Cheers! Dragon’s backing for Island-born wines

Described light-heartedly as a ‘Christmas Miracle’, the world’s first truly sugar-free, carb-free wine is being unveiled with a great fanfare across the UK this month.

Most of the media attention will be focusing on the fact that the new SlimLine Wines are backed by TV entrepreneur James Caan of
Dragons’ Den fame, so it’s unlikely that the Isle of Wight’s
connection to the story will get a look-in.

But as we discovered, the idea was actually born and developed
right here on the Island, by Cowes-based wine consultant
Paul Anthony Gidley and his partner Miriam.

With a lifetime in hospitality and the wine trade, he has run award-winning hotels, gastro-pubs and restaurants, knows the wine world inside out and is on first-name terms with some of the finest wine ‘noses’ in the land.

So when Paul Anthony Gidley began to play with the idea of a healthier, sugar-free wine, he certainly wasn’t going to compromise on quality or flavour.

Not for him the watered-down, 4 per cent proof type of low-sugar offerings currently on the market – his aim was to come up with a proper full-flavoured, real-deal of a wine, just minus the sugar.

Perhaps the obvious question, though, is:  “Why?”

Healthy drinking

Paul Anthony (the double name being a clue to his French antecedents) explains:  “It started a couple of years ago with a conversation between Miriam and me, about the negative effects of sugar on people’s health.  At the time, Miriam was working for the Macmillan cancer charity.

“She turned to me and said: ‘Well, you’re just going to have to do something about it, aren’t you, darling?”

The couple had been looking at some of the statistics on the rising incidents of diabetes as well as cancer, along with sobering facts and figures on the high sugar levels in most mainstream wines: for example, the 36 grams of sugar contained in a typical bottle of champagne, is equivalent to 2-3 double chocolate Magnum ice creams.

“It’s not that we are saying sugar is the devil” says Paul Anthony, “but it is reckoned to be twice as addictive as cocaine, and most of us probably don’t think twice about how much we are consuming, especially when innocently enjoying a glass of wine”.

Indeed, there have been suggestions that the UK’s current love affair with Prosecco (made from the large Glera grape) threatens to rot the nation’s teeth.

So, with Miriam’s challenge ringing in his ears, Paul Anthony opened up his little black books of contacts and started talking to some of the most talented wine makers in the business, about how they might achieve a true, sugar-free wine.

It came down to three vital factors:  finding the perfect soil conditions, identifying the right variety of premium grape, and developing a special fermentation process that removes residual sugars.

Finally, two years ago, he partnered with Daniele Cusmano, a talented Chef de Cave in the famous Piedmonte wine producing area of northern Italy, and began work on formulating an exclusive sugar-free product for discerning wine drinkers.

“We tried hundreds of samples along the way” says Paul Anthony.  “Some were just too much like Champagne, and some were simply dreadful – but finally we got there, and now the two years of hard slog all feels worthwhile.

“Not that we could have done it without the help of many nameless giants in the wine world” he added.

There was also the financial backing they had for the £1 million-plus investment project, from Adrian Bradshaw of Hamilton Bradshaw Capital Partners – an investment firm partly founded by the aforementioned TV ‘Dragon’ James Caan.

The result is the UK launch of SlimLine Wine, and the first shipment of 400,000 bottles of its sparkling red, white and rose options, all between 10-11% proof and made from top quality Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay grapes.  Half of the consignment has already been pre-sold through a principal offer that was launched on social media earlier this year, with sparkling versions at £10.99 a bottle, red and white at £8.99, and a special discount on a case of six.

Island Link

Paul Anthony is naturally delighted to see the dream coming to fruition – and he’s also keen to trumpet the Isle of Wight connection:  “The Island isn’t generally spotted as a place where things happen” he says, “but the fact is that SlimLine was built from here, is run from here – and I’m damn well proud of that!”

The entrepreneur might have been living here for only four years, but he’s certainly taken the Island to his heart and says he’s “absolutely bonded” to the place and now can’t imagine being anywhere else.

He unashamedly reveals that it was love that brought him to a new life on this side of the Solent – and the first fateful meeting with the lady in question happened rather aptly, over a glass of Champagne.

He was living at the time in West Sussex, but had impulsively decided to take a day off and visit Winchester, where he found himself sitting  a couple of seats away from Miriam.  A chat turned into a glass of champagne, they spent the rest of the day together – and the rest as they say, is history.

He soon began visiting Miriam, who’d been living on the Island for over 20 years, and relocated here himself not long afterwards.

Among many other shared interests, one of their mutual passions was charity work, with Miriam working for Macmillan and Paul Anthony having founded the Grape Foundation, a private organisation of wine traders that gives financial support to needy children, including those who are terminally ill.

So it was perhaps not surprising that the couple’s conversations and concerns should ultimately have led to the birth of their groundbreaking new ‘healthy wine’ brand.

A  life in wine

Now aged 50, Paul Anthony can trace his interest in wine back for over 40 of those years, and says it was probably sparked by his grandfather, George Gidley.

“Grandpa was actually what was known in those days as a tea baron, but I guess he always had aspirations in wine” he says.

“Some English families had interests in wine, and I guess he might have had a penny or two invested, but 40 years ago, the Nuits St Georges and St Emilions were alien to us in the UK – at best we might have drunk Blue Nun.

“As a young man, I got fascinated by the whole subject and used to go on trips with him to Bordeaux.

“It seems to be the conversation I’ve had all my life, and how I came to understand Europe and geography and climate, and how I looked at maps.”

Other elements of his early life that were to bear fruit later on included a Parisian grandmother, whose influence meant that even as a child, he was served with a little wine and water at the dinner table. “For me, that took away any mystique about alcohol” he says.

Meanwhile, his father Anthony was in marketing and early audio visuals, and his mother Christine a passionate Cordon Bleu cook and teacher of cookery.

With such a combination of creative gastronomic family influences, added to his own personal fascination for the grape, it’s no wonder that by his 20s, Paul Anthony was already running successful restaurants and gastro-pubs in London and the south.  One of his most recent achievements winning the accolade of GQ Pub of the Year for the White Horse in Chilgrove, West Sussex.

Now he runs UK Wine Consultants, a highly specialised advisory service to wine producers that encompasses marketing, branding , products and promotion.

When it comes to his own new brand, SlimLine, he sees the possibility of expanding it and adding even more wines, as well as beer.

“It may mean some more sleepless nights” he jokes, “but it’s great fun being busy.

“Of course when you are trying to do anything that’s new, there are always difficulties and doubts, but you just have to get up the next morning and find a solution – and there always is one.

Predictably, there were people who said that a genuinely good sugar-free wine was not possible – but I have always believed that you just have to ignore the naysayers.

“And having done that, here we are now – in partnership with a Dragon!”