|Enrico, with square halo, and Aileen|
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Sunday, April 15, 2018
Grapecircus at Spit Cork.
Fantasia. Insania. Campania. Italia.
Enrico Fantasia is enthusiastic about wine #77 on his stand at the Spit Cork event in the River Lee Hotel. It is Falanghina ‘Insania’ 2016 by Bambinuto. That Falanghina is the grape variety and the best known variety from this area in Campania is Greco di Tufo which is also produced by Bambinuto.
The vineyard is about an hour east of Naples, yet in 2006 Marilena Aufiero was told she was mad to start her operation here, hence the name Insania. “She took a chance,” said an admiring Enrico, the man behind Grapecircus who are best known for Italian wines. The wine, which has spent six month on lees, is delicious, fresh with minerality. This, and others from the Grapecircus portfolio, are available via Sheridan’s Cheesemongers. Others available online via SIYPS.
Enrico has been described as “the charismatic ringmaster of Italian wines in Ireland”. He also owns a wine bar, Piglet in Temple Bar. It is not his first restaurant venture. “I couldn't stay away.”. While Grapecircus have a strong Italian list, they now include wines from all over Europe, “made by passionate people with respect for nature.. that express terroir and tradition.”
Traditionally, the Castelli dei Jesi wine-producing zone in eastern Italy is noted for its Verdicchio and Enrico’s example was the Saltatempo 2016 produced by La Marca de San Michele. Verdicchio apparently means the little green one and there are tints of green in the colour and apple notes on the palate. This one is soft and round with a crisp acidity and a pleasant slightly bitter finish.
My next white came from the Mengoba vineyard in Bierzo, Spain, the Brezo Blanco 2016. It is a Godello with some Dõna Blanca, produced more or less organically but with no certification. This relatively full-bodied wine has responded well to five months on lees, pretty intense and with a strikingly long finish.
I had intended to try his Muscadet but Enrico wasn't happy with the bottles supplied - just goes to show his professionalism - so I switched my attention to the Albarino. A taster alongside me remarked there is no such thing as a bad Albarino and this Saras 2015 by Entre Os Rios was another good one. Good colour and aroma (tropical fruits), a richer style perhaps than usual, fruity, juicy and a long dry finish.
Aileen took me through some of the Grapecircus reds, a brilliant mini-tour, mainly through Italy. Starting with When We Dance 2015, the Chianti by the Sting co-owned winery Tenuta Il Palagio. “It is the entry level wine,” Aileen said. “they are just outside the Classico area so it is good value and 2015 was a very good year.” And indeed, this is a very good wine, cherry prominent, and fresh, organic of course.
A quick step over to France and to Bourgueil by the Loire and a tasting of Yannick Amirault’s La Coudraye 2016. Yannick is “one of the top producers and is certified organic.” Cabernet Franc is the red grape all around this area. It is noted for its freshness and that shone through this lovely rich wine, Aileen describing it as dense.
Back to Tuscany now and the Rosso de Montalcino Banditella 2014, produced from Sangiovese grapes by Col D’Orcia. This is a super wine from “the area's third largest producer”. “But the focus is on quality. It was a tough year in 2014 but good producers produce good wine even in bad years.” The winery was certified organic in 1999 and this red is a beauty, balanced, great finish.
The Marche in Italy wasn't too far away and my final stop was Fattoria San Lorenzo for their Rosso Piceno Burello 2014, a blend of 50/50 Sangiovese and Montepulciano, their top wine, rich but not heavy, superb and with a long long finish.
Last week, one hundred bottles of “wine without make-up” were up for tasting in the River Lee Hotel thanks to the combined efforts of four Dublin wine companies. Spit, as the combination is called, consists of Winemason, Nomad Wine, Vinostito, and Grapecircus and virtually all the wines were organic. And there wasn't a dud among them.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
| A Cathar castle in Villerouge-Termenès about 30 minutes from the chateau.|
A summer festival when I visited a few years back but in 1321 the last of the Cathar leaders were burnt alive here.
