In this autumnal gloom, I keep on thinking of Ireland in the 2015 spring green. That's when I traveled there for the Ballymaloe House Literary Food and Wine festival.
The weekend was filled with inspiration. Just being around Darina Allen's positive energy was enough for me to rethink my penchant to doom.
That's coffee wizard Tim Wendleboe (another highlight for me at the event, the way he talks about an espresso cup is the way I talk about a wine glass.) --in such awe of Darina, the air almost lit up.
Darina. A force.
I asked her husband Tim (a lover of natural wines, by the way) whether his wife is always so energetic and well, can-do. He said yes. It appears that she wakes up percolating in the morning with goodness and verve and stays that way until she drifts off to dreamland.) Soaking in her energy was a lovely extra to happily sitting on as many panels as I could cram in. One of them was what is terroir and can you tell when it's in the glass?
As fantastic a topic as it was, I was startled to be the only panelist who believed agriculture was an important factor for expression of the tastes. In fact the wines that I brought were the only ones shown that were organic. But if my wine colleagues don't think agriculture was an essential ingredient, over in the big house the consciousness was out in force. There, in a room filled with farmers of food, there was no disconnect at all with the end product and the process. This was not a Roundup ready crop crowd.
What's happening in our soil was a profoundly moving talk.
As 2015 is the International Year of the Soil, co-chair of the event, Rory O'Connell particularly insisted on this panel. He even asked me to be on it. When I saw the talent he had collected, I begged off-- I was out of my league. Nevertheless, I sat in the room, itching to have my say, itching to say when is the wine world going to understand that wine is food and farming matters? But being in the audience, soaking up the conversation was where I belonged.
Rory, Roger (in brilliant crimson) and I believe Roger's wife--whooping it up in the evening.
Listen to that, listen to the notion that soil is the earth's digestive system. THat was Patrick's notion. " he key concept that has changed my thinking on farming is to understand that the soil surrounding a plant’s root zone is effectively its digestive system, or ‘stomach’."
The same way we should be concerned about our gut health, with its probiotics etc, we should be concerned about keeping all of that life in the soil.
The soils is our earth's digestive track.
Of course it is.
That was my primary takeaway, and the more I think of it the more it makes sense.
Especially as I undertake writing a winebook about soil--another book that I might be thoroughly unqualified to write about---I find myself wishing I had recorded the session.
At the end of the talk questions were taken. There was one that said it all. A young and local farmer talked with devotion to the soil and a sense of his responsibility to steward it into health. His statement was sincere, impassioned, committed--and it did something else. It moved half of the packed audience to tears. Sitting in that room, it was impossible to feel cynical about the world --at least in that moment I had faith in goodness. This could have been the biggest bomb of a bore for the weekend, but in the end it was a charged and emotional talk brimming with intellectual and emotional fervor. It me even prouder to have been included in that heartfelt literary festival.
Open to consumers, if you want a food festival of a wholly different kind, one with soul, head to Cork, May 20-22, 2016.