It is absolutely pelting rain here in Mullingar – the dog days of summer are truly wearing thin. The days of the glistening sea are just slightly in the rearview mirror now as we start to begin our hibernation for the cold and rainy season. Could Fionnuala’s blog on from Valentia Island come at a better time? We think not.
It’s no surprise, after the restricted lifestyle we’ve had these past few years, that camping is having a boom. We embraced the great outdoors when we had no choice, and realised we rather liked it. Birdsong as our alarm and the grass under our feet for the morning coffee has touched a primal nerve we had forgotten.
Having camped many times in France when our children were small, we went on our first Irish camping holiday in the summer of 2021. I don’t know why but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of our Irish campsites. Along the west coast from Achill to Roundstone, we barbecued local lamb on the edge of the Atlantic after life-affirming swims, and took windy walks along the Wild Atlantic Way-the cleverest bit of tourist marketing ever. It really delivers-it’s wild! We didn’t get the magic weather that time, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We wrapped up and braved the elements, taking comfort in the many excellent restaurants, pubs, and food trucks around every corner. There was, of course, a nice drop of Pinot Noir to go with that sweet, smoky lamb.
The magic weather graced our camping trip this year, in the already tropical-feeling Valentia Island off the Kerry coast. You feel especially lucky when an Irish trip, booked months ago, happens to fall on the hottest weekend of the year. Bikes and togs packed, we wound our way up to Anthea’s retro caravan park in the middle of the island. Surrounded by mature trees and the riotous colour of montbretia, fuchsia and purple loosestrife, this small collection of brightly painted 1950s caravans, double-decker bus, a boat, and an old stone house are tucked quietly and unobtrusively into the landscape. We thought we had landed in a mid-century technicolour movie.
The caravan trip coincided serendipitously with a Greek wine tasting, hosted on Zoom by Dimitrious and Ria Kioutsoukis from Thessaloniki. Their natural, vibrant and idiosyncratic wines fit the mood perfectly. Label art painted by Ria shows country scenes from outside their house and images of Greek shadow theatre. Clouds are a running theme as their wines are unfiltered, keeping all the goodness in the bottle and the wines hazy shades of pink and gold. Listening to this father and daughter team describing the wild weeds, herbs and flowers growing taller than themselves among the vines, I’m sure their wine felt right at home among the lush Valentia hedgerows.
The tall weeds in their vineyard have a very important role to play in reducing humidity and encouraging predators, thus solving two big farming problems without chemicals. The connection of natural winemakers like Dimitrios and Ria to the environment, soil, and plants they work with is what sets them apart from the conventional. They are constantly experimenting, looking, tasting, questioning, and coming up with unique methods, or forgotten ancient methods, to their farming and winemaking challenges. Even the Pet Nat was a reaction to a challenge- they needed sparkling wine for Ria’s wedding!
I’m sure the wines would have tasted just as good if we were huddled in the caravan sheltering from the horizontal rain, and would have brought a bit of Greek sunshine with them, but everything tastes better under the rare and magic Irish sun.