Sunday, 14 October 2012
In a letter of 25 April 1912 to John Quinn, May Morris wrote: ‘Sweetheart, I drank your health on the 23rd – in wine made at Kelmscott and very good wine too ... We are quite proud of our vintage’. I don’t recall any references to wine-making at Kelmscott in Morris’s own letters (though he does mention jam-making), so perhaps this practice post-dated him. Nor does May give any more detail about her Kelmscott vintage, so what are the possibilities here?
The manor’s gardens yielded cherries, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, apples and plums, any one of which might have been used to produce a traditional country wine. We hear less about vegetables from the kitchen garden, but there are possibilities here too (they grew peas at Kelmscott, so May might have made pea-pod wine, for example). From the elder trees in the garden both blossom and berries could be used in wine-making, as could mulberries from the mulberry tree (my own best home-brewing effort was elderberry wine, as it happens, though our rowanberry brew was interesting too). Flowers are also an option, from the garden - roses or primroses - or the riverside (could there be such a thing as fritillary wine, I wonder?); and the nearby hawthorn hedges would afford blossom and berries. Local farmers grew barley, wheat, beans, mangolds, sugar beets, peas and vetches, all of which have their viticultural uses.
Moreover, May Morris once described her Hammersmith Terrace home as ‘set in a bower of grape-vines at the back’, and vines grew against the house-wall at Kelmscott manor too. So in the end, it seems, we have a positive embarras du choix for the origins of her Kelmscott vintage.