Wine With Friends
Porte Noire winemaker David Farber tells Boisdale Life about his latest venture with actor Idris Elba: a welcoming and elegant Continental-style wine bar in a glamorous development in King’s Cross
By David Farber
February 14 2023
I have an emotional relationship to wine. My grandfather was a wine collector who invested in some Michelin-starred restaurants in France, and when I was a young boy, every Sunday for family lunch he would take me to the wine cellar to help him select and carry the bottles. He would let me have a little taste, and since then, I’ve always associate wine with those warm, sharing moments.
My first career was in the financial sector and I did think twice before leaving the security of my job for the wine business, but it is priceless when you manage to make your passion your work. The main difference between my current profession and
my past in finance is that now my customers smile at me, and many have become great friends!
Being an entrepreneur in any sector is very risky; it’s like jumping from a cliff and building a plane on the way down. Of course there are a lot of challenges in winemaking and distribution, but the relationships developed with incredible winemakers are worth those challenges. It is actually a pretty friendly industry with a market wide enough for everyone to find their niche. As long as winemakers are not making poor wines and giving a bad reputation to a region or appellation, then most winemakers are happy to collaborate and help each other when needed – people are often surprised to learn there is a real spirit of solidarity, not competition, in the wine world.
In 2008 I started researching different businesses that involved wine, and my first venture was as a wine merchant. I did have some discussions about making my own wine, but nothing serious happened until I met Idris Elba, who was introduced by a mutual friend. When we all got together for un petit verre, Idris loved the champagne I recommended. We were supposed to have just a quick half-hour together, but we stayed chatting and tasting wines for a good few hours. We then spent a long weekend in Champagne together, and eventually I organised all the wines and champagnes for his wedding. Long story short, we became friends, and later, business partners.
Winemaking is actually a creative profession, which appeals to Idris’ actor instincts. Whether perfecting the blend or designing the branding, labels, gift packaging, and marketing campaigns, the process definitely allows you to express your creativity. Idris is very involved in this creative side of things – he has a great eye, brilliant ideas and real talent for this – and he also has a great palate, so he enjoys validating the champagnes and wines for the range. Like all of our team, he only puts his name and reputation behind wines whose high quality is non-negotiable.
I find it so tricky to answer questions about what makes our wine special; having a wine is like having a child – every parent thinks theirs is the best! But it’s true to say that we have chosen vineyards and wineries that I’ve known for decades to work with us on our wines, and they have always produced consistent quality, year on year. We have conceived our wines with the customer in mind; we make what we like but we take into account what the customer would like, too.
Also, our wines are unpretentious and, many believe, top of their class. (I’m not as unpretentious as our wines!) What’s more, they are at a great price point for their quality.
Idris and I first launched the Porte Noire Grand Cru Vintage 2010, followed by the Porte Noire Rosé, then the Petite Porte Champagne, and finally, at the end of October 2021, we opened our first Porte Noire venue – the Porte Noire Bar & Cellar – in the amazing Gasholder Park redevelopment behind King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. Two hundred years ago, these beautiful ironwork ‘gas holder’ structures were created to produce and store gas from coal that was brought in along the canal. By day the central chambers would fill with gas, which was then pumped out to the local area at night for heat, light and fuel. Now this once-abandoned industrial site is a charming and thriving complex of independent bars, restaurants and boutiques.
It’s the perfect home for us.
Idris and I noticed that there is now a trend worldwide for people to drink less but drink better.
London is a very cosmopolitan place, but traditionally it has had more of a pub culture than wine culture. We missed the wine bars of Spain, Italy and France, those tapas or aperitivo places that have great food and quality wines, so we decided to open our own. I cannot conceive of drinking without food, so we serve small bites and nibbles of great quality (including truffle fries, platters of cheese and cured meats, oysters, salmon tartare) and for those who are hungrier, what I’d call ‘elevated French brasserie’ comfort food that pairs well with our wine, such as duck magret and foie gras salad, cauliflower steak with époisse sauce, or slow cooked beef cheeks à la bourguignonne. It’s proved very popular with friends and families, and hopefully there will be more Porte Noire bars coming soon – more neighbourhoods need them!
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