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A Guest Blogger – Forever Young

April 12th, 2012

I grew up in Cherrymount on the outskirts of Clonmel and have great memories of playing football on the old tennis court and buying sweets on a Saturday morning in Deccies shop with my 50p pocket money. I lived up the back of the estate and my cousin Alan lived in the front. Conor O Mahony made up the trio of Cherrymount Musketeers.

Bob Dylan & The Nationalist

As we grew older we went in different directions and lost touch as childhood friends often do. Conor is sadly no longer with us as he died unexpectedly of Sudden Cardiac Death following a football match in Dublin in 2006. However it turns out for as much as we had in common as kids, we had a lot in common as adults. We both play guitar, love Bob Dylan’s music, travelling and we both have been known to write our thoughts on paper and The Nationalist have been kind enough to publish them.

Forever Young

I was living in Paris when Conor’s travel journey was published in the Nationalist so it was not until I read the book that has recently been published that I knew about his articles. His father Brendan (of Clonmel Travel fame) walked a part of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to raise funds for CRY, a charity that raises awareness, offers support for families and also offers access to Cardiac screening for anyone who might feel they are at risk.

Brendan gathered all of Conor’s travel diary entries and added his own section on the Camino and a book that celebrates Conor’s life and raises money for a great cause was born. The book is called Forever Young, after one of Bob Dylan’s songs. It is one of Conor’s ( and coincidently one of my ) favorite songs. I have played and sang this song to my kids when they were small babies. I also made a promise in 2004 to walk the Camino someday, but that’s a story for another day, and involves high heels.

With kind permission from Brendan and Margaret, Conor’s parents, I am going to share one of his articles with you, where he visits a well known winery in Australia. To set the scene, he is backpacking his way up through the Hunter Valley with a bunch of people of a certain age who are enjoying life. Conor’s piece starts here.

Conor’s Wine Trip

“I’m on the OZ Experience bus, which will take me up the east coast, but inland, rather than on the coast, if you get my drift. But first we are heading towards a spot, more a region actually, a place that is famous for its wine – Hunter Valley. I have run out of superlatives for the scenery

The Hunter Valley could be described thus! Grapevines rolling over verdant hills, like well-drilled infantry and all in the cause of wine. I never thought I’d see where, for example, Rosemount wines were made. It has the familiar logo on the gate and on the way in we pass Lindemans and Coopers as well. As it happens, our guide John has factored in a tasting at Rosemount. Better still we are taking a tour around and the tasting and lunch will follow for those who want it.

Conor on His Travels

First we are shown the Hunter Valley ‘cellar door’ tasting. This is an Aussie tradition – you just drive up to the door of these huge warehouses and there is a sham inside who will give you a free tasting of the vineyard’s produce. It’s all done very informally but in that curious Australian way also all very professional and sales oriented – as Kenney Everett would have said ‘in the nicest possible way’. The guy who is doing the tasting is a dyed in the wool denim clad workmanlike Aussie – nothing poncy about this operation – all about good wine and very much to the point He places a couple of bottles of red and white on a barrel top tables and a sheila – Aussie affectionate name for a young lady places glasses and pours.

We have had a few glasses of Rosemount – the red Shiraz is cheeky with big fruit flavours – and the Semillon white is a fruity little wine with overtones of slate and lemon. I’m getting the hang of this wine lark. Some of us are feeling no pain – it’s 11 o’clock in the morning – because we ignored the advise to spit the wine out after tasting it – I mean imagine telling anyone, especially an Irishman, to spit out good – very good – free wine into a spittoon? ‘No way Bruce’ as they say in Queensland. Eventually we reluctantly left this cellar or even stellar experience and went on with the tour.

The most popular brands are the ones we know at home: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. The Aussies were crafty because, rather than do what the French do and name the wine after a region or vineyard, they label with the grape variety and this along with hi tech production saw Australian wines take off in popularity worldwide. Now we got down to the nitty gritty. Our wine lecturer, Sheila is an expert on wine, how grapes are grown, picked, processed, turned into wine, bottled and sent to points of sale worldwide.

