018 the opportunity arose for me to open my first restaurant, sparked by the availability of the extraordinary Walton Lodge building on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton.  The building itself was what informed everything about my restaurant’s name, the design, menu approach and our philosophy as an all day dining destination. All of that discovery and inspiration was fresh in my mind when I spent the first two months of 2019 reconnecting with winemakers, discovering new wines and getting up to speed with developments at our partner vineyards across NZ and Australia.

I’d had the ambition to create my own wines in the back of my mind “at some stage” for quite some time, but the process of developing the business plan and brand for the restaurant ie. Authenticity in everything we do, being a representative expression of place, honouring quality local ingredients by interfering as little as possible with them, using traditional techniques with a New World twist to create tastes to delight our customers – also helped me articulate a similar focus for what I wanted my wines to be. 

Thanks to the development of the restaurant, I then very clearly knew I wanted to collaborate with brilliant winemakers from all over the world to create the most representative expressions of each terroir’s iconic wines and varieties, honouring authentic winemaking techniques and making them unique by bringing a bit of my own personality to them.

Who inspired you in the first place from the wine industry?

I was so fortunate to work with Peter Gordon and the incredible team at Providores and Tapa Room in London’s Marylebone twice, for a number of years each time, first as a chef then as bar manager.  Whilst with that team I curated the Providores’ wine list into an NZ-only offering, which customers of course then started asking where they could buy our amazing wines to enjoy when they weren’t able to come into the restaurant.  In between ‘shifts’ at Providores I worked with and learned from the amazing team at Vinoteca, all the while getting more excited about an idea for bringing people, wine and stories together that would fit my world better after the arrival of my daughter – and so my second baby was born – The New Zealand Cellar!

Why did you call it NEW PRESS and what’s the story behind the design? 

The first part of the name is in homage in part to my home, New Zealand.  Largely it’s a nod to the Newland family, owners and operators of the Walton Lodge Steam Press Laundry and Dyeworks for over 110 years before we’ve been lucky enough to give the building a new life as The Laundry restaurant.  It’s also New because these wines didn’t exist before, obviously! The second part of the name is a nod to pressing grapes AND pressing laundry.

The label design was created by rolling canvas material through an actual ink barrel-press, which is why it’s irregular and rich and deliciously inconsistent.  So even the label is true to what the wines represent – created authentically, with traditional techniques.

Why did you choose to work with winemaker Ben Glover from Zephyr wines? 

Ben’s a highly respected winemaker, judge, wine industry professional, and a good mate.  We share a desire to mess less with the wines and let the grapes do the talking, and we both wanted an excuse to make the most NZ-Sauvignon-Blanc-y NZ Sauvignon Blanc we could, for example, embodying everything that’s iconic about that variety and Ben’s wine’s location.

His family’s single vineyard in the Marlborough region is a very fertile, rich terroir which worked incredibly well for all three of this first collection of New Press wines. 

What was your best moment up until launch date? What was the hardest moment? 

The best moment was approving the final labels for print, knowing that the bottles were ready and waiting to have their sexy new identity wrapped around them!  I’ve loved working with some amazing partners through the process too, from the blend to the brand to the bottle shape – like they say, it takes a village to raise a child – even if it is your fifth!

The hardest moment was probably getting the name and identity exactly right.  We went through a few iterations but it feels right now and I’m excited to share it with our Specialist Cellars and The Laundry customers.

Because we’re all foodies, what’s your recommendation for food pairing with NEW PRESS? 

The New Press Sauvignon Blanc is a really vibrant, classically-Marlborough, ripely acidic wine with lime citrus and plump tropical notes – it’s perfect with a charcuterie board or The Laundry’s smoked fish bacalhau.

My recommended match with New Press Pinot Rosé from The Laundry menu is our cured day-boat sea bass.  It’s red summer fruits, delicate florals and bright crunchy acid line will pair well with flavourful seafood dishes and sweeter cheeses, too.

Roasted pork belly (The Laundry’s comes with the most amazing Brussel sprouts, pickled chilli and house-made yoghurt, just saying!) is the perfect accompaniment to the New Press Pinot Noir.

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