Ómós Digest #85: FYI the Welsh do wine too.
By Sommelier, Cathryn Bell.
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Well, this month’s article finds me in the rather surreal state of writing about a visit to an organically farmed, regenerative vineyard in my home county of Carmarthenshire in South Wales. It’s been nearly 16 years since I left (nay, fled) said place, with sights and hopes set firmly over the peaks of the mountains that surrounded me, off to experience the expanse of life that I knew was beyond. Those travels took convoluted but (luckily) serendipitous turns to make for the technicolour reality I now live in as a sommelier, but reader, those travels have come full circle, and I find myself back in Carmarthenshire, blinking and slightly dazed.
In all my years away, particularly the last 8 of which I have lived in Ireland, I’d only dipped fleetingly back into Wales to visit family and then scuttled back to the rich landscape of food, drink, culture, heritage and pride that was Ireland (they’ll have to get me out with a crowbar I said, or so I thought). In Ireland, I was exotic, unexpected, a Welsh girl pouring wine with all the love and affection of motherly pride or as my 90 year old great-aunty likes to tell anyone in earshot – “far from a vineyard she were born, raised on bread and tea, like the rest of us!”.
Well it seems, times are very much a-changing!
Home from home
It’s no spoiler for me to say that Wales and England have been producing wines for some time now. Some of the English are quite famous for their Champagne tribute wines, now established enough to be discussed as English Sparkling Wines and there seems to be tentative ground gained with the still wines too.
From the precursory glance that I’ve given it so far, it looks like the Bacchus grape is one of the strongest players on that team. I served one with our starters for Christmas lunch. Of the selection of white wines I poured for the family that day (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese), “the English one” came out as the surprising favourite - the verdict sheepishly giggled over the dining table of a house in a town that still flinches at the mention of Maggie Thatcher.
Wales is semi-autonomous. We have our own Parliament called the Senedd. The Welsh language is alive and well in the form of compulsory bilingual legislation on paper, on doors, on signs, on roads, in schools, in shops, on TV and on radio. We made Tom Jones. We made Michael Sheen. We have welshcakes (used as currency by said great-aunty and her peers), but, until recently, I didn’t think we had much in the way of living gastronomic heritage and culture. While I was gone, rolling about in the spoils of Irish efforts on this front, those who stayed and those who are, have been rejuvenating a landscape of a Welsh food system: one that stands for sustainability, prosperity, culture, heritage and pride.
So I’m back with my sleeves rolled up and I’m ready to dig in and contribute. I feel a little bit like Dorothy stepping out of the house into technicolour in The Wizard of Oz. This is not the Wales I left behind - I certainly never expected to be trudging through a field of organic vines in Carmarthenshire of all places, but last week, I did!
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