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The terroirs of Grenada are truly extraordinary.
It is easy to forget that this is an island a fifth the size of Skye, off Scotland. Yet in this small, remarkable place, and without really moving away from its Atlantic-facing east coast, we have been able to capture the flavours of over seventy unique terroirs as individual spirits. (To put that number in context, Islay makes just over ten distinct single malts across its nine distilleries).
That we are able to capture so many markedly different flavours is down to the sheer extremity of Grenadian geology, aspect and microclimate.
Perhaps our most visually striking example, covered in this recent article, is between the farms of Old and New Bacolet – the former flat, windswept, deep, lush, the latter sheltered, steep, shallow-soiled. Separated by only a sliver of a brook and a tangled bamboo screen.
Yet so granular are the terroirs of Grenada that, unlike our sister distillery, Waterford Distillery in Ireland’s south east, where a Single Farm represents a single terroir, our fourteen Caribbean sugar cane farms, often much smaller than the barley fields of Ireland, all cover multiple distinct terroirs.
Depending on the farm, these terroir variations take on different levels of obviousness. Old Bacolet, for instance, looks fairly uniform at a glance. But dig a little deeper and you see that here the seemingly unnaturally-flat farm just gently slopes towards the waterlogged mangroves, huddles a little more from the Atlantic winds, holds rain that bit longer, stays that little bit cooler – and it all adds up to a markedly different flavour. Or perhaps the corner where the thick brown Woburn Clay gives way to ruddy garnet iron laterite, derived from volcanic activity. An entirely different soil; an entirely different flavour in spirit.
At other farms, the individual pieces that make up the whole puzzle are more visually apparent. Lake Antoine, our mighty volcano farm, wrapped around the steep slopes of a dormant crater lake, is one obvious example. The fields and terroirs march up its slopes, from the marshy, protected bottom, where the soils are deep, rich and still. And with every rank the aspect steepens, the soils thin out, the cane finds itself more exposed to buffeting trade winds.
Standing at the top you can feel the salt in the air sting your face, you can hear the rattling cane as the breezes rush through it. And you can feel the thinner, harder, stonier earth beneath your boots. And so you get it. The terroir difference. It is so utterly, immediately apparent. You imagine being a cane plant here at the wind-blown, elevated, rain-drained top and you can see why the plant gets ‘stressed’, like the vines of great vineyards where plants put down extra sugars, grow riper grapes.
At Hope, the enormous, sprawling farm sitting on its own between our southern and northern clusters, the differences are perhaps even more obvious. Here undulating, random, boulder-strewn roughty-toughty mounds, dry, shallow, wind blown in parts, protected by mangrove-screen in others. There deep, marshy, salty and water-retentive in the extreme. One farm, nine distinct terroirs. A magnificent chaos of individual sugar cane terroir flavour.
Naturally then, to taste an individual terroir of a farm – Hope, for instance – is to only taste one precise, specific aspect of the farm’s total flavour potential.
We delight in this precision, and it can be detailed and vivid indeed; a true high-definition picture, as proven by our Pre-Cask: Hope, a rum distilled from cane taken from the Mamo Field in the Boulders Terroir, winning an unprecedented treble of Best Agricole, Best Rum and Best Unaged Spirit at the San Francisco World Spirits Award.
Yet how much more complexity could we find by layering this one terroir with its eight stablemates? How can we paint the full picture of Hope Farm? Or Lake Antoine, Dunfermline, Nursery, New Bacolet – or any of the fourteen farms from which we harvest?
The answer is with the Single Farm Cuvée.
Cuvée Concepts are our veritable raison d’être. Our attempts to discover ultimate complexity. By layering various terroirs together we create a rum that is greater than the sum of its considerable parts. Not merely based on the flavours of those terroirs alone, but on the ways in which those terroirs interact with each other when brought together as an assemblage. One plus one equals three.
Indeed, we can find even more flavour when we consider different cane varieties, different methods of distillation – the unctuous bass rumble of pot still versus the clear, elegant alto of batch column – as well as the various cask types, first fill and Virgin American Oak, Premium French and rare Andean that Distillery Manager Devon has to play with. The possibilities for complexity limited only by his considerable imagination, experience and palate.
A radical philosophy. But only in the world of spirits. Step into the world of wine, look to the great châteaux of Bordeaux, and the concept of the Single Farm Cuvée becomes de rigeur.
The flagship Grand Vins of such Châteaux as Latour or Lafite-Rothschild, after all, are not made from just one parcel of vines. Vintage on vintage they will vinify individual parcels and varieties separately, their winemakers constantly tasting throughout the process, discovering which parcels have performed best that year; whether it is a vintage that calls for a little more Cabernet Sauvignon, or perhaps a touch more Merlot.
Only when the individual ‘petit vins’ have had time to ferment, to reveal their character, will the winemakers assemble them into the château’s Grand Vin for the vintage. A process of creatively layering grapes and vine plots into something more harmonious, complex, expressive.
Individually, each plot and variety will express something of Latour or Lafite-Rothschild; be recognisably from those châteaux. But it is not until they are brought together that they find their most compelling and complete expression.
Whilst we revel in both the precision of a single terroir and the ultimate creativity of assembling All-Island Cuvées from across the full spectrum of our fourteen farms, the opportunity to create our unique Single Farm Cuvées – the happy middle grounds – is one in which we find particular delight.
Each of our farms has so much individual character. Even those which are virtually contiguous – Old and New Bacolet, or Lake Antoine and Point, separated by only a road – are utterly removed from one another in the way they express flavour through sugar cane.
Their remarkable terroir diversity forms each one into its own complex little ecosystem; its own Grenadian château, if you like. A whole farm rather than one single field. The most eloquent expression of these remarkable, individual places on our island home.
Renegade Rum Distillery
Meadows Lane, Conference,
St. Andrews, Grenada, West Indies
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