Isle of Harris Gin: A people’s gin with an island’s economy at its heart

Isle of Harris Gin

 

Rachel MacDonald, brand ambassador for Isle of Harris Gin

I had a smashing chat with Rachel MacDonald, the brand ambassador for Isle of Harris Gin and discovered a fascinating story and a very delicious gin.

Rachel was making a flying visit to Liverpool (where I live) and when she asked if I’d like to meet for a chat about the gin, well, it was just the tonic I needed.

The gin’s heart and soul lies on the island of Harris on the west coast of Scotland in the Outer Hebrides.

The People’s Gin

The Isle of Harris Distillery, or the Social Distillery as it is referred to, was the vision of Anderson ‘Burr’ Bakewell, who had visited the island for many years.

The Isle of Harris is home to  less than 2,000 people. During the 1950s there were over 4,000 people living in the community.

Rachel told me that Burr’s purpose was to create year-round jobs, to try and halt the population decline in the Outer Hebrides.

That’s just fabulous.

The distillery opened in October 2015, in the small harbour village of Tarbert. Five local distillers and two young apprentice distillers make a single malt whisky (still to be released) and  the gin.

Alongside them, 30 full time staff help create the spirits and welcome visitors from all over the world.

The Isle of Harris Gin botanicals

A local diver harvests sugar kelp which is found in the sea around the island. The kelp is steeped with botanicals for 24 hours and is removed before the distilling begins.

The botanicals are juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, cubebs, bitter orange peel, liquorice and cassia bark.

The kelp leaves subtle coastal notes and creates a fresh, delicious gin. It’s as if the winds and the coastal air from Scotland’s coast are washing over me.

The Isle of Harris lies in the Outer Hebrides
This is a gin with people at its heart

The islanders keep control of the business by sending every bought bottle directly from the island.

This means that if you buy one,  there might be a delivery delay if the island weather disrupts the ferry!

The Isle of Harris Gin bottle design

Rachel explained that the ripples across the bottle reflect the beaches on the island. There’s even a “dip” on the side as if the sand has been flattened and untouched by the retreating sea.


Buy the gin ( (RRP £37)  via click and collect outlets across England, Scotland and Wales.  You can find details at their website, harrisdistillery.com

MacMurray Wines: The California wine legacy of a Hollywood star

This is the story of a famous Hollywood star,  Fred MacMurray, his daughter, some gorgeous wines from a stunningly beautiful region and one of the world’s most famous wine brands. I’ve spent an amazing week in California, as a guest of Wines of California and wow, do I have lots to share with you.

Wines of California

My first story is one of a family, well two families in fact

In the 1940s Fred MacMurray was one of the most recognisable faces on the big screen.

The star of Double Indemnity, Fred spent much of his down time fly fishing. His father was from Paisley, his mother from Ireland, and the outdoors life was in his blood.

MacMurray’s friends had a ranch in the Russian River Valley in California. He took days away from the hubbub of the film world to enjoy his fishing hobby and fell in love with the ranch. 

Fred MacMurray bought the ranch in 1941 when his friends, the Porter family, retired and moved away. 

The wonderful climate of the Russian River Valley

The climate and the soils of the Russian River Valley help to create the most amazing “cool climate” pinot noir and pinot gris wines among others.

The Russian River Valley appellation sits in Sonoma County. California might be hot yet this region can grow these grape varieties to perfection.

The Pacific Ocean and the river (which was gushing when I was there on a wet April day) helps to cool the region.

In the growing season fog lingers in the trees and the grass, keeping the grapes cool.

It was here on the MacMurray Ranch that I sipped MacMurray Russian River Pinot Noir (£29.50, greatwesternwine.co.uk) and listened to Fred’s daughter Kate tell their story.

The pinot noir was sublime, with notes of raspberries, red fruits, cherry and vanilla and with a silky mouthfeel.

Fred MacMurray’s care of the soil and the land

Fred was keen on diversified farming and believed that soil held its history. Kate explained that he would let fruit from new trees drop into the soil and allow the goodness to sink low.

Kate remembers running barefoot across the fruit as a child, with bees buzzing around her.  She believes that those apples, plums and cherries from her childhood are now putting goodness into the land.  A land which now grows grapes.

I really believe dad’s thoughtfulness on how to treat the soil has had a lasting influence on the grapes that grow here,” said Kate.

Fred died in 1991 and the family began to think what to do next.

Kate and her mother June were determined about one thing. “Whoever purchased the ranch had to maintain it as it was. We wanted it to be family-owned and kept intact.”

Kate MacMurray raises a glass to her father, film actor Fred MacMurray California wines
Kate MacMurray raises a glass to her father, film actor Fred MacMurray
The family connections woven up with the land

Here’s where the second family comes in: the Gallo family. We may perceive Gallo wines as inexpensive, accessible and in every supermarket in our land.

Gallo also has a dynamic presence in the world of fine wines and has been investing in that sector for many years.

The ranch was sold to Gallo and in 1996 the first vineyards were planted.

Kate, the daughter of a Hollywood star, now works as an ambassador for the wine brand which bears his name.

She says: “Only three families have ever owned this ranch: The Porters, who were dad’s friends, our family the MacMurrays and now the Gallo family. All of the families are woven up by the thread of the land. Now we get to share this beautiful place.

“If I’d written a letter to God I couldn’t have come up with a better outcome for my land and my family.”

The story of the wine and where to buy it

I always take a little time to think about a wine’s story when I’m sipping it.  Many people have played a part crafting the liquid in my glass and I Iove finding out more.

I discovered this wine story when I met Kate and I’m pleased about that. 

You can find other MacMurray Wines at Great Western including Russian River Pinot Gris (£19.50) and Central Coast Pinot Noir (£22.50). 


A version of this story was first published in over 30 regional newspapers including:
Hull Daily Mail – Leicester Mercury – Cambridge News – Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner
– The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Gazette 
Birmingham Mail – Coventry Telegraph  – Paisley Daily Express