Meet the rock stars of the international wine world at O’Briens Wine Festival
O’Briens Wine Festivals are famous for their expertise, incredible winemakers and sense of fun says Lynne Coyle, master of wine for O'Briens, ahead of their spring event
There aren’t many opportunities in life to meet your heroes, and if it does happen it is unlikely they will be pouring you a glass of your favourite wine. However, for wine lovers attending the O’Briens Wine Festival, having the opportunity to meet the makers of their favourite Chianti, Chardonnay or Champagne, while they pour you a glass, is one of the most unique and special parts of the event.
O’Briens Wine, Ireland’s largest family-owned drinks retailer, hold the popular bi-annual festivals to bring together a community of wine lovers; the winemakers, O’Briens staff and their customers to taste, learn, listen and share top quality wines from all over the world. The upcoming Spring Wine Festival will be held on May 10th in Limerick and May 11th and 12th in Dublin Castle.
Wine director for O’Briens and master of wine, Lynne Coyle, says the festival, much like the ethos embodied by the business, is rooted in the importance and connection of family. “We have 34 stores but this is a family business. It was established in the 1940s by the current managing director’s mother and the O’Brien family are working daily in the business.”
We’re looking for families who own their own vineyards, who are growing their own grapes, who are hand-picking their own grapes
As a family business, naturally and philosophically, they prefer to work with other family wineries from around the world, she says.
“It’s a nice fit for us because we are not looking for industrial-sized wineries, we’re looking for families who own their own vineyards, who are growing their own grapes, who are hand-picking their own grapes, who are making their own wine where the mum or dad of the business is making the wines.
“The wine fair is almost like a culmination of that because it means that those winemakers get on the plane, come to Dublin and our customers can actually meet the people who are making the wines. That is what’s really important for us. That’s what makes it such a community of wine lovers at the festival,” said Coyle.
Rock stars of wine
Coyle said that for staff and customers alike, meeting the winemakers can be like meeting your favourite writer, actor or musician.
“They are rock stars to us because the winemaker is the person that turns the grape in the vineyard into this amazing glass of wine which is a reflection of the particular grape variety, a reflection of the soil, a reflection of that particular vintage. But it is also a reflection of what the winemaker has done in the winery and the decisions that he or she has taken in the winery.
The winemakers are very down to earth - they just love to hear first-hand what the customers are saying
“People forget that winemakers are farmers. There is nothing better than to hear directly from the winemaker what their circumstances have been, what they have tried to do, the philosophy of what they are trying to bring to their wine. The winemakers are very down to earth - they just love to hear first-hand what the customers are saying.”
As well as the delicious taste, it is often the story and the passion behind the wine that resonates profoundly with the customer according to Coyle. “Often, you can see the personality of the winemaker in the wine and the personality of the wine is certainly in the winemaker.”
The winemakers also get to meet the other winemakers and taste their wines so it’s a discovery for them as well. “There is a lot of passion and energy in the room.”
Winemakers are so impressed by the Irish consumer’s level of knowledge, and the warmth of Irish hospitality, that for some it is their favourite wine fair in the world, she says.
“What winemakers say about coming to Ireland is that the level of interest is incredible, the level of knowledge is really, really good and they are really interested in the fact that the age range in the room is very diverse - ranging from young people to more mature customers who have been drinking wine all their lives. They tell us regularly that it is the best wine fair that they go to around the globe.”
Coyle believes there has been a huge change in Irish people’s attitudes towards wines in the last few years.
“We see that our customers are really open-minded and want to learn and are taking the opportunity to educate themselves and our palettes are becoming more sophisticated. Also, with travel and people visiting wine regions on holiday and having the opportunity to try the wines of that region, then they bring that knowledge back to Ireland and they are looking for those wines in this country or they are thinking ‘Can I find something similar?’”
Journey of discovery
As well as a fun occasion, the festival can be hugely informative for attendees as they learn how each winemaker has a different philosophy on the style of wine that they are trying to grow from their soil, environment and climate.
“It’s a good journey of discovery and we tend to find that there will be grapes there that people have never tasted before. People don’t have to invest in a bottle (at the festival). They are getting to see if they like it and can compare and contrast. Typically, there are 250 wines opened at the event from Australia through to South Africa, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany and everything in between.” So for the customer it’s a really great opportunity to get the chance to taste so many different wines from so many different countries, she says.
They have got the opportunity to hear the winemaker talk about their region, their grapes, their soil, their climate and taste the wines with the winemaker
“There are also master classes, so if they want an in-depth look at Piedmont or Marlborough in New Zealand, they have got the opportunity to hear the winemaker talk about their region, their grapes, their soil, their climate and taste the wines with the winemaker.”
Every wine has its own story and the festival provides an opportunity to spend a few hours in a friendly, relaxed environment learning and tasting and discovering these stories. Coyle’s hope for someone who attends the festival is that they discover some new gems that they had never tasted before and make some new friends among the winemakers and the staff, “and that they would think ‘I’ll definitely put a save the date in my diary for the next festival’.”
For tickets to the Spring Wine Festival or for more about O’Briens Wines, see obrienswines.ie