Where some have tried and failed, others have flourished with top-quality products.
When you think of wine, images of stunning vineyards stretch across the countryside in the warming sunshine of Italy, South Africa and Spain will no doubt come to mind.
But the bonnie Scotland? Well, not so much.
However, where there is good fruit, there is even better wine, and that’s exactly why Scotland has generated its own independent Scottish wine industry over the years.
While some have tried and failed to grow their own vineyards and create their own version of the fermented grape-based beverage, others have experienced great success, all because of a key ingredient they use – Scottish fruit.
Now it’s not all down to the fruit as there are many factors that play a part in creating wine, especially when it comes to developing different styles and flavours, but with produce improving year on year, it’s no wonder the fruits of farmers’ labour is now being turned into wine, right here on Scottish soil.
One man doing just that is Ron Gilles of Cairn O’Mohr near Errol in Perthshire.
Founding the company with his partner Judith, the duo first started making wine in 1987, and thanks to the improving soft fruit industry, Ron says the wine has never been better.
“Making fruit wine in Scotland is a little unusual isn’t it? But that’s what we do.
“The business has really grown organically – we started off doing it as a hobby picking wild berries and making wine ourselves. We’re right in the middle of Scottish fruit country and I’ve seen a lot of changes with growing fruit in polytunnels. With the fruit improving and more commercial types like blueberries, cherries and brambles on the go, we have access to much more than ever before. The fruit is good and the wine is even better.”
“We still use wild elderberries and elderflower and we’ve got our own plantation on site, too. There’s a great interest in wild plants just now. People aren’t looking for exotic ingredients, they’re looking for wild herbs and fruits grown locally.”
Supplying some of Scotland’s biggest supermarkets, Ron is delighted homemade Scottish wine crafted by local people has made its way onto shelves across the country.
He said: “We produce several hundred thousand bottles every year. We’ve been really busy with online orders and we still supply some of the shops but a lot of them are shut. We supply some supermarkets like Asda, Sainsbury’s, some of the Morrison’s stores and occasionally ALDI, so we’re getting business through that.
“I’ve been doing local delivery up to around 30 miles away. We have a range of fruit wines, Pictish cider, sparking wines and a range of non-alcoholic drinks, too. There’s something for everyone really.
“Our most popular flavours would be strawberry, blueberry, cherry, bramble, elderberry and raspberry to name a few.
“Online, people are really looking for a mix. They want a wee taste of everything. We offer free delivery on orders over £40 so a lot of people will mix it up. We do bag and box some of our ciders as well, so they’re great for sticking in the fridge.
“The online sales are compensating for the loss of markets shows and event business which has also all come to a halt.”
Making fruit wine in Scotland is a little unusual isn’t it? But that’s what we do.” Ron Gilles of Cairn O’Mohr
Furloughing some of his staff currently, Ron is looking forward to welcoming them, tourists and visitors alike back to the premises in the coming months.
“We’re not making wine just now, this time of year we’re usually bottling and processing last year’s wine which has been sitting for a year,” said Ron.
“There’s various filtrations that go on, then we bottle it for a few months and only then it is ready for sale. It’s a year-round thing. It’s good as our staff are constantly producing. We normally don’t start making wine until the elderflowers come out which is around the beginning of June. Everything is made in season.
“A few of our staff are on furlough just now and we’ll get them back in when we get into production. We’re looking to try and expand and get around an additional 20 acres to plant elderberries and things you can’t really buy and you get from the wild.
“I’ve got a few acres of elderberries already, but we’ve got young trees to plant from our nursery so we’ll probably be doing that in October.”
Looking to the future, Ron and Judith have a lot to be positive about.
With a potential expansion on the horizon, a hopeful busy season luring ever closer and what Ron says is “the best fruit in the world” right on his doorstep, Cairn O’Mohr’s location couldn’t be better.
But will the uncertainty around the soft fruit industry affect his business next year?
Only time will tell. And although Ron is slightly concerned about what fruit will be available, he is certain with his positive attitude the business can overcome any hurdle.
“I’m standing outside the winery which would normally be very busy at the moment, but there’s not a soul around.
“We’ve got a cafe and a decking area which is empty just now – there’s no one here. We’ve been taking this opportunity to get everything looking really smart for when the season finally opens.
“My main concern is the fruit situation. I’m worried about the strawberries and raspberries, but we’ll just have to look at what else is available if needed. With fruit wine you’re not restricted.”
But it’s not just Ron and Judith creating wine in Scotland, you just have to travel 270 miles north, hopping on a ferry in between, to find another fruit wine producer based in Orkney.
Family run business Orkney Wine Company in Lamb Holm, also started out as a hobby 25 years ago, and was quickly turned into a business a few years later thanks to some local support and encouragement.
Marjolein van Schayk, co-owner of Orkney Wine, said: “When my husband (Emile) and I moved to Scotland 25 years ago, we met a Shepherdess near Kirkcolm near Stranraer and she gave my husband a glass of wine she made. He loved it so much she then gave him a recipe book.
“He then started making wine out of all sorts of fruit and flowers he could find. We moved to Orkney 1997 and they had a home brew and wine competition on the island and we entered and won first and third place in our first year. In the second year there was only one winner as we’d won first, second and third. People started telling us to make it commercially so we decided to give it a go.
“We built a winery at home in our garage initially but have now moved to a factory and warehouse at Lamb Holm. We operated from our garage for about seven years and the whole family would get involved, helping to bottle and pack the wine. We started trading officially in 2001.
“Having outgrown our garage space, we found an empty factory on Lamb Holm and have now turned it into a winery with a warehouse, a labelling and packaging room and a purpose-built bottling room. We’ve also got a shop beside the winery so people can come in and buy directly from us and taste the products. Half of the factory is now taken up by a distillery as our son (Collin) makes his own rum called J. Gow.”
Proud to be utilising the local larder, Marjolein and Emile feature as much fruit grown on the island as possible in their vegan-friendly, sulphur-free wines – which can boast up to five or six different types in every batch.
“We really just try to focus on what is grown in Orkney – we use a lot of local products in our wine,” said Marjolen.
“We work really closely with the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College who have been experimenting with growing different fruits. One which grows really well is aronia so we made our Viking Red with the berries.
“A batch is usually 1,000 litres in each vat. We’re really focusing on the Orkney white just now – it features locally grown gooseberries and elderflower but we may make a rose with the Viking Red, you never know.
“Making wine is a really lengthy process. The longer it matures the better. The white and rose we can make in around a year and those aged in the whisky casks are left for up to a year, too.
“What we work on is completely up to the winemaker. Emile will pick what fruits and berries he wants to experiment with. Each wine has a mixture of fruit in it, so there’s never just one in them.”
Depending highly on the passing tourist trade, the firm has seen a large increase in online sales.
Although they currently only ship across the UK, Marjolein says customers from as far as Australia are trying to get their hands on their bottles.
She said: “We’re missing all of the tourists but we’re focusing on online trade just now. We only sell directly on our website, or with firms that operate locally in Orkney.
“The Orkney Red is our most popular wine. We ship to the UK but it’s very difficult to ship bottles from Orkney across the globe, so we don’t ship internationally. We send them to the mainland with Parcel Force and Royal Mail. People all over the UK order from us. We’ve had enquiries from America and Australia from people who have holidayed here.
“We can’t wait to get the tourists back. We have a little shop next to the factory where everyone can taste the wine so we’re looking forward to welcoming everyone back.”