I’ve spent a significant chunk of time sipping and photographing my way through the vineyards of Spain. It’s been a source of great joy (and great pain on many more mornings than I care to remember).
I’ve even learnt a thing or two along the way, though I’m not at all ashamed to admit that my quest to further my knowledge of wine is still very much outweighed by my enthusiasm for drinking it. It’ll be a sad day indeed if that ever changes…
And so I don’t mind one bit sharing with you that it’s the wine – and the culture that surrounds it – that I miss most about my life in Spain (yes, really – see my last post for a bit more on this).
I miss the family-run cellars where you can buy seriously good vino for €4 a bottle and the crappy super markets where you can buy really terrible, god-awful plonk for €1 a litre.
I miss the dusty old bodegas where days begin with vermouth and boquerones. I miss being invited to wine tasting events by talented sommeliers who I’m fortunate enough to call friends.
I miss the way everyone in Spain is so passionate and knowledgeable about wine without being pompous, being free to sniff and swirl and slurp without feeling like some kind of “posh twat”.
I miss the role wine plays in everyday life, the way it’s revered and respected.
In Spain, everyone can afford good vino, good food and good conversation. And everyone is rich as a consequence.
But though I still feel somewhat Spanish, that part of me and my life will continue to live on in Spain, the wine world is something I felt I had left behind me when I moved back home to Wales.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been able to make a couple of visits (before Covid of course) to the vines of Catalonia, and have continued to support Britain’s enological economy with great vigour. But I’ve missed the sense of community that I worked hard to become a part of in Barcelona.
But there’s another but, and it’s a big one…
Discovering the Brave New World of Welsh Wine
As you may have deduced from the title of this post and the intricately constructed, though thinly veiled, funnel I’ve just led you down, I have recently made a some of a great discovery.
Let me open the door for you and introduce you to the beautiful new world of Welsh wine. Yes, really! Wine from Wales! Wales in the UK!
And, yes, it really is very good stuff indeed. And, yes, it also has its own community of passionate wine lovers driving it forward!
I owe my introduction to this fledgling industry to the organisers of Welsh Wine Week (starting 27 July 2020 – more on this to follow) and the ambitious Mounsey family from the gorgeous Velfrey Vineyard, who planted their first vines in Pembrokeshire (West Wales) in 2017.
At the time of writing, they have yet to taste the fruits of their labour (winemakers really do seem to think in generations rather than years), but they were so kind as to invite me along to their beautiful vineyard to taste eight Welsh wines that all impressed me very much (stay tuned as I will be publishing my tasting notes and recommendations shortly).
A Quick Glance at the Welsh Wine Industry
There are currently around 30 vineyards in Wales, with local producers blazing new trails and drawing on the uniqueness of their individual microclimates to produce high quality boutique wines.
It’s a small industry, of course, because Wales is a very small country. But being small is a big strength in the wine world. It means Welsh vineyard owners can lean less in the direction of mass production and more in the direction of ‘low volume, high quality’ wines. It means they can employ more sustainable growing techniques and produce world-class organic and biodynamic wines – which are very much my thing.
Here we stand in the middle of this new world with our primitive brain, attuned to the simple cave life, with terrific forces at our disposal, which we are clever enough to release, but whose consequences we cannot comprehend.
~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Of course, winemaking is not entirely new to the UK, with wine producers in England having something of a head start on us here in Wales. English winemakers have long been boasting of their grape growing conditions, which they often describe as being similar to France’s Champagne region – even Taittinger has bought a vineyard in Kent!
But despite England having more of a mature industry, it was actually here in Wales, at Castell Coch Vineyard, planted by the Marquis of Bute in 1875, that the first wines were produced in the UK.
So have some of that, England!
Why We Should All Be Excited About the Welsh Wine World
I know, I know… I’m Welsh so of course I’m excited about the whole Welsh wine thing. But it’s also an exciting time in general for wine lovers.
Just think about it: the ancient and rigid wine institutions of Spain, Italy and France are all firmly set in stone. We know more or less exactly what they are and how they will develop in the future. There’s little wiggle room for change.
But the Welsh wine world is an open book, an adventurous path into uncharted territory. As early explorers of this new world, we are all discoverers.
We can be chief investors and head taste testers – we can steer this ship with our wallets. One swirl, sniff and slurp at a time!
How to Get Involved in the Welsh Wine World
Learn more: You can find out much more about the vineyards of Wales by visiting vineyards.wales and WelshWineWeek.com. I’ll be posting my recommendations for some Welsh wines to try too so be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for updates.
Welsh Wine Week: Be sure to stock on up some Welsh wines to celebrate Welsh Wine Week, which starts July 27th and finished August 2nd (2020) – though there’s nothing to say you have to stop drinking then mind you!
Drink Welsh wine: Stay tuned as I will be posting my notes from the wine tasting event I attended at Velfrey Vineyard earlier this week – with recommendations for some great wines to kick start your maiden voyage into the new world of Welsh wine.
Visit (and stay at) Welsh vineyards: Many of the vineyards in Wales offer tours and tasting sessions. The ones I’m more excited about visiting also have ‘vineyard/wine hotels’ onsite, so you can stay and sip and eat in style. With a bit of luck I’ll be able to publish full features about these in the near future!
Have you tried any Welsh wines? What were your thoughts? Any recommendations?