“…Wild geese that fly with Irish wine on their wings, these are a few of my favorite things…” Ok, I know those aren’t the real lyrics, but they are the words that came to my mind when I first heard the term “Irish Wine Geese.” There was something so unusual, so unique, so compelling about this term…I had to find out more.
I’m so glad I did! As it often happens when researching my favorite topic (wine), I discovered interesting historic, economic and political twists and turns. The Irish Wine Geese (sometimes also spelled ‘WineGeese’) is no exception. In fact, the Wine Geese got their name from a war. Sort of.
“Let’s start at the very beginning — a very good place to start!”
Those are the real lyrics, so let’s start. Wine isn’t new to Ireland. In fact, the Irish have been drinking wine for over 2,000 years! Shards of pottery with wine stains have been found dating back to Celtic times.
Fast forward to the 1600s. Wars and battles raged between the British Isles and the European mainland, mostly between Protestants and Catholics. When the Catholics lost, tens of thousands of Irish soldiers, women and children fled to safety in France. For some reason, on the ship manifests, they were listed as “Wild Geese.” (I’d love to know the back-story to that!)
Thanks to the Irish being natural farmers, and to the monastic tradition where wine making was learned and passed along, the “Irish Diaspora” as this exodus was termed resulted in hundreds of Irish families founding, working on, or in some way contributing to the European wine-making community. The Irish who migrated to the Bordeaux region in the 17th century and began building the wine industry there became known as “Wine Geese,” an honorable reference to their Wild Geese forebears. There are dozens of wineries in France, Spain, Switzerland and Germany, not to mention South Africa, Australia and Napa Valley that owe their success to an Irish heritage.
That explains why the French cognac is called Hennessy, and why several French wine chateaux have anything but French-sounding names. It also explains why we owe so much to the Irish for their enormous contributions to the world’s wine industry.
For additional information on Wine Geese, please check out The Ireland Funds WineGeese Society, which “celebrates wine, food, and art of Irish provenance from around the world.” I love this organization’s motto: From Wine what Wondrous Friendship Springs.
Also, be sure to check out Ted Murphy’s 2005 book A KINGDOM OF WINE: A Celebration of Ireland’s Winegeese.