Sam Olive jumps out of his orange Peugeot 205 wearing a t-shirt that simply reads "WINE W*NKER". As tongues in cheeks go, this one is embedded. In a crowded market of nice people Sam is possibly the nicest person in Brum's wine world and his main goal, of all goals, is to end wine stuffiness. He is the opposite of what his t-shirt suggests. Sam's beaming as he unlocks the door to a cavernous Digbeth warehouse and ushers us in. Inside, it's beautiful.
The only thing this 2500 square foot of space has more of than natural light is plants — there's maybe 200 of them. Maybe more. "People stop in their tracks when they walk by and look in," says Sam, pictured top right with his business partner Taylor, the man with the plant addiction. "We had planned to spend more and do something a bit fancier, but then COVID struck, so we've done what we could with what we had." What they've done, since they first walked into the warehouse an incredible two years ago, is create Wine Freedom, a Birmingham wine venue. Not a wine bar, although it is a wine bar, but a wine venue. The emphasis is just as much on educating people about vin as it is on serving it. And every bottle you'll find here is natural wine, an umbrella term, Sam explains, for wine that hasn't been overly tampered with — organic, biodynamic, low intervention. They're all represented. What you won't find is mass produced plonk.
"Opening a bottle of wine is a bit like tourism," says Sam, who's travelled the UK and the world learning about, growing and selling the stuff. "If you open a bottle of Sangiovese, you want it to taste of Tuscany. The more things you add to the winemaking process — stabilisers, emulsifiers — the more you spray on the vines, the less a wine tastes of the place it was made." It's an opinion Sam shares in good company. Wine Freedom, that has supplied wine to restaurants and bars for years before they built their new home, delivers to Carters, Simpsons, The Wilderness and Hampton Manor, the latter of which won the AA award for the UK's best wine list, last year.
It's a stunning space. It doesn't feel like part of Digbeth. Which begs the question, will it work? "Birmingham's a wine city. We put enough of the stuff away, trust me, and Digbeth is a destination part of Birmingham. Not many people live here, they travel here for Digbeth Dining Club, for The Custard Factory, for Dig Brew Co. Why not for Wine Freedom?" It's Dig Brew Co that Sam holds up as a barometer for the (fingers crossed) forthcoming success of his venue. Sam has shared an office with the beer brewers for months, just a stone's throw from Wine Freedom, and their triumph stands as a positive litmus for his venture. "What Dig Brew have done is prove that if you provide a quality product, in an interesting space, presented by people who really give a shit, it will work. Young professionals come from a cross Brum to visit them and they'll do the same for us. I hope." He laughs nervously. But we sense Sam is really on to something. "Besides," he shrugs. "I looked a lot of tiny units in the city centre and they just didn't say 'freedom' to me." He looks around his warehouse with a slight smile. "This place does."
Shutters come up for the first time to the general public tomorrow (Friday, September 11) and they're already fully booked from 4.30pm onwards, which would support the theory that Birmingham wants a natural wine venue. It's certainly the direction the industry is going. "It's happening in London. Natural wine bars are popping up all over. And ask any winemaker worth their salt what the future of wine is and they will say it's about being more organic, being more sensitive. Quality is overtaking quantity and winemakers are going back to the old way of doing things. Year upon year natural wine is getting better and better, and that's what we want to represent. That's what we want to prove."
It's almost 10.30am so we ask Sam for a glass of wine. He laughs, assuming we're joking, so we head back to the office. Back to the office where we immediately book a table at Wine Freedom for a more "socially acceptable" hour.
