It’s five in the afternoon on January 13—what will probably emerge as the new official most depressing day of the year—and I’m standing outside Wayward, a wine shop in Leeds. An icy wind whistles through the empty streets and I start to wonder what the hell I’m doing here. The bar’s steamed-up windows obscure the scene lurking within so, like an early-doors punter heading to their mate’s club night, I paste on a smile and open the door.
I’m prepared for tumbleweed but what actually awaits inside Wayward is like a scene from a nineties Bacardi advert. The tiny six-by-four metre space is crammed with people, warm disco spills from the speakers, and empty wine bottles laugh in the face of January abstinence. Wayward has been open for just over a month but it already feels like a fixture of the Leeds food and drink scene.
The shop was founded by Becs Winlow, Joss Ainsworth, and Steve Nuttall, the team behind The Reliance, another popular Leeds venue.
“We’re 30 percent French, 30 percent Italian, 30 percent rest of Europe with a tiny percentage of New World stuff,” Nuttall explains of their approach to wine. “Because that’s what I can talk about. I don’t wanna bullshit people.”
Wayaward is built on the cave à vin model, the wine-shop-cum-bar-cum-nibble-stop popular in the cities of European wine-making nations. It focuses on wine from independent producers, those weather-beaten outsiders who use ancient methods and don’t always play by the rigorous wine establishment rules.
The shop’s walls are lined with an intriguing mix of white label wines, to be bought by the bottle and drunk in-store or at home in front of Netflix. On the counter are the day’s selection of wines by the glass. They vie for space with a meat slicer, daily cheese choices chosen by Nuttall each morning from the local cheesemongers, and sourdough made in another local’s home kitchen.
Nuttall pours me a glass of Festejar, a deep pink sparkling rosé made by Action Bronson’s favourite, Patrick Bouju. As we settle into its farmyard gumdrops flavour, he explains why, post-uni and in the midst of a craft beer revolution, he fell hard for wine.
“It was this idea that wine’s intrinsically linked to the place that it comes from,” Nuttall says. “Once you get into that, it’s like going down a wormhole. There’s something quite seductive about that level of understanding and knowledge.”
In his 14 years at The Reliance, Nuttall progressed from part-time kitchen porter to bartender to general manager, but it was his discovery of the off-beat end of wine culture that formed the inspiration for Wayward. He describes trips down to London to meet mates who introduced him to the heady world of natural and biodynamic wines.
“The very first wine that I tried like that was Rosso di Valtellina—an alpine Nebbiolo—when the Young Turks were doing the Ten Bells pop-up,” he reminisces. “We had it with blue cheese churros and horse bresaola. It was like nothing that I’d ever tasted before.”
Meetings with London wine stockists Tutto Wines followed, as well as home tasting sessions with Ainsworth and Winlow. Soon Nuttall was putting orange wines and unusual Italian picks on The Reliance wine list, and tentatively nudging regulars to try something new. He describes the response as ”amazingly receptive.”
And in the same way, Leeds is already embracing Wayward. Over the five hours I spend perched on a bar stool here, a stream of locals pop in. The majority who come to buy a bottle end up sticking about for a glass. A group of lads from the nearby North Brewing Company choose a Catherine Bernard rosé and local Cosmic Slop promoter Tom Smith drops in to buy an unusual Jean-Pierre Robinot Chenin Blanc. Matt Dix, who runs Leeds Indie Food and lives around the corner, is another regular.
“I haven’t been stood staring at the mid-range reds in Tesco once since Wayward opened,” he laughs, supping on a skin-contact blend of Malvasia, Moscato, and Procanico. “It’s become a routine stop-off on the way home from the pub. I’ll sit in and have a chat and a few glasses before taking a bottle home and falling asleep with it on the sofa.”
Wayward may boast a hand-made parquet counter and edgy signage, but switch the unfiltered Pignoletto for a pint of Leeds pale and this could be the pub down the road. It undeniably owes a debt to London bar and wine shops like P. Franco, but Wayward could only exist in the North. Here a generous heap of meat or cheese will set you back three quid and strangers are wont to strike up conversations.
As Captain Beefheart’s “Tropical Hot Dog Night” plays, Nuttall pours from a bottle of Barranco Oscuro, exclaiming “it’s made from vines at 1,300 metres above sea level in Alpujarras in Spain!” His enthusiasm is catching and I start to wonder if the caves à vin of Paris could learn a thing or two from this little shop in Leeds.