Château Beauregard Mirouze Campana rouge Corbieres (AC) 2015, 13.5%, €14.85 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau
This is a blend of 50% Syrah (some over 40 years old) and 50% Grenache. It is produced in small vineyard parcels, actual clearings in the heart of the Corbieres garrigue (scrub), by organic methods. Add in low yields and you get a “really honest… satisfying red”. The winemakers suggest pairing it with strips of duck breast with ratatouille.
One advantage of being surrounded by garrigue is that the vines are well away from the sprays of neighbours. On the other hand, wild boar enjoy the cover of the scrub and so the Mirouze family have to use an electric fence to deter them.
Colour is a deep ruby. Something wild, funky they say, about the nose, perhaps it’s the garrigue. Quickly on the palate, fruit, juice and spice emerge in intense and happy combination. Good body too, a tannic backbone and a persistent finish. No shrinking violet this yet it is much more finesse than rustic. A well made and friendly wine and Very Highly Recommended. It is indeed honest and satisfying and, by the way, well priced too.
Château Beauregard Mirouze Campana blanc Corbieres (AC) 2015, 12.5%, €14.85 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau
Again, like the red, this is a Bio wine, certified organic. It is produced from the fruit of vines well known in the Mediterranean area, Marsanne (60%), Roussane (20) and Vermentino (20). They hand-harvest; fermentation and ageing takes places in large vats. And the makers have a preference for matching it with Fried shrimp with coriander and other herbs.
It has an inviting golden colour. The aromas also attract, with fruit and floral elements prominent. There are gorgeous peachy and melon flavours on the elegant palate, a fresh and edgy acidity to balance and an excellent finish to boot. Very Highly Recommended.
One of the better-known Languedoc appellations, Corbieres is also one of the most productive. Its vineyards, situated south and west of Narbonne, are best known for its red wines, and there is now an increasing number of good whites. Château Beauregard is less then fifty minutes from Carcassonne, less than half that to Narbonne (and its Roman Road, the Via Domitia).
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Maule Family "at Forefront of Natural Wine Movement"
La Biancara was born in the end of 80s, when pizza makers Angiolino and Rosamaria Maule bought a small plot of land, about six hectares, in the hills of Gambellara. Since the beginning, they work to develop their personal idea of wine; a wine created by the exaltation of nature, without chemicals interferences in wineyard or in cellar, in order to obtain the highest expression of terroir in every bottle.
No chemicals? How can this be done? Here’s one way. In La Biancara, there are 14 specimens of mites predators every 10 cm of shoot. Read more here.
Last September, at a Veneto Masterclass in Dublin, Dario Poddana (Les Caves de Pyrene) praised the Maule family and said they were at the forefront of the natural wine movement, and not just in Italy. “It is interesting to see how classic ways are being rediscovered, a mix of extreme tradition and extreme modernism."
Pascal of Le Caveau (who import the Maule wines to Ireland) said that this type of wine seems to have found a natural ally in the chefs that forage and said these restaurants “react well to it”.
And, in general, Francesco Maule, the son of the founders, stressed the importance of having a “very good quality grape”, otherwise there is the risk of extracting “bad things”. In the cellar, “nothing is added, nothing is removed”.
La Biancara is in Gambellara. Vino Italiano, which praises the vineyard (as does the World Atlas of Wine), says it could be argued that the (white) wines are purer expressions of Garganega than those of neighbouring Soave. Garganega is thought by some to be related to the Greco (another Mediterranean grape that I favour) of southern Italy.
Maule Garganega Masieri Veneto (IGT) 2016, 12%, €17.95 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau.
So here I am in deep Winter with a couple of bottles of Maule, starting with the white. Garganega is the grape from which Soave is made and here it accounts for 90% of the blend that also includes Trebbiano. The vines grow in volcanic soil. Both wines are unfiltered and no sulphites are added.
It has a strawy colour, slightly clouded. It is dry, fresh and is smooth and dewy on the palate. The year 2016 was a very hot one and the fruit benefited. The finish is lengthy with no shortage of minerality. Very Highly Recommended.