Major wine producers from abroad now own Australian wineries, and Australian companies have taken controlling interests in wineries in countries such as France and Chile. The oldest grapevines in the world are here in Australia. Many of Europe’s established vineyards were destroyed by disease in the 1800s, but the vines brought to Australia survived. Funny how a quirk of fate can work in a positive way for some. Wine production here is different. There are no big wooden vats and no wooden barrels, these are used later to age the wine.

The Australian theory is: sell it young without pretension, so instead there are huge stainless steel vats in which the wine is stored. There are no chemicals added but Sheila tells us about bouquet, nose, taste for different parts of the tongue and the one I liked best: ‘length’ of the wine – this is the mmmm and tongue and lip smacking exercise that goes of after the wine is swallowed.

She also reveals that the secret of Australian wine success is control. The wine is popular because only sugar is added. Resident chemists analyse the wine each year and make sure the quality, taste, colour are the same. This may sound boring but it’s what happens to the bulk of the wine and the success is due to the fact that if you drink a 1995 bottle of wine and like it and you buy a 2002 bottle, the experience and the taste is going to be the same – the exact same.

Then our hosts decide to test us and have a competition. They bring out ten glasses of red wine and tell us that only one is a Rosemount ‘Who was poyin’ attinshun?’ Sheila asks. The prize: a bottle of champagne for the table. I got nominated to represent the group mainly because I was still able to stand up and wasn’t hammered like the rest of the crew. I hammed it up and did all the things were told on the course. I stuck my nose way down in each glass and took a mighty sniff. Jilly Goulding and Oz Clarke would have been proud of me. I bigged the whole thing up by saying stuff like

‘ I’m getting blackberries and wet hay with a hint of under the bed socks’ and ‘there are strong overtones of charred rashers here with a tinge of dry cow dung and maple syrup and just a hint of fresh mango and ‘mmmmmm slurp slurp – magnificent length on this one.’

This was eliciting cheers and guffaws from my coach companions and smiles from Sheila. Then I laid it on them. I had come to the eighth glass in the row. I recognised the colour and, when I sniffed it I knew, it was the same Rosemount Shiraz that is always on our table at home for Christmas, weddings, birthdays etc. I didn’t even have to taste it.

‘That’s the Rosemount’ I said. Sheila said ‘But yew hivvint toyasted it’

‘I don’t need to’ I replied cockily. ‘That’s the Rosemount Shiraz, Sheila.’

‘Give ‘im the shimpoyin’.’ Sheila said.

I resisted the urge to waste good drink – so I didn’t spray it- I poured it and drank to Ireland and Australia and Paddy Reilly and the Fields of Athenry. Most of my companions didn’t know Paddy but they got the message with an impromptu acapelo rendition of ‘The Fields’. Another memorable day but now we’re back on the bus and heading for Nundle.”

Buy The Book – its a great read

I hope you enjoyed a little piece of the book. It’s a great read and I have it for sale in the shop. I enjoyed it immensely. The O Mahony’s paid for every bit of the production so every penny from sales goes to the charity. It is only €20 and you can also buy it online at www.cry.ie or locally in Clonmel Travel, The Book Centre, McDermotts Irishtown, Texaco on the Cahir Road and at Flahertys Mace Supermarket , Irishtown.

If Conor was still with us, I would enjoy converting him from those Rosemount wines to some of the great wines Australia has on offer. Maybe a selective tasting, including those oldest vines he spoke of – (Langmeil in the Barossa Valley is the vineyard). Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen would form the soundtrack but I am a very average guitar player, so I would let Conor hold court there. When we were kids, Liverpool won everything and Man United were a cup team. I don’t think I could resist that discussion either. I know Conor would take it in the right spirit, maybe?

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