Monkhide Fruit Wines & Liqueurs
PUBLISHED: 13:05 10 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:25 20 February 2013
Andrea Mynard toasts the season of goodwill with fruity and festive tipples made in Herefordshire.
Monkhide Fruit Wines & Liqueurs was started following prompting from many happily tipsy guests. At one dinner party, while demijohns bubbled away in the corner of their front room, Anthony (Digger) and Lorraine Digwood were so encouraged by the enthusiasm of their friends that they decided to start selling their homemade wines. If this all sounds like a scene from The Good Life so does Diggers description of the whole family out harvesting the hedgerows for elderflowers and sloes. Yet having begun selling their fruit wines in 2000, the Digwoods have quickly won multiple awards for their handmade drinks that range from a dark and luxurious blackberry wine to sloe gin and lemon vodka.
Diggers inspiration to start making country wines as a hobby came from the surplus potatoes and fruit in his garden, plus the elderflowers and dandelions in the hedgerows around the family home. Keen to experiment, Digger and Lorraine have also used many recipes that have been passed down through generations of their families. After his grandfather died 10 years ago Digger stumbled across 30 demijohns while clearing out his old allotment shed.
Digger and a friend enjoyed discovering that although some of the homemade brews were clearly past their best, many were outstanding wines. He also found a notebook with recipes that acted as a springboard to develop his own recipes. Playing around with whatever ingredients are at hand has resulted in some delicious tipples. Particularly as being based near Canon Pyon, the Digwoods have access to a wonderful selection of soft fruit.
Their first commercial batch was raspberry wine. A friend came round to help them bottle it and it took 10 hours with a jug and funnel to fill 57 bottles. These days, with the equipment theyve invested in, it would take 20 minutes. Digger took their raspberry wine to The Hop Pocket Wine Company. It sold out within a fortnight. Thus encouraged, the Digwoods went into production; their first large batch being 180 bottles of redcurrant wine. They initially concentrated on selling to local shops and delis (including their local Post Office, Canon Pyon Stores) and at farmers markets and food fairs.
One of Monkhides most popular wines is rhubarb dessert wine. Digger describes its creation as an accident: We were about to go on holiday and the phone rang it was a friend saying that his dad had a huge rhubarb patch going to waste and could I use it. It turned out to be the biggest rhubarb patch Id ever seen. I had to overload the car and was chopping it until 2am.
Digger managed to put a quarter of a tonne of rhubarb into barrels (layered between sugar to extract the juice) while they went away for a week. After a lovely holiday in France, he completely forgot about the rhubarb. A few weeks later he opened it in dread, but it was bubbling away nicely, the rhubarbs own wild yeast working well, and Digger says that it produced, the most amazing, intensely sweet but not sickly dessert wine. One hundred and fifty bottles of wine were produced from this batch without the addition of water, this was purely from rhubarb juice and sugar. The Digwoods launched their rhubarb wine at the Flavours of Herefordshire Festival and promptly sold the lot. As Digger admits: Its the simplest recipe we have but it always sells out its by far our best-selling wine.
Always keen to celebrate all the fruit we have around us in Herefordshire whether from their own garden, hedgerows or nearby growers, the Digwoods can never bear to see a potential ingredient wasted. Their small orchard not only offers a great play area for their three children, but contributes apples and pears for delicious brandies, that Digger and Lorraine often offer to friends with the cheese board. Digger says that, people often offer us fruit and we give them bottles of wine or liqueurs in return.
In 2002 the Digwoods started making fruit liqueurs too, with lemon vodka being their first product. They had used lemon juice as citric acid and added some vodka to stabilise a wine but as there was some of each left over they decided to experiment by mixing and leaving to see what happened. The result was an amazing citric liqueur another accidental recipe had been successful! There are now 13 liqueurs in the range, including the Christmas bestseller, maple whisky liqueur, the award-winning lime vodka and red plum liqueur and the newly launched apricot liqueur.
Monkhide Liqueurs have proven so popular that theyre now the core business and Digger is busy working on new products, including a strawberry liqueur, and a new rhubarb product. Particularly challenging is working out how to produce a redcurrant liqueur with a real intensity of flavour (tricky as redcurrants are a delicate fruit). All are made by hand using natural, quality ingredients with no artificial colours or flavours the fruit provides the flavour in these fully traceable drinks.
One of Diggers recent experiments was to develop a mead by researching medieval recipes and fully utilising family resources they use every drop of honey from Lorraines fathers bees. A wild yeast remains active in honey, so that when you stir in water its activated. It is then left up to a year to ferment and the result is a light, relatively dry mead with a lovely honey taste. Digger says that people are surprised when tasting it, as it isnt sickly like some of the syrupy meads that have been around since the seventies and eighties.
Another seasonal special is the Monkhide Christmas Wine, an alcoholic concoction of spiced red wine and pear brandy, which is sold warm at local winter food fairs and events. But Diggers personal favourite for a winter warmer is a tot of sloe gin (a winner of a Gold Taste Award in 2007). You can mix it with tonic water, add it to white wine or just savour its warming fruity taste on its own.
A few bottles of elderflower wine are always opened to celebrate with friends at Christmas too. But despite their generosity, when it comes to Christmas Day, Lorraine and Digger always make sure theyve kept a bottle of their rhubarb dessert wine to go with the Christmas pud in fact Digger admits that he looks forward to it more than the pudding.
For further information see www.monkhidewines.co.uk