With many people seeking sustainability and rejecting rampant consumerism, secondhand shopping is booming. But the opportunity to turn someone else's trash into treasure goes beyond fashion, as nearly every industry struggles with excess. Take the wine industry: it takes 720 liters of water to create one bottle of wine – and, if winemakers can't sell their product, that resource goes down the drain.
Originally from South Africa, Angelo van Dyk, east London's newest vintner, is turning that waste into more wine. His company, Wasted Wine Club, sources excess wines from small-scale, independent producers and collaborates with indie winemakers to reblend the product into brand-new creations. Here's how he's managed to salvage the equivalent of more than 1,500 bottles (and counting) of excess wine – and his tips on finding the next big opportunity in waste.
How did you get started in winemaking?
‘I grew up on the east coast in Durban, South Africa, and ended up at Stellenbosch University studying winemaking. I don't come from a family that owns vineyards. The east coast is all about sugarcane and bananas. There [are] no grapes grown there whatsoever. But I suppose I had this romantic idea of wine. My dad is half-Italian and my mum was an amazing host. We always had food and wine as a big part of our lives. So, I signed up and off I went, but [I] failed everything miserably and so changed my degree completely, but started to dip my toe into the wine world via working part-time at wineries. I spent a year abroad in Italy – I worked a wine harvest in the north of Italy and then came back to South Africa, [for] the middle [of the] harvest there.
‘Then I moved to London. That was an opportunity for me to spend some time abroad and expose myself to the big old world of wine that I knew existed. Then [I] did another harvest abroad in California. I think those harvests were very formative in terms of really understanding where wine comes from – understanding the back end of it, as opposed to just kind of pouring and explaining what you're tasting.’
Where did the idea for Wasted Wine Club come from?
‘I have a separate project called Yo El Rey Wines, so I go back to South Africa every year for a two-month harvest and produce wines under that label. It was during one of those harvests in 2020 when I chatted to another winemaker who mentioned he had four barrels of cabernet franc that he hadn't used for years. He was either going to sell it for bulk wine or blend it away. It got me thinking: how often do these instances end up where winemakers have excess wine laying around and what ends up happening to it? [I'd] never really delved into the world of sustainability when it came to wine, but that was the catalyst for it.’
What inspired you to look into the sustainability side of wines?
‘As cheesy as it might sound, when you grow up on a continent like Africa – and even though I recognize I come from a very privileged background – you're ultra aware of waste [and] how you live and consume affects the things around you. I don't come from an agricultural background, but I started to uncover natural wines. As trendy as natural wines are, I think that underneath all of this hipster, east-London stereotype is a very important message and philosophy that having as little impact on the soil, the earth [and] the greater environment as possible is the only way forward. I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that actually, at the core of it, those winemakers are [making more sustainable wines] because of the agricultural impacts at their wineries. The wastage element [of] the production of wine was also something that intrigued me.’
Why hasn't someone done this before?
‘It has been done before. And that's something I keep stressing to people – I'm not convinced that I'm reinventing the wheel here. There definitely have been brands that are similar and preach the same message, but I don't think that the way it's been communicated has hit the nail on the head. In most instances, it's just been a white-labeling exercise – so, they take wine, they put a new label on it and it's like Russian roulette in terms of flavor. I don't think anybody has ever really bridged that gap [for] the consumer understanding that there's this circumstance [of waste wine] and still [been] able to put quality wine in a bottle that they can stand behind. This isn't a brand-new idea that hit me like a lightning bolt. I guess the thing that did stick with me was the fact that these guys before me have never done it in such a way that allows the consumer to really plug in and engage with the issue.’
You basically get this surplus wine and you make a blend of it. Is that how it works?
‘The nature of [the business] is that there'll be limited runs because [it's] whatever's left lying around. There [are] never going to be 10,000 cases of our product. I could just walk into a massive cooperative winery and say: “What do you have extra lying around? What can I buy?” But I feel it removes a little bit of the creative element of it. I think, for me, it's always going to be important for it to be collaborative. I don't think I'm the best wine taster in the world, but I think I've spent enough time in the trade now to have a pretty good benchmark on what's good versus what isn't.’
Do you think the industry needs to be more diverse?
‘The wine industry has a lot of old white dudes. Unfortunately, that's the reality of it. The change is slow, but already there's a big movement starting to celebrate female winemakers. From a South African perspective, there's an opportunity to start supporting small South African producers that don't have representation here in the UK and, particularly, black winemakers. They're such a small fraction of the industry that they often get swallowed up in the mix. Looking back on the South African trade, which is something that I've already been plugged into for a long time, [I'm] realizing there are so few people of color in winemaking – how do I change that? Personally, I've been engaging a lot with a society called the Black Cellar Club, which is a group of black wine professionals in South Africa who are very much putting together ideas and support for people wanting to get into wine. I've been engaging with them since 2020 and trying to find support and help where I can. The more collaborations with winemakers from other minority groups – whether that's gender, sexuality or people of color – that's super important for me and the industry in general.’
What do you think could be a surprising opportunity in waste?
‘There's probably an opportunity under [your] very nose. I think back to meeting this guy a long time ago, who's now extremely successful and the owner of a well-known gym supplement brand. This guy is a multi-billionaire, right. And, essentially, he found out that whey protein was a byproduct of cheese production. Cheese producers separate curds for cheese making and bin the whey. And, 20 years later, this guy is minted.’
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