The family produce, also from the Garganega, a frizzante and a recioto. Le Caveau list the former but, sadly, not the latter!
Maule Masieri rosso Veneto (IGT) 2016, 14%, €20.95 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau.
In Dublin, Francesco called this their “basic red”. It is a blend of Merlot (50%), Tai Rosso (40) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10), again from the hot 2016 vintage. Tai Rosso is more or less the same grape as Grenache.
This deep ruby wine has ripe red fruit and hints of spice in the aromas. It is fresh with red fruit on the palate and that spice too. Francesco described the tannins as “a little aggressive” but, by Christmas, they have calmed down! Quality on the palate and on the finish as well. Really well-balanced and Very Highly Recommended.
Monday, November 6, 2017
Casanova on George’s Quay.
Gelato. And So Much More!
On Barry’s corner on George’s Quay, in a clothes shop once run by the Barry sisters (here you could buy elastic for your knickers or, if you were flush, new knickers and more), you can now indulge in the most amazing Gelato.
Long after the Barry’s closed their shop, a twelve year old Italian girl so much enjoyed a two week holiday in Ireland that she got it extended to two months. And then promised herself she would come back.
Many years later, Barbara did just that. Barbara and her husband Andrea (also with a love of Ireland) set up their shop on George's Quay in August 2016 so that now you can enjoy a real taste of Italy in Casanova Gelato.
We did that just last week. There is an amazing display cabinet with over a dozen gelatos to tempt you. Not the same selection every day, by the way. Andrea doesn't want the gelato lying around so he makes small batches that move quickly and you’ll see different varieties from day to day.
It is one of the best displays I've seen anywhere and that includes San Gimignano, the ice-cream capital of the world, or at least the home of the World Champion when I visited.
Couldn't wait to get cracking on the Gelatos of George’s Quay. I think Andrea spotted that and soon we each had a bowl with three samples: Hazelnut, Rocher, Chocolate, Chocolate and hazelnut, Mascarpone cheese and strawberry, and Spiruli.
Spiruli? I hear you ask. The blue colouring that so many kids like comes from the natural pigment of Spirulina. Spirulina algae is rich in essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals making Spiruli Gelato healthy for children and adults alike. Aztec warriors considered it “the food of the gods” and the 1974 UN World Food Conference designated it a “food of the future”.
It certainly goes down well with the kids and Andrea told me adults like it very much in their Affogato dessert where the colour changes when you add the expresso! So yes you may have coffee and gelato together.
But we were invited in to test-taste their forthcoming Bubble Waffle! Barbara was busy getting that ready and soon presented us with two of them, CL getting the one with the strawberry fruit and sauce while mine had banana and chocolate sauce. A cup of their delicious Agust organic coffee was also provided.
We were up to the challenge! Well, the combination is delicious, all wrapped up in this bubble waffle. It is still a work in progress though, with Barbara tweaking it so that is not too sweet. Her work got a vote of confidence from us and it will be officially launched in the very near future.
There are dozens of Gelato flavours and these may be used in their waffles as well. Ours was a Special of course with fresh fruit, one sauce and a one topping. A simple waffle and a fruit waffle are also available and you may also have Gelato Waffle (without the fruit). Anyone for a Croffle? Think Croissant and Waffle.
So lots of tasty variety. And I haven't yet mentioned their crepes, their sundaes, some special Gelato drinks such as the Casanova Shake and others such as Marilyn Monroe (flavoured Italian style Latte Macchiato made with organic coffee and milk topped with fresh cream).
They also have a special range for those with Vegan and those with Dairy intolerances. All their Gelato is suitable for Vegetarian; no gelatine is used. There is so much going on in this small place.
“All our ingredients are carefully chosen to give to our customers the best experience possible. We use only Irish Organic Milk, Real Fruit, Belgian Chocolate, the best Italian Piemonte IGP Hazelnut and Italian Pistachio 100% Pure Paste. All our product are made without Palm Oil, Artificial Flavouring and Colourants, all proven to be dangerous for human health.”