Wine Freedom is open Weds (12pm to 5pm), Thurs (12pm to 5pm), Fri (12pm to 11pm) and Sat (12pm to 11pm). To book a table email firstname.lastname@example.org
The jewel in Birmingham's culture crown, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, reopens in four week's time, Wednesday October 7, bringing with it a first chance to see Cold War Steve's Brum collage Benny's Babbies. The iconic museum has — like all cultural venues — taken both barrels from COVID and come back fighting, remaining, as ever, free of charge, although guests are asked to donate to help ensure the museum remains open. The dystopian world of the brilliant (and Brummie) Cold War Steve has been a Twitter sensation (read all about it) and BMAG is now home to artist Christopher Spencer's two-metre-wide collage that includes a raft of well-known and less well-known Brum heroes. The display will also include the artist’s satirical take on Pre-Raphaelite works in Birmingham’s museum collection. The Edwardian Tearooms will also be back open to eat in or takeaway. Visitors are asked to book online, bab.
...AND SO IS THE HIPPODROME
Still cruelly shackled from showing the usual all-singing-all dancing stage productions for which it is best known, the Hippodrome is changing direction by hosting the most visited multi-sensory experience in the world. Not bad going, that. Opening on October 8, Van Gogh Alive has been seen by six million people across 50 cities but has never been in the UK before now. Displaying the works of Vinnie VG in a spectacular manner, curated projections will sink you deep into the artist's world and the ace sounding visuals will be accompanied by a stunning classical soundscape. Grande Exhibitions, the creators of the show, use state-of-the-art gallery tech to allow crystal-clear projections of over 3000 images. Visitors are surrounded by a symphony of light, colour, sound and even fragrance, so you'll feel like you're walking right into his paintings. COVID distancing measures will be fully in place. Adult ticket prices start from £15. Book
Venue: 670 Grams, The Custard Factory, 4 Gibb Street, B9 4AU; Website Choice: Tea & Toast (£60 as part of ten-course tasting menu, wine not included) Chooser: Chef
Seriously hyped, and only 14 seats, getting a table wasn’t easy. Kray Treadwell (Chef Patron) trained at Purnell's, worked about a bit, then did a two-year stint at Michelin-starred The Man Behind the Curtain, in Leeds. Then, after appearing on Great British Menu and a return to his native Brum for a few beloved pop-ups (including La Mariposa, which we rated) he doubled down, and opened 670 Grams. Kray publishes his menu daily, and will bend to some dietary requirements, but if it’s choice you’re looking for, perhaps you might find 670 grams a little rigid. For the purpose of “You Choose” however, we happily skipped the awkwardness and tucked into our veal popcorn (sweetbreads deep-fried in batter, coated in Louisiana sauce), followed by homemade bread and cheese spread, home-cured salmon with curry and rice bhaji and numerous other deliciously Brummie, deconstructed little plates. The tea and toast though — based on the first hospital meal that Kray had after the birth of his daughter (at a weight of 670 grams) — was the snuggliest little plate of food we’ve eaten in a while. Shards of burned bread over buttery builders tea ice-cream, it's emotional enough to make anyone who has ever sat in an NHS recovery room feel cosy and proud. Was the service a bit casual? Yes. Did we care? Not one bit. Will we be going back? If we can get a table... Instagram for latest menus
Birmingham Literature Festival has gone online. For writing workshops, publishing masterclasses, and live-streamed events, head here —
Film boffs Flatpack have teamed up with the Overhear app to create a self-guided cycling tour of 1960s Brum. Listen to audio memories as you peddle to key locations from Flatpack's Birmingham book This Way To The Revolution. Just follow the directions at the bottom of this webpage and download Overhear for the audio.
The Birmingham Indian Film Festival takes place at Millennium Point on September 20, with the flagship screening being, for our money, the highly anticipated Busan hit Roam Rome Mein — the directorial debut by Brick Lane star, Tannishtha Chaterjee. More
Glynn Purnell's latest cookbook is out, four years after his first. There and Back Again is (gulp!) £75, but looks absolutely stunning. Details
Seasonal Markets are bringing The Social BBQ Fest to The Bond, in Digbeth, October 10 and 11. Meat and coal specialists already confirmed include Dick's Smokehouse and Street Souvlaki. Smoke & Bones are even coming up from London. Tickets from £6.
"I can see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.
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