Friday, August 20, 2010

Irelands only wine, double entendres aside

I went onto RTE radio yesterday (The Mooney Show) to natter about David Llewellyn's Irish wine. I ended up saying "So I met up with David and he took me down to his tunnel to look at his grapes". The production team were hysterical, I wasn't. Apart from that clanger it was a nice item about what is essentially a novelty wine but Dermot O'Neill the gardening expert added to the discussion saying by that many more of us might be producing wine in future years as the climate warms. I'm on for that, it would definitely cut our wine bills.

Wine making in Ireland might seem a little bit far fetched, but various people in the past have produced wine in very small quantities - particularly those in the South and South West of the country who have been growing grapes or buying grapes and making their own wine for their household, a bit like home brewing I suppose, but few of these wines have been commercially available until now.

Climate is key to producing wine but interestingly the grapes themselves have a lot of importance in terms of climate. The development of varieties in Germany and particularly the South of England has led to vines that do well here providing the summer temperatures don’t plummet. It's been 20 years since David Llewellyn planted his first vines after returning from working in the wine business in Germany. He calls our climate “challenging” – a very polite term, and he’s spent a long time experimenting with what might work in this climate and has a couple of different varieties of vines growing on the farm.

Last week I went out to his farm to record the radio piece. Disappointingly the vineyard doesn't look anything like the beautiful stepped terraces of Northern Italy or the huge level hectares of vines that you see in Southern France. Because it’s Ireland, David has his vines in plastic tunnels (don't go there) to protect them from the damp and disease. At this time of year the grapes are a smaller version of a table grape, so about the size of a marble. The grapes are incredibly sweet and melt in your mouth which is the surprising thing, but it's that sweetness which is essential as its fermeted sugars which produce alcohol, therefore no big sweetness, no wine

Between now and the end of September the grapes will ripen then they are brought to a little machine that crushes them and takes the berries from the stalks, the stalks are quite bitter and need to be separated. Then that pulp is taken out, put into a press and pressed through cloth under pressure and then that juice is fermented into wine.

Like the general rules with wine, David bottles the whites sooner - in the spring after their harvest, but the red takes a year to two years to be ready. He sometimes adds sugar to bring up the alcohol level from about 10 to 12%. He produces a Sauvignon Blanc, a Rondo Regent, and a Cabernet Merlot. I've tasted the Cabernet Merlot and it is surprisingly good, a little young if you like, with no huge depth of flavour but it's a light fruity red wine and for people not fond of big heavy Merlot flavours this might be a nice alternative.

If climate does warm in future years we could see some farmers entering the wine business but really it's hard work to do it in Ireland and you need good knowledge of viticulture and be passionate about wine. But there’s no reason why anyone couldn't start a few vines and produce your own wine for drinking at home, and it could save you a bit of cash. Lusca wines are expensive – 38 euro a bottle, though he does half bottles as well. If you're looking for wine at more value you will certainly find it but the idea of growing your own wine is hugely appealing - a bit like owning a chateau. But a few vines in tubs on the terrace? I think I'll try it, if all else fails they'll still look pretty.

The programme can be heard at -

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