The reaction has been good and they are pleased with their first year on the banks of the Lee. Barbara told me they enjoy the vibrancy of the city, the amount of festivals and events. “In my city in Italy, a similar size to Cork, they would organise maybe one a year.” But here there is one nearly every week, most recently the Jazz festival (and that was good for Casanova).
And the couple are contributing to the festivals themselves. During the recent Taste Cork Week they joined in and held a Gelato Workshop; the 3.5 hours lesson cost €55.00, a lot less than the former World Champion’s €400.00 fee for a 2-hour course!
But you don’t need a festival to visit Casanova and treat yourself. It may not be exactly in the city centre but is just a couple of minutes from the South Mall. And you get a good view too. Andrea told me he loves the river and the Holy Trinity Church church on the other bank, another plus when you’re enjoying your Gelato along with the kids or the grandkids. Or maybe by yourself!
- If you can’t stay, they do a take-away box!
Monday, May 29, 2017
Richard's Little Farm Delivers
Richard’s Little Farm deliver their organic vegetables to top restaurants such as Greene’s and Elbow Lane. But you too can become a regular customer by signing up for the regular vegetable box scheme!
Richard Hooton has been growing his own food for many years and decided to set up Richard’s Little Farm after completing a Masters degree in Organic Horticulture at UCC.
The farm, established in 2015, is situated in Hazelwood, Mallow, Co. Cork where he produces over 20 different varieties of vegetables, salads, herbs and fruit. Everything produced on the farm is grown only as nature intended, without the use of artificial pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
All the crops are grown and harvested by hand and sold locally at the Mallow Farmers Market (Friday 9am- 1pm) and the Nano Nagle Centre in Killavullen (every second Saturday 10:30am- 1pm) and also in local shops and restaurants. And, as we all know, vegetables are always so much better when harvested fresh and used in season.
That Vegetable Box scheme is seasonal of course so will vary from time to time. You may receive updates each week via text, Facebook, email or Twitter. Then you pick what you want and, freshly harvested, it is delivered to your doorstep free of charge! You can sign up via the Facebook Page or by contacting Richard at 087 281 2054.
With just an acre to work from, this farmer sometimes has to think outside the box. Caught for space? Do what Richard did and start planting your salads in a length of gutter!
Richard is one of quite a few North Cork producers that I saw at The Taste Cork tent in the Mallow Home and Garden Festival at the weekend. One visitor asked him how he started, what did he need. “Oh, just a patch of land and a broad back,” he joked. A bit of get up (early) and go too, I reckon.
|Other local producers at the show included Ballyhoura Apples (above)|
and Longueville House cider and brandy.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Montepulciano and Montepulciano
I think we’ve all been confused at one time or another by Montepulciano on an Italian wine bottle. It is the name of a grape and of a town in Italy. According to Wine-Searcher.com the grape was named after the town and was once widely grown there.
Nowadays, the grape has found another home in Abruzzo, hence Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. In the late 20th and early 21st century, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo earned a reputation as being one of the most widely exported DOC classed wine in Italy (Wikipedia).
Abruzzo is a large area on the east coast. The local wine industry, according to Vino Italiano, is dominated by giant cooperatives of which Cantina Tollo (below) is one example.
Now let us return to the city of Montepulciano. This is in Tuscany, in the province of Sienna, and is one of the most attractive hill towns in the area.
The main grape grown here is Sangiovese (blood of Jove or blood of St Giovani or maybe something else entirely!). Only the very best grapes are used for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The others are used for Rosso di Montepulciano. The Vino Nobile has the big reputation but the simpler Rosso is no mean wine either as our example indicates.
Other grapes grown here, according to Vino Italiano, are Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Alicante (Grenache). No mention of the Montepulciano on that list, so you are highly unlikely to see a Montepulciano di Montepulciano. Let me know if you do!
Cantina Tollo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (DOP) Bio 2015, 13%, €14.45 Le Caveau
This organic wine has quite a few admirers and I'm among them. Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau, the importers: “The Bio wines are a great find. The wines are literally singing in the glass with their exuberant fruit and juicy flavours”. The winery itself says they are bursting with primary red fruit.
