Irish winemaker in Slovenia: ‘We did it – we’ve a new vineyard planted’

How Irish wine producers with European vineyards are coping with Covid-19

Some of the wines Sinéad and Liam Cabot make at the Roka estate in Slovenia. Some of the wines Sinéad and Liam Cabot make at the Roka estate in Slovenia.

Some of the wines Sinéad and Liam Cabot make at the Roka estate in Slovenia. Some of the wines Sinéad and Liam Cabot make at the Roka estate in Slovenia.

 

Irish couple Sinéad and Liam Cabot have been growing grapes and making wine at the Roka estate in Slovenia for six years now, while running a wine-importing business in Mayo at the same time.

“2020 was challenging,” says Liam. “Nat ure doesn’t stop during coronavirus, so you need to continue. You were juggling three things; you have one vintage in bottle, but 3,000km away from where you want to sell it; you have the previous vintage in the cellar that needs regular work; and you are starting into the forthcoming season. We had planned to plant a new vineyard, a process that starts a year ahead, with ordering vines and preparing the land. You have a very short window when you can plant out.

“We left Westport for Slovenia on the 27th March, 12 hours before lockdown and ended up walking over the border from Austria – like the von Trapp family, with our children, suitcases trailing behind them, complaining loudly. We stayed on to mid-August. We planted our vines and worked away in the vineyard, largely unaffected by the pandemic.”

Liam stayed on for the entire season, Sinéad was out and back but far less than normal.

They have a team of 10-12 locals who have been picking their grapes for all six years. The harvest was straightforward, although a second lockdown began during harvest and the pickers couldn’t travel together in cars. It was a very solitary experience for Liam; for two months, with the exception of one week, he lived and worked on his own.

“In normal years, you are used to tasting with and talking to the other local winemakers, getting feedback, and picking up early warnings. On the 14th November I came back to Ireland with samples and sat down with Sinéad at the kitchen table; it was the first time we had tasted and talked about our wines together. It was very hard on Sinéad, who has a huge emotional attachment to the vines. She found it very difficult being away from the birth of a new vintage.”

Overall, he is happy though. “We did it! We have a new vineyard planted, we have a really good vintage in the cellar, and will have wine to bottle in a year’s time.”

I have been writing about the Cabot wines for several years now, not because they are “Irish wines” but because they are seriously good. The trio below were given scores of 17.5 out of 20 in jancisrobinson.com, plaudits reserved for some of the finest wines.

Roka Furmint 2018, Stajerska, Slovenia, uncertified organic, natural
13%, €25
Rich peach fruits balanced perfectly by a backbone of mineral acidity, finishing bone dry. Try it with grilled hake accompanied by a simple butter and lemon sauce.
Stockists: Cabot and Co., Westport, cabotandco.com, Grapevine Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; 64 Wine Glasthule, 64wine.com; The Beach House, Tramore; The Fish Shop, D7, Fish-Shop.ie; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick, Oneperysquare.com; PoppySeed, Clarinbridge, PoppySeed.ie; Market57.

Roka Laški Riesling 2018, Stajerska, Slovenia, uncertified organic, natural
13%, €25
Enticing floral aromas with elegant pure apricot and pear fruits and a crisp dry finish. With some Dublin Bay prawns, sashimi or salmon.
Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport, cabotandco.com, Grapevine Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; 64 Wine Glasthule, 64wine.com; The Beach House, Tramore;; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick,Oneperysquare.com; PoppySeed, Clarinbridge, PoppySeed.ie; Market57, Westport.

Roka Blaufränkisch 2018, Stajerska, Slovenia, uncertified organic, natural
12.5%, €25
Silky plums and red cherries with a lovely savoury mineral edge that gives it real focus. Cold meats and salads, or pork dishes.
Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport, cabotandco.com, Grapevine Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; 64 Wine Glasthule, 64wine.com; The Beach House, Tramore; The Fish Shop, D7, Fish-Shop.ie; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick, Oneperysquare.com; PoppySeed, Clarinbridge, PoppySeed.ie; Market57, Westport; Tartare, Galway.

La Gauphine Syrah-Grenacha 2019, IGP Pays d’Oc, Laurent Miquel 14%, €10, down from €14.71
Smooth, rich, ripe dark fruits with a hint of black pepper and a rounded finish. Perfect with posh sausages and garlicky green lentils. Irishwoman Neasa Miquel runs this estate with husband Laurent.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie.

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