Wine geese from Clare
Helen Coburn highlights the successful wine varieties achieved by Irish emigrants who set up wineries in the New World
15 October 2013
We hear a lot about Irish "wine geese" in France but it’s not always realised that Irish emigrants also set up wineries in the New World, including Australia’s famed Clare Valley region. Some Clare producers, like Jim Barry, are well known, but there are a number of smaller estates as well, and Kildare based importer, John O’Dwyer, is now offering two of them, for the first time on the Irish market.
One of those emigrants was Hugh Reilly, a shoe maker from Dublin who arrived in Australia in 1841 on a convict ship. Ten years later he was free and arrived in Clare Valley to combine shoemaking with some viticulture. Nowadays, the property is owned by a distant descendant of Hugh Reilly, Justin Ardill. Ardill, whose background is in pharmaceuticals, came to winemaking as a hobby but was soon producing 15,000 bottles of wine a year into several local and export markets. Having produced his first vintages in the early 1990s in front of Hugh Reilly’s old cottage, Justin has moved production to modern facilities at nearby Leasingham, offering a range of classic Clare Valley styles, along with a Tempranillo.
More recently still, Tipperary man Donal O’Dwyer and his Australian wife, Judith, travelled to France and later to the Napa Valley, to learn what they could about fine winemaking. They settled in Australia in 2004 and, in seeking out a vineyard, Donal was drawn to Clare Valley, not just for its quality but for the name that reminded him of schooldays in the west of Ireland. As property hunters often do, Judith and Donal split up one day in order to cover more of the possibilities and, by coincidence, both discovered a 26 acre vineyard called Sweet Briar. Here they found long established cabernet sauvignon and shiraz; the place was for sale and within a week Donal and Judith had sealed the deal. Their top offering is currently a fine cabernet sauvignon made with winemaker, David O’Leary, and taken from vines which are over 70 years old. It’s a small production of under 4000 bottles.
I recently got a chance to taste these wines and have to say that Reillys Watervale Riesling 2012 (€27) shot to being one of my favourites from this region. There are hints of diesel but it’s pretty subtle and there are floral notes, too, and very good length. Dry Land Shiraz 2009 is luscious and spicy, with a touch of eucalyptus to the plummy finish. Like a lot of Clare Shiraz, it’s got 15% alcohol, so you might need three at table! The same applies to the tasty, brambly Old Bush Vine Grenache and Shiraz 2009 (€32). Dry Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (€37) manages to rein in the exuberance at 14.5%, and, while a big wine, it has minty notes beneath ripe blackcurrant, which give it balance and elegance. O’Dwyers Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (€49) has well balanced alcohol of 14% to go along with smooth blackcurrant fruit and spice. While drinking well now, it has enough concentration to evolve for a few years yet.
Wines will be available at restaurants and independents. Details from email@example.com.