The fruit is hand-harvested and the wine is neither “fined nor filtered”. Colour is an attractive ruby. Aromas are mainly of red berried fruits. It is fruity and juicy and easy drinking. Lots of lovely fruit flavours, nothing extreme, mild tannins, well balanced and with good acidity. Class finish too, long and dry. Very Highly Recommended.
Innocenti Rosso di Montepulciano (DOC) 2012, 14%, €17.45 Le Caveau
The Innocenti estate lies between Montefollonico, a walled city in Tuscany, and Montepulciano, just a short drive between them. This is a blend of Sangiovese (mainly), Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo and has spent six months in oak.
Colour is bright, and light, ruby. Generous aromas of stewed plums and a touch of heavier gamey notes. It is medium to full-bodied; that warm fruit is there, some spice too, really well balanced. Fine tannins noticeable on a long and dry finish. Very Highly Recommended.
See also (from current Italian series):
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Albet i Noya
Classy Wines from Catalonia
The Albet i Noya family vineyard is situated at Can Vendrell near the village of Sant Pau d'Ordal. They cultivate 44 hectares of vines on the slopes of the Ordal mountain range in the Penedes region of Catalonia, and have held Organic Certification since the 1980's. The brothers Josep Maria and Antoni are steadfast in their pursuit of excellence and innovation, and their range of still and sparkling wines are synonymous with high quality.
It was Scandinavian influences, staring in 1978, that led to the vineyard going organic. Josep Maria Albet i Noya decided to try one of the vineyards, despite doubts from friends and family. But it worked out well and encouraged him to extend the practice. Healthier vines and healthier wines are the result.
Albet i Noya, Lignum, Penedes 2013, 14%, €16.00 Mary Pawle Wines
This is a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon / Garnatxa negra (Grenache) / Merlot / Syrah / Ull de llebre (Tempranillo). The grapes are “from the highlands of the region” and the wine has spent 10 months in barriques.
I had been looking for some help after opening the bottle but my timing wasn’t good: “It’s red, smells like wine and it’s nearly time for East Enders!” In fairness, after the show, I did get a more considered opinion and we both were very happy with the Lignum.
It is a ruby red, bright. Aromas are an inviting mix of dark red fruits, especially plum. You have the same bright mix of fruit flavours on the palate, spice, smooth tannins. It is warm and supple and dry with a long lasting finish. Very engaging. Could well be a long term relationship! Well made, no loose ends here, a more or less perfect wine and Very Highly Recommended. Good value too.
The winemakers say it can be enjoyed straight away, although it will evolve favourably in the coming years if stored between 10° and 15° C. “We recommend serving it at 17°C.”Albet i Noya, El Fanio, Penedès 2010, 13%,€15.90 Mary Pawle Wines
Pale straw is the colour and there are white fruits, honey and herbal notes in the aromas. Seven years it may be but still lively, stone-fruit flavours, touch of melon too. The mouthful is close to succulent - it has spent some seven months on lees. Hints of sweetness but all well balanced by a vibrant acidity and then there’s a decent mid-length finish to follow. Highly Recommended. Would be interesting to compare with a more recent vintage.
Albet i Noya say: Planted on small terraces of 2 or 3 rows and treated with Biodynamic preparations to heighten the expression of the terroir, the wine is vinified traditionally. It is left on the lees in the porous cement eggs that let it breath and constantly dynamises the wine due to their shape, bringing out the mineral character of the Costers de l'Ordal.
To read more about the varieties of the Penedes region, please click here
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Sparkling Intro to Le Caveau Tasting
Limerickman Dermot Sugrue was in sparkling form in Cork’s L’Atitude 51 yesterday. And why not? Didn't he have his superb Wiston Estate wines all lined up on the first table of the Le Caveau Trade and Press Tasting.
These English sparkling wines are on a par with the top offerings of Champagne. Indeed, the Wiston Estate Blanc de Blanc NV commands a higher price per glass (and per bottle) than a very well known champagne in the Chiltern Firehouse, an exclusive London restaurant. “It is a great restaurant”, said Dermot. “An old fire station, architecturally impressive, and it's great to in there and poured by the glass!”
