In the 2015 spring green I traveled to the Ballymaloe House Literary Food and Wine festival.
Just being around founder, Darina Allen's positive energy was enough for me to rethink my penchant to doom.
Above? That's the coffee wizard Tim Wendleboe in such awe of Darina, the air almost lit up.
Darina. She's 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 the only panelist who believed agriculture was an important factor for expression of the tastes. The wines that I presented were the only ones that were organic. But if my wine colleagues didn't believe agriculture was an essential ingredient, over in the big house, the consciousness was resplendent.
2015 is the International Year of the Soil and the room was packed with folk ready for the What's happening in our soil panel discussion. There was no disconnect here, as there was with my fellow wine writers who were willing to believe that terroir-driven wines could come from conventional agriculture. There was not one Roundup Ready person among us.
I had initially been asked to sit on the panel, but when I saw the experts assembled, such as Patrick Holden and Roger Phillips, I begged off. Nevertheless I sat in the audience eager to have my say, itching to ask when is the wine world going to understand that wine is food and farming matters?
That's co-chair Rory O'Connell. Next to him on the left is Roger (in brilliant crimson) and I believe Roger's wife--whooping it up in the evening.
I had hoped there would have been a recording of the event, but the only recording is in my faulty memory. But it was indeed Patrick who put forth the profound notion that soil is the earth's gut. "The key concept that has changed my thinking on farming," he said, "is to understand that the soil surrounding a plant’s root zone is effectively its digestive system, or ‘stomach’."
He put forth that in the way we should be concerned about our gut health, with probiotics etc., we should be concerned about keeping all of that life and diversity in the soil.
The soils is our earth's digestive track.
Of course it is.
The more I think of it the more it makes sense, especially as I undertake writing a wine book 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. The most memorable came from a young and local farmer who talked of his devotion to the soil and 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.