A rugosa rose on Bailey Island. (HANNAH CAMPBELL PHOTO)
Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) line the cliffs and trails of Bailey Island, bringing a sweet and peppery scent that wafts and wanes in the salty air. They peek out like polka dots in thorny green hedges along the popular attraction known as Giant’s Stairs. Wedding white and Popsicle pink blossoms are Mother Nature’s gifts of June and September. I cup them into my hands and admire their resilience and perfect creation.
For years I’d heard that locals made rose-hip jelly and rose-hip tea from their fruit. But when I asked if anyone made rose-hip wine, no was the only reply. When I searched online for a recipe, I Iearned that rose hips are a great source of vitamin C. When children in England couldn’t obtain fresh oranges during World War II, they consumed rose hips.
My husband, Mike, said I was crazy to make a wine no one had heard of — which made me even more determined. One day, I left him sleeping in our cabin while I geared up for battle armored in a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and kitchen gloves, with a plastic trash bag and a spaghetti lifter in hand to gather my “loot” at Mackerel Cove. Tourists stopped me and asked what I was doing with the gorgeous, cherry tomato-like hips. When I answered that I was making wine, they started taking my photo and I gladly posed as if I were the editor of Bon Appetit.
Finding hedges full of the rose fruit was like looking at a goldmine. My recipe called for 12 pounds of hips for 2 gallons of wine. Little did I know how tiring it would be to wade in among the thorny brush to grasp the few that didn’t fall to the ground. Patting myself on the back for my can-do spirit slowly morphed into unladylike expletives and exclamations of “This better be good!” The multitude of rose hips at Land’s End bolstered those lost at Mackerel Cove. Eventually I returned to our cabin and ran for the shower. Mike eyed the sack on the table with trepidation. Satisfaction ensued and I was again proud of my Irish stubbornness. “I’ll show him!”
When we returned home to Pennsylvania, our son Andrew agreed to share his brewing equipment for my winemaking effort. He had everything, right? Well, you learn quickly that there are always more items you need and your “free” project is going to cost you. Andrew suggested that it might be better for the wine process if each hip were cut in half to dry out the seeds. I sat at my dining room table cutting 12 pounds of things I now came to hate — one by one.
With the rose hips, seeds, water and yeast in the mesh bag, the fermentation finally kicked off and we stirred it for a number of days. A pungent, apple-like fragrance rose to my nose each time, almost like a light sherry. I was becoming more and more excited. I created a label design using a photo of the roses along the island trail. I called her “Bailey Rose.” Her due date was July 7, 2007.
Once the bottles were filled and corked, they went to the dark basement. The directions said not to touch them for at least six months. That night, I began to dream that Mr. Dom Perignon himself would call me for cases and cases of it. Or at least The Dolphin and Cook’s would order plenty to serve their guests, Black Sheep Wine would keep it in stock, etc.
But alas, after six months, when I gathered friends for a sampling party and passed around the Waterford crystal goblets for the tasting, their faces winced in pain. One said she felt lightheaded, while another suggested that it might make a nice salad vinaigrette. My rose-hip wine could dissolve the rust off a mothballed Navy destroyer.
I poured the pretty pink demon into drains that will never clot again. I kept one empty bottle to remind me that at least I tried.
Give up on winemaking? Nah. Maybe now I’ll go looking for … dandelions?
Hannah Campbell is the author of “Bailey Island Poetry & Prose,” “Rocky Lobster,” “Olivia Otter,” “Sue Seal,” “The History of the Driftwood Inn” and the soon-to-be-published “Cundy’s Harbor News 1903-1908.”