This NV, all Chardonnay, has a broad appeal, “a social wine”. It is mainly 2011 but contains twenty per cent of 2010 reserve, which plays a key role in this amazing wine. The grapes come from three different vineyards, all West Sussex, all chalk. The Wiston Estate vintage wines are from single vineyards.
Next up was the “accidental rosé” of 2011. It was the warmest summer for 140 years. “The wine made itself”, said Dermot. ”But what pleases me is the way it has sustained itself since. The 33% of Chardonnay is now growing in influence.” It is a magnificent drink and you are very highly recommended to get your hands on a bottle or two.
And it seems there is more good news to come on the rosé front. There was a great vintage in 2014 and the results to date “are extremely encouraging”.
This pleasant sparkling interlude was finished with a tasting of the Sugrue Pierre 2010, a family effort with even Noodle the dog getting his cartoon on the label. It is made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, matured in old barrels (50%) and stainless steel. Two and a half years on lees, disgorged in 2014 and then two years in the bottle. It is superb, fantastic body and finish. And Dermot put much of it down to the time in bottle, reckoning that many underestimate the importance of time spent under cork.
I had been doing some “homework” in preparation for this tasting and one of the most pleasant parts was the bottle of Cockagee cider I treated myself to. Read all about it here.
At the moment, Cockagee producer Mark Jenkinson has just the one product but he’s working on some new ones. “I have some on lees since 2012 and will be disgorging this year on the way to making a full champagne cider. It will be a few months yet but is tasting very well at the moment.” And he is also working on an ice-cider!
Great to meet up then with Stephane Le May of Chateau Turcaud in Bordeaux. I was in his village two years ago but didn't know about his superb wines then. Now I do and now too I have an invitation to call next time I’m Entre-deux-Mers! His Cuvée Majeure (named after the local abbey) is outstanding and one of the finds of my “homework”. “It is wonderful”, agreed Stephane.”A wonderful freshness. It was a good summer and then we had a great September and that helped a lot.” Turcaud exports about 50% of production, most of it to the East Coast of the US.
Menade’s Nosso Verdejo natural 2014 was another of the highlights of my “homework” and I renewed acquaintance with this beautiful wine thanks to Eleonora Infuso who was at L'Atitude. “It is only our second vintage of this wine. It has been a very big success for us and it is what we want to do.”
She had another pleasant surprise for me: their V3 2012. Some of grapes for this come from their 30 ha of pre-phylloxera vines (over 140 years old!). It is fermented in 500 litre French oak for between 8 and 10 months and then aged 1 to 3 years in bottle. Rich and full and with a very crisp acidity, this is another gem from one of the leading estates in Rueda.
Stayed with the whites when I met Chris Forbes of Taylor’s Port. I do like my Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port and Chris had just the recipe for me. “To make a refreshing and original summer drink, mix one part of Chip Dry white Port with two parts of chilled Tonic water in a tall glass, adding a sprig of mint or a twist of lemon.” Obrigado. Cheers.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
Spanish Organic Duo
Bodegas del Rosario Monastrell 2012 (Bullas DO), 14%, €12.90 Karwig Wines
Bodegas del Rosario Monastrell 2012 (Bullas DO), 14%, €12.90 Karwig Wines
Red fruits prominent in the pretty intense aromas here. Fresh and light on the palate, with excellent fruit flavours, tannins yes but very close to smooth. This medium bodied red has a good share of acidity, some spice too, with a pleasant finish. More for summer recreation than winter contemplation and Highly Recommended.
Monastrell is the Spanish equivalent of Mourvedre and it is unusual to see this grape out on its own in Ireland as it is much better known as a part of many French blends. Also unusual to see anything from this appellation of Bullas which is in Murcia in South East Spain and about 75 minutes inland from Alicante. Just goes to show the work that Karwig puts in in sourcing their wines.
