March 17 is certainly March’s best-known holiday – and one indelibly associated with beer. But that’s hardly surprising. After all, what do the Irish have to do with wine?
So glad you asked.
Their first major contribution to the wine world was actually made by the Celts, Ireland’s prehistoric people. In about 900 BC, they solved the problems often caused by transporting wine in easily breakable amphorae by inventing the barrel. (This wasn’t a random occurrence: the Celts were experts at both woodwork and metallurgy. And they really liked their wine.)
Of course, they discovered that Ireland wasn’t the best-suited place for grape growing.
That didn’t stop the missionaries who came to Ireland in the 5th century to spread Christianity, though. Thanks to them, the first grape vines in Ireland were planted at a Cistercian monastery in County Kilkenny – for sacramental purposes, of course!
As happened throughout the world, these Irish monks went on to spread viticulture and wine throughout not just in Ireland but the continent as well. Over hundreds of years, this gave the Irish clergy a pretty good understanding of winemaking and grape growing.
In 1300, a Dominican friar known as Father Geoffrey put his wine expertise on paper, probably making him the first Irishman to write a wine book.
The next major opportunity for the Irish to impact the wine business came about in the 17th century. Following the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, over 200 Irish families fled their homeland for the newly drained marshes of Bordeaux, a region with which the Irish did a hearty wine trade.
These emigrants were dubbed “Wild Geese,” for that’s how they were listed on ship’s manifests. They also had a profound impact on their adopted home: today, fourteen Chateaux, ten streets and one wine commune all bear Irish names. (It’s also worth noting that Kinsale today is home to a wonderful wine museum.)
Given that Ireland still isn’t particularly suited to wine growing, the Irish wine diaspora continues. Today, though, they are organized into a community dubbed “The WineGeese Society”, an organization dedicated to celebrating “wine, food and the art of Irish provenance from around the world.”
Today, there are dozens of wineries either with an Irish winemaker at the helm or that have a historical affiliation with the “Wild Geese.” Among these are:
Jim Barry Winery
McWilliams Hanwood Winery
Stanton & Killeen Winery
For a full list, click here and get your Irish on!