Admittedly, word of an Irish-themed wine and food tasting event close to St. Patrick’s Day conjured a vision of green-dyed chardonnay and overcooked corned beef.
“That’s what were trying to stay away from, that cliché image,” countered Andrew Healy, native Irishman and chief organizer of When Irish Wines are Smiling, scheduled for March 14 at the Rutherford Grange Hall.
The event Sunday afternoon will feature wines from 15 Northern California wineries, food including Irish cheeses and traditional Irish music.
Healy said the event was conceived as a tribute to people of Irish heritage who work in the wine and food industry in California. He and event partner Becky Tyner of Small Lots Big Wines also hope the tasting will draw attention to the many links that exist between the wine industry and his native Ireland.
“It’s St. Pat’s week, so it just makes sense,” Healy said. “I’ve lived here for the last 18 months and in that relatively short time I’ve noted several wineries in the Napa Valley with Irish names and other Irish connections.”
Born in Dublin, Healy travelled extensively throughout the world before settling in the Napa Valley. He runs Three Rock Wine Company and consults with small wine producers. The name “Three Rock” is a “tip-o’-the-hat” to a mountain overlooking Dublin.
All participants in Irish Wines are Smiling have some connection to the Emerald Isle “be it name or ancestry,” Healy said. Included in the list of participating wineries are O’Brien Estate of Napa, Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford and Irish Family Vineyards of Murphys.
The idea for the Irish-themed tasting drew enthusiasm from several local Irishmen, including Bob Hurley, chef-owner of Hurley’s Restaurant in Yountville. Hurley will be serving Gaelic food at the event along with Chef Kelley Macdonald of the Napa Valley Wine Train.
“There’s a historical element to the event,” Healy said. “Throughout history, the Irish have exported themselves throughout the world and many have ended up working in the wine industry. The result is that there has been a tremendous Irish influence in winemaking around the globe.”
Healy points to many centuries-old estates in the French Bordeaux region that carry Irish names. In addition to the Napa Valley, labels from other prestigious wine producing regions carry links, at least in name or heritage, to Ireland.
“We also wanted to do an Irish-themed event here in the Napa Valley that had a bit of class; that wasn’t the typical drunken St. Paddy’s party that you always hear about,” he said.
And what about wine production in Ireland, best known for Guinness beer and Irish whiskey?
“There are a few handy souls back home that are trying to make wine,” Healy shrugged, explaining that the climate is a bit extreme. “Being perfectly frank, having tasted some of the Irish wines, I think we should stay with the stout and the whiskey.”