From Mayo to Burgundy
I read recently that there are 23 vineyards in Wales which produce both still and sparkling wine, and that got me thinking. I had been well aware of the top quality sparkling wine that is being produced on the chalky soils of Hampshire and surrounding areas, but Wales has always struck me as being a bit damp, like Ireland. So plenty of rain and lush green fields, just not quite there yet when it comes to growing vines.
Although David Llewellyn has been growing vines in Lusk since 2002 and has a small production of Lusca wine, for the main part, any Irish person with an interest in viticulture has headed to warmer countries to try their hand at wine making. And yes, it is as complicated as it sounds.
One of our most recent 'wine geese' is Róisín Curley, a pharmacist from Ballina, who has a Masters in Oenology and is in the final stage of the hugely prestigious Master of Wine programme. After working in Château Latour and Château Grillet, she started out on her own in the summer of 2015.
"I knew I wanted to make wine, but I just didn't know how I'd manage it, working for myself. I wasn't ready to own vines or a vineyard," she says. "So I went to Burgundy because that's my favourite region and that's where my friends are. It was just to get on the ground, do some research on where I could actually make wine and price up equipment."
After striking up a rapport with the owner of one of the big equipment suppliers in Beaune, things started to fall into place. He suggested that she consider making wine in Burgundy. "I thought: 'Yeah, you're having a laugh, because that is every winemaker's dream, especially mine,'" she says. "And he said I could just set up as a négociant. And he took me to a manager of quite a big winery who he had sold a whole load of equipment to, who rents out tanks and spaces to people. And he said: 'Yeah, you'll be welcome to come next harvest." This was June or July and the harvest would be in September, so I realised that it was actually possible. I was very lucky. Burgundy is such a closed place and it's all about meeting people face to face and developing relationships. So this happened because that guy had faith in what I was doing."
There is a lot of regulation around wine making in Burgundy, so after a lot of form filling and red tape, Róisín became a négociant, which established her as a wine merchant who could buy grapes. But before she could do that, she needed to find herself a courtier. "They have a middle man between the grower and people like me, who do a lot of the negotiating and the logistics, they're very beneficial to someone like me," she explains. "So then it was a matter of knocking on about 50 doors, to see if anyone would work with me."
She found a fantastic female courtier with whom she still works, and was able to buy top quality organic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Her first wines from the 2015 vintage, which she released last year received huge acclaim, and she has just released her 2016 vintage. This year, she'll be even busier. "If I want to grow, I need my own space, so I've just agreed a contract to rent my own little winery, just outside Beaune. So that's a whole new thing for me for the 2018 harvest."
4 wines to try
LaCheteau, Blanc de Noirs, Crémant de Loire NV, €13.99
12pc, from Aldi
For a bit of summer fizz, try this more unusual Crémant, which is made from Cabernet Franc using the traditional method. It is restrained and savoury on the palate with flavours of lightly baked apple and a touch of red fruit.
Domaine Sainte Marie des Crozes, 'L'Outsider' IGP d'Oc 2017, €15.95
13.5pc, from Searsons, Baggot Street Wines, Green Man Wines, Redmond's, all Dublin; Bradleys, Cork; Daly's Off Licence, Boyle, Roscommon; and searsons.com
Organic and soon to receive biodynamic accreditation, this summery red wine is light, fruity and floral with flavours of ripe raspberries, a hint of blackcurrant and a touch of spice.
Maison Róisín Curley St Romain Blanc 2016, €55
12.5pc, from Jus de Vine, The Wine Library, Whelehans, Green Man Wines, 64 Wines, Sweeneys, Mitchells, all Dublin; Bradley's, Cork; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; and Siyps.com
Elegant, with a purity of flavour, this has floral notes of acacia, layered with soft apple and a fine citrus line of lime to add structure, rounded out with a hint of hazelnut.
Maison Róisín Curley Beaune Rouge 2016, €50
13pc, from Jus de Vine, The Wine Library, Whelehans, Green Man Wines, 64 Wines, Sweeneys, Mitchells, all Dublin; Bradley's, Cork; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; and Siyps.com
With a brush of wild country rose on the nose, this has bright red fruit flavours of raspberry and cherry balanced with a savoury undertone.