St. Patrick's Day and Wine: Maybe a Connection After All?

by Chuck Hayward

When it comes to holidays and wine, some combinations just make sense. We all know how much French wine gets consumed on Bastille Day, even here in the States. We have yet to see a similar celebration of wine connected to July 4th, something that would actually make sense given that wineries now exist in every state of America. But wine and St. Patrick's Day? It's all about Guinness and poteen on March 17th, not the pleasures from the vine.

But is it really? Ireland and the wine industry actually have extensive connections that go back centuries. The English wine trade's first connections to Bordeaux and the Port wine region began in the 1600s with Irish merchants starting their initial forays into Bordeaux later in the 18th century. Back then, Irish citizens founded such notable wineries as Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages and Boyd Cantenac. Ireland's role in Bordeaux's economy is so deep that almost a dozen streets in the city refer to Irishmen.

Developing wineries was not the only focus of Irish businessmen. Some of Bordeaux's oldest and most revered negociants were founded by Irish businessmen and still conduct business today. The oldest negociant in Bordeaux, Tastet & Lawton, was founded by Abraham Lawton who emigrated to France from County Cork shipping their first wines in 1739. The firm remains in the family's hands today with members of ninth generation guiding operations.

You might be even more surprised to find out that there are wineries growing vitis vinifera grapes in Ireland. This has all happened quite recently and the action has been centered in Cork. There are only a handful of domaines in existence and they are reputedly more likely to make whites than reds. Thanks to global warming, there has been a strong upsurge in grape plantings in England so more wineries in Ireland could be possible.

In the meantime, there are plenty of American wineries that celebrate their Irish heritage, particularly by using Gaelic in naming their wineries or for individual wines. Peter Rosback's Sineann Winery has been producing exceptional pinot noirs from Oregon while the labels on the reserve wines from David O'Reilly's Owen Roe Winery showcases stunning photographs of old Irish castles. The Concannon Vineyard in Livermore was founded by an Irish immigrant who was actually born on St. Patrick's Day. Other wineries may not have such intimate connections to Ireland. Instead, you might find Irish references such as Limerick Lane with their popular zinfandel.

St. Patrick's Day and wine? Not so far fetched after all!

Here's a selected list of some Bordeaux properties that have longstanding connections to Ireland.

1990 Chateau Lynch Bages (Pauillac)

2009 Chateau Phelan Segur (St. Estephe)

2010 Chateau Kirwan (Margaux)

2000 Chateau Pichon Lalande (Pauillac)

Our featured California wine with an Irish connection is:

2010 Robert Keenan Merlot