Hacienda Grimon Crianza 2012 (Rioja DOC), 13.5%, €15.70 Le Caveau
Colour is a medium to dark red and it gives up dark fruit aromas. On the palate you have rounded fruit flavours, tannins are pretty well integrated and there is a long dry finish. Overall you get the impression that this is a more mature wine than the age indicates.
Perhaps the rigorous fruit selection plus the 16 months in oak (6 months is minimum for Crianza) has combined to good effect to give more than a hint of almost old fashioned Rioja elegance, a rather serious one at that, and the wine is Highly Recommended.
The blend is 85% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 5% Graciano. Viticulture is organic, no herbicides, no pesticides; the sheep provide the fertiliser and harvest is by hand.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Highbank Organic Orchards
Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of MicrobesI’m walking through long rows of apple trees, all in blossom, pink and white abound. The grass between is ankle height, lush and liberally populated with white daisies. Lush, but recently topped. Had I been there a week earlier, I would have seen battalions of dandelions.
I am in Kilkenny, in the healthy heart of Highbank Orchards, an organic farm owned and managed by Rod and Julie Calder-Potts. This is excellent land for farming, recognised as such for many centuries - even the Normans had their eyes on it. The farm-yard is 17th century, the house is 19th, and the distillery (which I've come to see) is 21st.
|Rod in the new distillery|
Now though, on a lovely May evening, all is calm as Rod takes us through the orchard, though not through all its twenty acres. Fourteen of these are mature, planted with quite a few varieties, including Dabinett, Blusher, Bramley and, scattered in among the others, that lovely juicy Katy. Katy is an early apple and has lost its blossoms.
Nothing has been sprayed here for twenty years. It is not that nothing ever threatens the apple trees but they are essentially healthy and can look after themselves. And Rod reckons much of that is down to the microbes in the soil, billions of them, all "working", not necessarily together - some eat one another - but combining to preserve the habitat. They are not disturbed, not traumatized by chemicals, and so the orchards live on and thrive. “Soil health depends on a thriving population of organisms”, says Dan Barber in The Third Plate.
They are transferred then to the apple press, an expensive piece of kit, and the juice is extracted to be used in the delicious products that Highbank now produces: Apple Juice, Apple Juice with Organic Mulled Spices, their famous Orchard Syrup (Ireland's answer to maple syrup and launched in 2010), Highbank Drivers Cider (a delicious, sparkling refreshing non-alcoholic drink), Highbank Proper Cider, and a honeyed Medieval Cider.
They are a busy couple and you’ll see them at markets and food festivals all over the country, including most recently, Sheridan’s and Ballymaloe LitFest. Besides, they are involved in promoting good food generally. Kilkenny too is naturally close to their hearts and so we couldn't have had a better guide on a quick Saturday morning run through the marble city than Julie.
She showed us, with pride, restaurants such as Zuni and the Salt Yard, Slice of Heaven and its newly opened cookery school, the food hall at the Kilkenny Design Centre. Then you need something to serve your food in so off we went to Nicholas Mosse in Bennettsbridge, you need some nice lighting while dining and we got that at nearby Moth to a Flame (Larry Kinsella’s hand-made candles) and you also need something nice to look at on your walls and shelves and we found plenty of that at the Bridge Pottery.
Needless to say, the credit card took a bit of a hammering. On the previous afternoon, left to my own devices, I was on the drinks trail! Called to Billy Byrne’s Pub (the Bula Bus and its excellent onboard restaurant is parked in the back) and sipped some nice local beer by Ger Costello and a pale ale from 12 acres.
Of course, I couldn't leave Kilkenny without calling to Le Caveau. Pascal himself was busy on the road but we did take advantage of the reductions for Real Wine Month and went off happy with a couple of his organic wines.
And it was the drink that brought us to Kilkenny in the first place! In Highbank's internet competition earlier in the year, I won a meal at The Strawberry Tree and, in addition, I also won a bottle of Highbank's new Crystal Gin and that was in the car with us as we said au revoir to the Marble City and to two of its outstanding citizens, the Calder-Potts.
|Le Caveau (left) and Bennettsbridge (from the Nicholas Mosse pottery)|