First ‘civet coffee’, now ‘red squirrel wine’ is set to be the latest craze to hit the UK drinks industry as a Chiswick wine merchant releases its first vintage.
Like civet coffee – or Kopi Luwak – red squirrel wine is wild, hard to find and very rare. Even rarer than Britain’s native red squirrels.
Red Squirrel Wine, an online retailer and wine importer based in Chiswick, west London, has been secretly developing the product for eighteen months. Wine grapes are ingested by wild red squirrels, but because red squirrels cannot digest the grapes they pass out whole in the animal’s droppings. These grapes are then collected painstakingly by hand, pressed and fermented before being aged in barrel for up to six months.
The company has launched the range, called simply ‘Red Squirrel Wine’, with two products, a white wine and red wine. The white wine is made simply from Chardonnay grapes, prevalent in vineyards in southern England. It spends three months in old oak barrels. Meanwhile the red wine is made from a rare grape called Bastardo, native to eastern France. This spends six months in even older oak barrels, salvaged from a cooper’s yard in Barrow-on-Furness.
Nik Darlington, founder & winemaker at Red Squirrel Wine, said:
“Red Squirrel Wine has till now been first and foremost an online retailer of other people’s wines. But all we’ve ever really wanted to do from the start was make our own. After an abortive attempt to make wine in Richmond, Surrey, when hungry birds ate our entire crop of two grapevines, we knew we had to try something a bit different.
“I’m so proud of what we have achieved. This is as natural as wine gets. A massive amount of blood, sweat, tears and – let’s not beat around the bush – squirrel poo has gone into making this happen. Our red squirrels have done a sterling job. Grey squirrels couldn’t have stomached it, proving British truly is best.”
The red squirrels used during production were sourced with the help of local conservationists at a secret location in Britain, kept hidden from the public so as to protect this treasured and endangered native species, but also to allow the red squirrels to go about their work in peace and quiet.
The grapes are picked whole-bunch and transported in chilled lorries to the top secret sites, where they are then laid out on straw mat feeding platforms, employing the same appassimento process as is used for the production of Amarone wines in Italy. The drying of the grapes makes them more palatable to red squirrels.
How do these Red Squirrel Wines taste? According to winemaker Darlington:
“The red Bastardo is a beast of a wine. On the nose you’ve got a massive attack of barnyard and manure, which after a while is very pleasant. The Amarone style production has given richness that continues on to the palate, with primary flavours of red cherries, moving on to a woody, slightly fungal taste of oak and a warming, very nutty finish.
“Chardonnay isn’t typically the type of grape variety we’d get excited about, but the red squirrel’s digestive tract has imparted incredible complexity and fragrance. Quince, chokeberry and acaí berries mingle with hazelnuts and hawthorn bushes. You don’t pick up much oak flavour, but this has given a creamy texture to the wine, which finishes up with a remarkable taste of hay and compost.”
The wines are being made available for distribution in the on- and off-trades, with an expected retail price of £14.99 for the white wine and £19.99 for the red wine. A pound from each bottle sold will be donated to red squirrel conservation charities.
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