When it comes to embracing new and adventurous ideas, Cairn o’ Mohr Winery in Errol are masters of the genre. Now thirty years old, their entire business has been built on the unexpected; Ron and Judith Gillies first met playing poker on a river boat in the steaming mosquito infested mangroves of the Panamanian jungle – or so he says! The story goes that their eyes met and they knew then that they were going to end up making fruit wines somewhere in the middle of Scotland for a living.
Since 1987 Cairn o’ Mohr has been brewing up juicy-fruity, berry loaded, blossom scented, leafy layered, award winning country wines, using the berries for which the area is famous, wild flowers, fruits and leaves. Fruit wines, sparkling wines, ciders and bourtree juices using near anything that grows.
They launched Cairn o' Mohr in 1987, starting with the core range of Strawberry, Raspberry, Bramble, Elderberry and Oak Leaf - obvious choices for a winery situated bang in the middle of Scotland’s largest soft fruit growing area. They then added the Sparkling Oak & Elder for their own wedding just a couple of years later and followed that with the Sparkling Strawberry for someone else’s wedding.
Now, the strange Scottish winery as it’s come to be known, has over 23 varieties on the go at any one time, with seasonal peaks bringing Berry Up in the Summer – our advice is to freeze this into ice lolly moulds and have yourself a party - and Mulled Elderberry and Berry Christmas in winter.
Ron and Judith believe firmly in sourcing locally, and if you venture down the back roads of Errol, along the hedge trimmed paths and lush green fields, you’ll often see Ron out with a bucket or two, picking the wild ingredients that grow right there at the side of the road.
They’re also great pals of the various local farmers who’ll phone them up to find a home for any spare fruit – a glut of currants one particular year prompted the introduction of limited edition blends Clever Currant, Cheery Currant, and Shrubbery (one of my favourites!). And if you’ve not already tried it, can I recommend the cherry wine, now in its second year, made using cherries from the masters of fruit growing, Thomas Thomsons of Blairgowrie. They like to follow old recipes when they can and occasionally you’ll find odd flavours pushing their way to the fore.
They like to follow old recipes when they can and occasionally you’ll find odd flavours pushing their way to the fore - if I remember correctly they did a Banana Wine for the Millennium, and came up the Tay in a Banana Wine Boat – I’m not sure it was every done again though!
In 2012 they took a side step into cider, using the famous Carse of Gowrie apples. Ron and Judith played an active part in reviving the old orchards that still exist, dotted around the Carse, and regularly host the heritage orchard forum at the winery. Their cider is traditionally made with some of the old varieties, and a mixture of modern ones, and as well as vintage apple, meadow sweet and mulled, they also do a fruity punch variety which is damn good chilled down with lots of fruit and mint leaves added. It’s worth noting, that if you have apples of your own in the area they’ll be happy to buy them from you.
I read somewhere once that the non-alcoholic range was secretly started by Judith who’d drink it while playing backgammon so she wouldn’t get as drunk as Ron– the perfect ruse to ensure a winning streak! Nowadays, with demand higher than ever for something non boozy that tastes good, they offer sparkling Elderflower and Elderberry drinks made from wild flowers and their own bourtree orchards and Carse of Gowrie apple juice – that’s 100% apple juice from 100% local apples - which I’m told is very popular at Gleneagles hotel, where world leaders sip it whilst making earth-shaking decisions (maybe!).
If we were to recommend doing one thing, we’d say buy your wine now, drink it down and start practicing for Annual International Bottle Smashing Tournament in May. It started as an entertaining solution to dispose of the mountains of empty wine bottles that accumulated over the winter and has grown into one of the must-do events on Perthshire’s social calendar. Competitors are given seven empty regulation Cairn o' Mohr bottles to throw at a two foot diameter rock (the Rock) suspended from a specially netted frame (the Thing). The winners in both classes are those who break most bottles. This year the tournament will be held on Sunday 27th May – check out Small City What’s On for more details.
Cairn o' Mohr Fruit Wines and Ciders can be purchased at various outlets throughout Perthshire including supermarkets, farm shops, delis and farmers markets and their own shop at the winery. The winery offers regular tours during the wine making season, or if you can round up a few folks you can book in for a private visit anytime.
For Mohr information, visit the Cairn o' Mohr website here.
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