FRENCH woman Géraldine Javoy has wine making in her DNA.
Her family have made wine in France for generations, and she has fond memories of picking grapes during summer holidays as a child.
It’s the kind of idyllic, pastoral scene that is easy to be drawn to when conjuring up images of vineyards, slowly aging barrels of wine, and toasting to good health.
But as Géraldine discovered, such imaginings are not the sole preserve of France – it can also be the preserve of Ireland.
“Of course, we cannot grow grapes in Ireland, but we can grow extremely tasty apples, and you can summon them exactly like grapes,” she says.
Summon them she did, and in December, 2019, Géraldine launched Nohoval Apple Wine.
As a co-founder of Stonewell Cider with her husband Daniel since 2010, Géraldine says that turning a hand to developing Irish wine made from apples was a natural next step for the business.
“There is a point where you always have to innovate and create new products. Making apple wine became an obvious, and logical, move.
“Apple wine is very popular in Germany, probably where the idea came from, along with my background in my family’s wine making business, we had to try it, and when we did, we discovered it was very good.”
The first product developed was Tawny in 2015. The drink starts life as cider, made from Michelin and Dabinett cider apples, is barrel-aged for 12 months, and uniquely finished with an infusion of Eldorado hops (a process known as dry hopping) before bottling.
“Tawny is not exactly a wine, and it came about as a bit of a coincidence! We had the idea of passing our cider through some hops to see how it would taste, so we asked Blacks of Kinsale if we could do a trial for fun, just to see how it tastes, and it tasted really good.
“We tested it at a festival. We put Tawny into a barrel and asked people to taste it and it went like hot cakes! Then we knew we had to bottle it – and make more of it too!”
The success of Tawny gave Géraldine an insight that there was a place for Irish apple wines, and sparked inspiration for further creations.
“In 2015, we had also made a trial batch of a single varietal Elstar apple wine that worked really well, but we didn’t have the time to pursue it so kept it in a drawer until we did have time.
“When we officially launched Nohoval Apple Wine in December, 2019, we did so with a new batch of Elstar, along with Tawny.”
Géraldine had hit her creative stride: next came an Apple Oak Wine aged for two years in Muscadet barrels, swiftly followed by Arctic Ice Wine. “Our idea – our vision – is to get Irish wine on the wine menu of restaurants,” says Géraldine. The idea of Ireland listed as a wine producing nation on wine lists in the same way as France and Spain?
Why not? If wine from grapes is the expression of viniculture of those nations, why not wine from apples as an expression of Ireland’s orchard-culture?
Aging the apple wines in barrels taps into the craft and skill employed by wine makers and whiskey distillers. The wood is often overlooked for its vital role in imparting flavour, colour, and mouth-feel to the finished drink creating complexity, nuance, interest, and uniqueness.
“We bought some wine barrels from France, filled them, and over several months tried the apple wine regularly to see when the time was right to take it.
"And we liked it; it gives a very special flavour, lightly woody and really rounds out flavours creating a smooth taste.
“Using white wine barrels doesn’t affect the colour of the apple wine, and the taste profile is much closer to the taste profile of cider – it’s a better marriage,” Géraldine explains.
Shifting expectation when, in Ireland, we are conditioned for alcoholic apple drinks as only cider, is part of the challenge because, says Géraldine, apple wine isn’t comparable to cider at all. The four styles of Nohoval Apple Wine have been developed with a certain character in mind. So how best to enjoy them?
“Tawny has a 15% ABV, so you don’t drink it by the pint! We recommend using Tawny a bit like sherry: as an aperitif, with fruity puddings, or it is very good with cheese. It’s also very good to cook with, especially to make sauces and gravies.
“Elstar is much more like a still white wine, slightly drier, light and crisp. It has more of a spring- summer feel, perfect with a light alfresco meal in the sunshine. Serve it lightly chilled only, so the flavours of the wine are still vibrant.
“Apple Oak Wine could easily replace red wine, pairing well with a substantial dish. But it is also a very good dessert wine because it has a sweetness from aging in Muscadet barrels.
“Arctic Wine is the ideal dessert wine. Drink as you would Port.”
Nohoval Apple Wine is made in small quantities with every bottle of every batch hand made from start to finish. They are an exciting addition to Ireland’s craft drink scene and, unlike beer or whiskey where much of the main ingredients are imported from abroad, Nohoval Apple Wine is made only from the juice of apples only grown in Ireland.
“Our wines are a totally natural product – just juice, nothing added to them - no colour, sugar, or flavouring.
"All the flavours come from the apples, the barrels, and, for Tawny, the hops. This is very important to us, and we take a great pride in staying totally natural.”
The Nohoval Apple Wine range is available from just four speciality food shops. Urru, Bandon; Bradley’s Off-Licence, Cork City; The Farmgate Café at The English Market; and The Wine Buff, Kinsale.
We all know what happened so soon after Nohoval Apple Wine launched in December, 2019. In theory, there wasn’t a worst time to launch a brand new, premium craft drink in Ireland; but Géraldine is unfazed.
“Yes, for a while, we had to focus on survival. Overnight, 85% of our business disappeared. But the great thing in Ireland is that when there is a crisis, Irish buy Irish - and we are grateful for that, and we feel hopeful.”
For news, serving suggestions and recipes, follow Nohoval Apple Wine on Instagram @nohoval_wine, or www.nohovalapplewine.com
You can catch up on the rest of Kate Ryan’s series here
Next week: ‘Snap Apple Night’.