Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Irish Wines are Smiling

Today I was introduced to Irish wines. I didn't think there were any wines in Ireland but it turns plenty of Irish are making wines in California. The first of it's kind Irish wine and food tasting event called "When Irish Wines are Smiling" (see Facebook page here) was held at the historic Rutherford Grange Hall, a former gathering place for farmers, just a couple of doors south of the Rutherford Grill.

The event featured the wines of Irish owned, named and ancestry wineries from Northern California paired with Irish influenced food and Irish cheeses, as well as traditional Irish music and dancing. I was given a card for the event when I was tasting at Roche in Sonoma last weekend. They were there and it turns out they have an Irish background. I also heard about the event through Tom Merle who runs a Meetup group for wine fans and was going with a few people. Tom knows the event organizer and filled me in a bit on the event.

I figured the wines and food and Irish tradition were a nice combination and given St. Patrick's day was near and I'm always up for something different and it seemed like a fun event. Luckily I had a friend to was ready to drive so we headed out on a beautiful sunny day. I was just hoping that everything would be tasty and none would be green.

The event was put on by Andrew Healy, a native Irishman who conceived it as a tribute to people of Irish heritage who work in the wine and food industry in California. He and partner Becky Tyner own Small Lots Big Wines and he runs Three Rock Wine Company and consults with small wine producers.

Included in the list of participating wineries were O’Brien Estate of Napa, Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford and Irish Family Vineyards of Murphys. McGrail Vineyards of Livermore Valley was there too. (It's a winery I've visited a few times and even poured in the tasting room. I live just down the road in Pleasanton and often see the McGrails at local events but this was the first I heard that they were Irish. I should have guessed.) The event drew participation from local Irishmen, including Bob Hurley, chef-owner of Hurley’s Restaurant in Yountville who was serving Gaelic food at the event along with Chef Kelley Macdonald of the Napa Valley Wine Train and there were plenty of tasty bites.

I didn't realize that so many wineries had an Irish connection but apparently throughout history as the Irish have immigrated throughout the world many have ended up working in the wine industry. The result is that there has been a tremendous Irish influence in wine making around the globe and many centuries-old estates in the French Bordeaux region have Irish names. In addition to the Napa Valley, labels from other wine producing regions carry links, at least in name or heritage, to Ireland.

The event turned out to be fun, with none of the reputed drunkenness that some St. Paddy’s parties are said to have. A live band played Irish music and children from a dance school did jigs and reels.

I enjoy Pinots and there were some good ones from Harrington Wines and Waits-Mast Family Cellars, both of which make small lot, single vineyard wines. There were plenty of other good wines and the event was a nice introduction to them. Here's a list of the wineries that participated. They are worth checking out.


Andrew Healy said...

Thanks for the blog Michael. Glad you had such a great time. See you again next year.


Michael Leonard said...

You are welcome Andrew. I plan to be there next year.

Anonymous said...

Michael - great to meet you last month at the Irish wines event and glad you enjoyed our Pinots! Slante!