From Vine to Wine in County Dublin: Lusca

David Llewellyn is pleased with his “best wine to date”, an Irish 2014 Cabernet-Merlot, called Lusca.

Thirteen years ago, he planted some vines alongside his orchard in Lusk, County Dublin. Since 2005, he’s been reaping the rich red-wine rewards.

Llewellyn learnt how to nurture grape vines while working on a vineyard and fruit farm in Germany. In Dublin, he started off by planting 20 varieties of vines with a goal of selling them to gardeners.

“You can grow vines quite okay in Ireland if you have a sheltered corner,” he says. “I thought I’d spread the gospel about it and get everybody to plant a vine in their garden.”

Extra-hardy vines for the Irish climate, he thought. It was bound to be a resounding success.

Only, it wasn’t. With the return he got selling them from his farm in Lusk, it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Instead, he tapped into his experience of making cider, and began to experiment with making wine.

It seems to be working. On a recent dark, icy Sunday, at the weekly food market in Dún Laoghaire’s People’s Park, there was a steady flow of customers for his fresh fruits, juices and vinegars.

Just three bottles of Lusca are left on display – one from 2012, two from 2013 – but the stock will soon be replenished. He’s been working hard to bottle and label his latest vintage by hand to get it ready before Christmas comes.

In Lusk, his miniature vineyard now produces fewer grape varieties: just Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which he’s found can survive Dublin’s wild weather and work well for wine. “I’ve whittled it down now to three or four that I make the wine out of,” he says.

Though he preferred to make white wine at first, he only grows red grapes now. “I just found it easier to sell red and I’m most comfortable making it now at this stage,” he says.

The winemaking process is lengthy. After harvesting the grapes, they are squashed by a machine the same day and left to ferment for two weeks. This pulp is then put into a press, and a red, fermented juice is left behind.

“From there on in, it’s just maturing and developing,” says Llewellyn, who leaves his wine to ripen and clear for about a year. He normally bottles it just after the next year’s harvest.

For Special Occasions

Llewellyn doesn’t see Lusca as a wine you’d drink every weekend. It’s more a wine to experience, he says.

For most of his customers, it’s a novelty purchase to crack open with friends, or to give as a curious gift.

“It’s expensive, so I don’t expect many people to buy it again, but some do,” he says.

At €44, it is more expensive than most wines you’d find on a supermarket shelf. Llewellyn says this is down to the scale of production.

He estimates that his vineyard is around half an acre, and he currently squeezes out more than 500 bottles each year. In the next couple of years, he’s hoping to ratchet that up to 2,000 bottles a year, but that’ll be the height of it, he says.

That’s small. A vineyard producing a thousand cases of wine each year would be considered a small vineyard in France, and Llewellyn produces just 50.

Buyers seems to recognise that.

Lusca isn’t cheap but it’s a small production and the price is fair, says Ally Alpine, the manager of Celtic Whiskey Shop and Wines on the Green.

Alpine says Llewellyn’s initial wines lacked body and tasted like a poor vintage, but the 2014 batch is several notches up.

“They have got better and better and are now at a level I would be very happy to serve to friends. The latest vintage is excellent,” says Alpine. “I’ve a lot of respect for the way he has experimented and learned from previous vintages. His wines now have lovely fruit and a balancing freshness.”

Alpine used to sell most of his Lusca stock to tourists, he said. Now, it’s locals too, and he’s happy to stand over the quality.

Llewellyn agrees that his product has improved with time. “The ’13 was light, fruity, very soft and easy drinking while young. Whereas the ‘14, it’s really good now but I think will get better, and it’s got more meat and body in it.”

I’m no sommelier, but the taster I had was light, mellow and surprisingly refreshing – though that could have been because it was well below room temperature.

Beyond Wine

Llewellyn’s venture into winemaking was a natural progression of his love of growing fruits and vegetables. His bestseller at markets continues to be the fruit fresh from his orchard: apples, pears and cherries.  His homemade vinegars are catching up though.

His apples are available almost all year round, and since they are not stocked in shops, he has built up some followers at the market. He also sells apple juice, cider, cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar.

His venture into ice-cream-making didn’t work out, but in this chilly weather, his hot, spiced apple juice is perfect for making it round the whole market.

“It’s non-alcoholic, so kids can drink it . . . but on the other hand, throw a shot of whiskey into it and it’s just beautiful as well,” he says.

Llewellyn’s 2014 Lusca is available in a handful of off-licences across the city: Searsons in Monkstown, Green Man Wines in Terenure, Jus de Vin in Portmarnock, Terroirs in Donnybrook and the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin city centre.

Or you can visit his stand at the Temple Bar Food Market on Saturdays, or at the Dún Laoghaire People’s Park Market on Sundays.

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Louisa McGrath: Louisa McGrath is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lmcgrath@dubinq.com.

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