Thursday, 27 October 2016

The making of wine in Ireland's history

As I wait for the grapevines to become dormant in this very mild autumn, I ponder the next steps in our venture. We only had one cluster of grapes this year on the rondo variety; they disappeared before we could taste them. I have been staking and tying the vines with old nylon stockings which are very gentle on the vines. I will prune judiciously for the first time when they lose their leaves. Meanwhile, I continue with my research. 

This summer, I was fascinated to learn about Ireland's wine history in the International Musuem of Wine in the unlikely town of Kinsale. This museum is fascinating and documents Ireland's interesting involvement in wine production and distribution, starting with the introduction of viticulture and viniculture to Ireland by the Cistercian monks in the 5th Century in Kilkenny. It progresses through the taxation of wine passing through the very important port of Kinsale in medievil times and beyond, the flight of the Earls and the Wild Geese -- many of whom set up wineries throughout Europe, right to the recent immigration waves that set Irish men and women on a collision course with winemaking regions throughout the world.

I was even more surprised to learn that Ireland is officially listed as a wine producing country by the European Commission. Indeed there are several winemaking operations here all producing wine despite being well north of where Vitis vinifera naturally occurs. Most are understandably in County Cork, but some are well north.

The Blackwater Valley Vineyard is located in Mallow, with five acres of vines. Even smaller is the Longueville House vineyard, also in Mallow. This is a mere 1.1 acres of vines, including Muller Thurgau and Reichensteiner, made into wine just for the restaurant. They uprooted most of their vines and planted apple orchards instead. Longueville House has been fermenting cider and distilling Ireland's only apple brandy in the style of calvados for more than 30 years. They only use heirloom cider apples (Michelin and Dabinett) in the Blackwater Valley in Cork.  It was awarded a bronze medal in its category on its first outing at the International Wine And Spirit Competition. Eden Apple Brandy is available directly from Michael O’Callaghan.

The Thomas Walk Vineyard in Kinsale has been producing wines in Cork for more than 25 years. But the owner, who grew up in Germany, is rather secretive about his efforts. It is apparently the largest vineyard in Ireland. 

Of course, now there is Daria's Vineyard in Mayo, but not yet producing.  We are learning first. One of the things we wanted to do was source local grape varieties.  We had suspected that the monks, who needed wine for communion, would have established vineyards in the early Christian period. So I was very pleased to come across an article written about this very thing by Allan Lynch in Culture Locker. Titled The Suprising Irish Contribution to Winemaking,* it indeed came as a surprise that somewhat later in the 13thC , the Irish Dominican friar and scholar Father Geoffrey, committed his wine experience to paper, formally establishing Ireland at the forefront of knowledge and expertise in viniculture and fermentation. There is an image of him in St. Saviour's Catholic church in Waterford.  He is said to have spent most of his time in France. Irish monks apparently played a crucial role in the development of vineyards on the continent. For centuries they went abroad, not only as missionaries but also as viniculturists, helping brothers establish vineyards and produce sacramental wines.

Jerpoint Abbey is a ruined Cistercian abbey, founded in the second half of the 12th century, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. It is located 2.5 km south west from Thomastown on the N9 national primary road.  It is a national monument and has been in the care of the Office of Public Works since 1880.  But the original Cistercian Abbey is some distance away as it was moved to its new location some 600 years after its founding. I think perhaps a road journey is in order. 

Perhaps the newest venture is that of Wicklow Way Wines established just last year.  They are making strawberry wine under the label Moineir and have plans for other fruit wines as well.

We'll just have to see how this all develops. I must say, the spirit world is very enticing. Perhaps a chablis from grapes, a brandy from apples, and a vodka from potatoes. Now we're talking.

Jump up*^ The Surprising Irish Contribution to Winemaking By Allan Lynch Meridian Writers’ Group,