Ireland: Wine as Remarkable as a Four Leaf Clover
The Irish are known for their love of drinking. The St. Patrick’s Day holiday is marked by bar hopping and downing copious amounts of food and alcohol. While the country is more popularly known for whiskey, it’s no surprise to find out that the Irish also have a thriving wine industry.
What most people don’t know is that the Irish have a hand in winemaking in most parts of the world. An Irish man is responsible for the written history of vineyards and wine production in North America. A lot of Irish winemakers are scattered throughout South America, South Africa, and Australia. Indeed, the Irish have left an indelible mark on the global wine industry.
The Celtic Way
Irish wine culture began as far back as 2,000 years ago. The Celts are believed to have brought wine to Ireland, with evidence of wine-stained pottery tracing back to this time. The Celts adopted the culture of feasting from the Greeks, and even copied the designs of their wine vessels. While St. Patrick’s Day is typically celebrated with the country’s iconic Guinness beer, the saint’s writings from 433 A.D. actually mention wine in a lot of his scriptures, establishing the millennia-old tradition in Ireland.
When Christianity was established in Ireland, the citizens had even more reason to produce and drink wine. In the 5th century, monks at the Cistercian monastery in County Kilkenny began planting their own vineyards. It was during these ancient times that Ireland began to cultivate their wine lifestyle. Even Irish emigrants began producing wine and shipping them back to the country.
During the diaspora that happened in the 1700s, over 200 Irish families who settled in the port city of Bordeaux in France helped transform the country’s wine industry. These expatriates were called The Wine Geese, and they ended up establishing two wine communes in Bordeaux, and, effectively, shaping wine production throughout the world. These talented wine makers also ended up farther away, as far as Australia, to establish vineyards of their own. Truth be told, a lot of notable wineries around the world were established by Irish expats.
As if going full circle, The Wine Geese started exporting some of their products back home to Ireland by 1725. By 1739, they received 4,400 tons of red wine from Bordeaux, which was four times more than the imports they got from England. By then, the Irish were drinking more wine than the English, too. In honor of the Wine Geese, the French put up a public monument bearing the names of the Irish wine producers in Bordeaux. This is one of the enduring testaments to the contributions of the Irish to the worldwide wine trade.
The Irish Way
Meanwhile, back in the motherland, viticulture was slow to progress. More than wine production, the Irish were actually preoccupied about wine consumption. It was in the 1960s that the Irish began to embrace the wine lifestyle anew, with commercial producers wooing the country back to its roots. After having to deal with the establishment of the new republic as well as other local crises like famine, the Irish began to appreciate wine once again.
Ireland is believed to be a territory not suitable for growing grapes. They were known for their honey wine, made from dissolving water in honey and exposing it to air, for natural fermentation to produce mead. However, vineyards continue to thrive in certain parts. The weather and terrain in Southern Ireland are more favorable to viticulture than the north, with most of the production happening in the southwest cluster of County Cork, the region’s largest county. This coupled with proper means of irrigation reaped positive results.
Winemaking began to make a comeback in the country at the turn of the 21st century, with more small orchards setting up wine cellars for limited production. Winemaking in Ireland isn’t highly commercialized or massive, with majority of vineyards being small. Most orchards don’t allow visits to their property. Distribution is also constrained to just about a handful of stores, though they allow postage of their products, though mostly within the European Union.
In North County Dublin, Llewellyn’s Orchard is known for their Lusca Irish Wine, made from various blends of the grapes they grow. Winemaker David Llewellyn uses innovative methods to preserve and cultivate grapes in unfavourable conditions. They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rondo and Dunkelfelder for reds, and Sauvignon Blanc, Gewuerztraminer, and Schoenburger for whites.
Meanwhile, the small, family-owned Thomas Walk Vineyard in Kinsale is unique because of their organic winemaking processes. They produce sustainable wines that come in red, rosé, and sparkling varieties.
In the past decade, wine producers have adopted the artisanal movement to create more interesting varieties. Wine sales have continued to increase as beer consumption wanes, with up to 71% of adults being wine drinkers. More recently, the capital city kicked off the inaugural Dublin Wine Fest.
All of these developments prove that Irish wine culture runs deep to this day. When you get your hands on Irish wine, relish it and give quiet thanks to them for the changing the wine game throughout the world.