The story of the Orkney Wine Company actually begins in Stranraer, where Emile van Schayk and his family stayed in the 90s. Retired shepherdess Sarah Lanaghan passed on some old wine recipes to him and a new hobby was born. Juggling. Sorry, winemaking! He could have done both though – the van Schayk home was soon filling up with demijohns. After working his way through the established recipes Emile started to experiment. His list of ingredients grew and so did the amount of demijohns. Eventually they occupied every room in the house.
In 1997 the family moved to Orkney. Their new home soon resembled another surreal laboratory as Emile continued to polish his skills, striving to make each batch better than the last. With enough experience behind him he then decided to enter the local Homebrew and Wine Competition. The hard work paid off – he won it twice! This, along with increasing demand for his wine, convinced Emile to go into business. The Orkney Wine Company was born.
Where to put it though? Why the garage of course! It was big enough for such an operation so a new concrete floor was laid, drainage systems and extractor fans were installed, and it acquired a new electric door. Then followed the arrival of twelve 1,100 litre stainless steel tanks and a 2,200 litre one called “the big yin”. Using such equipment is quite different than working with meagre demijohns of course. After a period of trial-and-error Emile got the hang of his new system and was ready to begin trading. It was 2001 – time for a larger crowd to try his traditional but extraordinary wines.
To this day the Orkney Wine Company ferments fruit, flowers and vegetables whole to maximise flavour and retain high levels of antioxidants. These high levels, as well as the increased alcohol content, means no added preservatives are required. No preservatives, no hangover. Well, depending on your intake! Their ‘Orkney White’ is an elderflower and gooseberry wine which is crisp, medium dry and oh-so-refreshing; ‘Orkney Red’, a smooth full-bodied blueberry wine, has hints of vanilla oak and is layered with forest fruits; and for the sweet of tooth there’s ‘Orkney Rosé’ – a tantalising mix of aronia, rose hips, salal and cranberries with a very red colour. They also have an extensive range of liqueurs.
With the help of his wife and children Emile expanded the company in 2007 and set up shop on Lamb Holm, one of the Orkney islands. They converted an empty factory into the perfect winery including a warehouse for stock storage, a labelling and packaging room, a bottling room, and this time even a shop. Despite the advances in their technology and general business size there is one thing which has never changed for the Orkney Wine Company: their commitment to making a product which is 100% natural. Instead of gelatine they use a natural clay called bentonite to clear their wines. No animal products enter the equation. So now you know which wine to get for your vegetarian friends (or yourself if that’s the case).
We highly recommend paying them a visit when you’re next in Orkney. If you’ve never been it’ll make your first trip particularly memorable.