Making wine in Ireland

Stonewell Cider

Stonewell Cider

I’M tacking a few paragraphs about Stonewell Cider on to a version of an earlier post for reasons that I hope will become clear. Sadly, Michael O’Callaghan, who is mentioned in the earlier post, has since died. I’ve left my comments about him unedited and in the present tense. May he rest in peace.

[July 2 2011] I’ve recently had the great pleasure of tasting Stonewell Medium Dry Irish Craft Cider 2010, the first release of Nohoval Brewing Company, which is named for its location near Kinsale in south Co Cork. Made with “regionally sourced” Dabinett, Michelin and Cox apples, it’s a crisp and fragrant medium dry cider. It’s a great beginning — although personally I’d prefer a drier style. I got mine among the great collection of British and Irish beers and ciders at Bradley’s Off-Licence on North Main Street in Cork. You can find it there or among the updated list of stockists at the Stonewell Cider website.  It’s featured in today’s Irish Examiner, along with a number of wines distributed by Wine Alliance.

As with wine, it’s interesting to see how a tipple fares alongside its peers, and I’d encourage anyone interested to do so. In this case I enjoyed the Stonewell in a taste-off against a number of others — Bulmers original cider (bottle, not draught), and two vintage ciders sold by M&S from Herefordshire and Somerset.

Although the advent of Stonewell – the first of its type in the republic – is the most welcome news from the drinks industry in years, I believe the rest of this post  still rings true. See what you think, and please share your thoughts. Okay. That’s the end of the update. Here’s the original post…

[January 11, 2010] WE WINE lovers tend to be pretty enthusiastic about the subject. If there’s one recurring motif that sums up our irrepressible optimism, and our affection for the ancient craft of winemaking, it’s got to be the frequently-heard question “so, is it possible to grow grapes and make wine in Ireland?”

The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer is a tortuously qualified yes (well summarised in this interesting and fun debate going on over at The Evening Hérault). But the best answer of all is another question — Why would you bother? Or to put it another way, what would Michael O’Callaghan do?

I first encountered Michael O’Callaghan at London Wine Fair a few years ago when the couple who run the stellar Staete Landt winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, named him as their Irish distributor. He was hand-selling their wines in small quantities to restaurants back then, more-or-less as an interim measure while they sought out a fully-fledged distributor. And, it also turned out, he was developing a vineyard at Longueville House near Mallow, Co Cork. Along with a handful of other pioneers in Cork, Waterford and north Co Dublin, he was defying our Atlantic climate to make wine.  The Vitis vinifera vine generally favour a continental hot-and-cold climate rather than the mousey damp mildness that prevails here. But O’Callaghan et al had determined to grow them here, and so they did.

Fast-forward to the end of the last decade to the really interesting bit, because what Michael O’Callaghan did next should provide inspiration to any green-fingered Irish wine lover — he rooted up all his vines and replaced them with apple trees. Even though he’s clearly not short of teaspaí, and had been been sufficiently inspired to live the fantasy life of Irish winemaker, he threw his hat at it and opted instead for a native species of fruit more suited to our climate.

Apples to eat, apple juice to drink — and there is a steadily growing band of good locally-made apple juices on the shelves of good grocers and at farmers markets. There’s also the prospect of a good cider, which can go beautifully with dishes such as roast pork. And of course the whole apples/juice/cider thing fits in perfectly with the local-and-in-season aspiration which has all but supplanted organics as the foodies’ touchstone.

Displaying his typical indefatigable industry, Michael O’Callaghan now distils, and has recently launched, an apple brandy in the style of Calvados. Better again, it was awarded a bronze medal in its category on its first outing at the International Wine And Spirit Competition. (However, the contact details on the IWSC site are incorrect. Eden Apple Brandy is available directly from Michael O’Callaghan on 00 353 22 27643. There are no plans to distribute it more widely.)

SeedSavers apple catalogue

Seedsavers is still building its library of native British and Irish plants - including many vaireties of apples.

You don’t have to go as far as Michael O’Callaghan has, but I point him out as an example to anyone expressing an interest in growing wine in Ireland. If you love the infinite variety of flavours and aromas of wine; if you appreciate how wine puts you in touch with ancient food and drink traditions; if you ‘get’ the whole thing about wine and its heritage and history — plant an apple tree.

Get a few neighbours together to grow a tree each to ensure all are cross-pollinated. Better again, gather like-minded people together to turn a whole neighbourhood or town into a virtual orchard. (Green activists in Bandon, Co Cork, did precisely this during 2009. At the time of writing I haven’t been able to contact any of them for a progress update. When I can, I’ll update this post with details. If you’re involved or know more than I do, please email me).

Talk to your local nursery or garden centre. Or better still, get in touch with Seed Savers (00 353 61 921866. www.irishseedsavers.ie) and get a sapling from their growing library of traditional native Irish and British apples such as the Cavan Newington or Ballinora Pippin.

I’m not alone in getting misty-eyed over a delicious glass of wine. I love the stuff. I also love the accompanying local traditions. Bourgogne. Vacqueyras. Penedès. But think about it. A legion of wine fans is intimate with many, many grape varieties, and with their provenance, their terroir. So why in the name of Auntie Nora aren’t we similarly fluent in, for instance, Irish apples and their terroirs?

Link to The Apple Farm website

Check out The Apple Farm website here.

As I write, I’m crunching the second of two apples grown by Con Traas in Co Tipperary. They’re Elstars, delicately sweet and crunchy with a pleasant touch of earthiness. But I have to admit I’m relatively ignorant of the apple varieties native to these shores. I think the disparity of our knowledge of and attitudes toward grapes and apples begs many questions of our attitude to food and drink. And so fundamental are food and drink to who we are that I wonder if it says something about us. ♦

————————————————————————————————————————————

STOP THE PRESS!*

Since posting this I see one of the main players mentioned in it is taking part in a very interesting event in Cork this Thursday. Here are the details.

GROW YOUR OWN FRUIT
Con Traas (The Apple Farm, Cahir, 2009 Eurotoque Food Award Winner) &
John Howard (Sunnyside Fruit Farm, Rathcormac)

present an evening of inspiration advice and guidance on how to grow strawberries,  apples, plums blackcurrents, raspberries etc.

Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place on Thursday January 28 at 7.30pm.

€6 including tea & coffee.

* old media meme. Ask your grandparents.

5 Responses

  1. Hear, hear. Can’t say more or I’d probably say too much.

  2. [...] from them would be a step in the right direction, though. What inspired me to put this post up was this recent crisp windfall from the extensive orchards of Blake Creedon, who is nobody’s fool: [...]

  3. [...] and inspiration to amateur gardeners who fancy growing a whole range of delicious fruits.  See here for all the [...]

  4. You know my mother has 2 vines, one outside and one in a vinehouse. They are quite old. The one under glass has nice dessert grapes, to sweet for wine, but the one outside does quite well. A friend of Lulu’s made wine one year from it – don’t know how it worked out. You should talk with her about that – you know where to find her. Also go to Brittany or Normandy and tell the locals that their cidre bouchee is inferior to the vin ordinaire from points south – but be prepared to practice self-defense.

  5. Nevermind the grapes! Another vegetable, fruit & herb workshop this week – From Plant to Plate on Wednesday 3rd Feb at 8pm. Macroom E Business Centre, Bowl Road, Macroom. All welcome. 4 euros inlcudes tea/coffee. Check out http://www.macroom-e.com for more details.

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