Rathfinny Wine Estate

Bubbles for every occasion!

Plowing_Dec_12.jpg.scaled1000As a year ends and another one is about to start – well, that’s hoping that we actually survive the apocalypse scheduled for December 21st – lots of us are gearing up for celebrating the New Year with sparkling wine.

Champagne has had for decades a dominant role in the end of year celebrations around the world. I had never really looked into the origin of this trend. It appears that prior to 1789, royals drank Champagne as a tradition to celebrate events,  because – being both a novelty and an expensive one – it was a status symbol.

Historians say that Champagne, after the French Revolution, became used in secular celebrations, replacing religious rituals.

The wine became traditionally opened at various religious celebrations, such as baptisms and weddings.

I remember the excitement when Champagne would gush at the podium of the Formula One Grand Prix. I begged my dad, who at the time was working for Moët & Chandon, to take me with him to one of these races, unfortunately this never happened! On the plus side, he would never fail when sabering a large bottle (chopping its neck off with a large sword)  at various events.

Sparkling wine is a lively and festive wine, traditionally consumed all around the world. Symbolically, it overflows in abundance and joy. I have always been a proponent of sparkling wine as an aperitif but also as a wine to accompany the whole meal.

If you are into wine pairing, look into it. There are a broad variety of sparkling wines, from the light and delicate to the full bodied and rich. There are so many different types of sparkling produced all around the world, no doubt you’ll find a gem somewhere.

Try to start with, say, a Chardonnay-based sparkling. Fine effervescence, delicate flavors and aromas to open your appetite. Then, when pairing with food, it can be quite simple, don’t be scared.

With rich foods, try a Pinot Noir-based wine, for it will have the body to stand up to their richness.

For seafood and/or a salty course, pretty much any sparkling will work, as long as it is not too sweet, i.e. avoid sec, demi-sec and look for brut or dry.

Rosé wines will work with smoked fish and chocolate.

With meat, have you ever tried a sparkling Syrah? Or Bolney’s sparkling Cuvee Noir?

Keep the sweet sparkling like sec, demi-sec for dessert or try with spicy recipes.

Try to be adventurous, and you’ll surely be rewarded.

Don’t tell, but I am taking English sparkling to Champagne for Christmas!

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker at Rathfinny Wine Estate

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A votre santé, Professor Renaud

Prof. Serge Renaud was a French scientist who pioneered research into the prevention of cardiovascular disease, among other health issues. He participated in broadening research into the role of wine, alcohol, fatty acids and other components in preserving health and preventing disease.

His medical career took him notably to Montréal, Canada, Boston, Massachusetts, and Lyon, France.

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Professor Renaud died at the end of October of 2012, not too far away from Bordeaux, leaving behind so many contributions to science, that he was decorated in 2005 with the “Légion d’Honneur”, the highest French distinction.

Professor Renaud appeared on the TV program 60 Minutes, in 1991, explaining what people still refer to as the “French Paradox”. He challenged people to see the benefits of wine rather than its potential risks.

The United States of America, where 60 years before then alcohol consumption was illegal due to prohibition, saw red wine sales go up 40 per cent within days, like a revolution.

Over several decades Professor Renaud studied the effects of how food and diet relate to health and how some nutrients can promote health: Mediterranean diet, anyone?

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He said one day: “If I hadn’t lived with my grandparents and great-grandparents on a vineyard near Bordeaux, perhaps this idea wouldn’t have occurred to me.  When you see people reach the age of 80 or 90 years, who have been drinking small amounts of wine every day, you don’t believe wine in low doses is harmful.”

Nearly a century earlier, Louis Pasteur said “Wine is the most healthy and most hygienic of beverages”.

Even though some of the wine components’ effects, like Resveratrol, a natural phenol, are still being studied, it is now pretty widely accepted that a glass of wine can be good company to a balanced meal. Alcohol is not the devil it used to be anymore, as long as consumed in moderation.

Professor Renaud’s legacy is without doubt a whole new broader vision of the effects of diet on general health.

My take on this, and I do not expect it will get me the Légion d’Honneur, is that your meal will be even better when started with a glass of English sparkling wine.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker at Rathfinny 

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Champagne’s Harvest 2012…

This is the first year since I started in the wine industry that I am not harvesting at this time of year – I said “not harvesting”, not “not working”, I figured I should take advantage of it and take the time to go to Champagne to see how harvest is going.

Despite fears earlier during the growing season that quality might be compromised, with a lot of pressure from both oidium (powdery mildew) and mildiou (downy mildew), August turned out very nice and the vineyards in Champagne were able to catch up, with much improved quality.

Some plots will not yield much, by Champagne standards that is, with less than the authorised 11,000kg per hectare.

Unfortunately, it is predicted that the overall harvest will be about 30% less than last year.

Every year, pickers can be seen all around Epernay, but this year more than usual some are just sitting, waiting for a contractor to call them in. Sadly, for a lot of them it looks like it will just not happen.

That being said, the day I was driving down the Montagne de Reims heading to Epernay, vineyards looked crowded with pickers.

A friend of mine told me, as I was walking through his vineyard: “Look, last year, this block cropped over 10,000kg, this year I think I’ll get 5,000 to 6,000kg at best. I do not need many pickers, really”.

I was also lucky to attend the testing of a new piece of equipment at a cooperative, a robotized crate dumper. The picking crates are transferred from a pallet to a conveyor (this is also robotized), and the crates are conveyed to the opening of the press where they are automatically tipped / emptied, before being conveyed to a crate washer.

At another cooperative, it takes 2 workers about half an hour, to load an 8ton capacity press by hand. The bins are quite heavy, each is about 40kg, and so it is a very physical job.

I sometimes wonder to what extent the industry in France will automatize and try to rely less on human labour.

Some tasks will always be done by humans, because it requires the experience and anticipation that a machine does not have, but some tasks will surely be done by machines, because machines are fast, efficient and do not get tired, or grumpy, or go on strike.

Could one conceive that one-day Champagne might just even think about mechanized harvest?

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker at Rathfinny Wine Estate

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