Rathfinny Wine Estate

Rathfinny Charlemagne?

At the planting party the weekend before Easter, David Withers, who is a wine buyer and a resident of Alfriston and far more knowledgeable about wines than me, stood at the site of our new Winery and said that the land at Rathfinny “reminds me of Corton-Charlemagne.”

Now I have to admit that I have never been to Corton-Charlemagne. I have been to Beaune, which I thought was a charming town. However, Corton is to the north-east of Beaune. So I had to check it out in my Hugh Johnson World Atlas of Wine when I got home, and I now see what he means.

The Bois de Corton (the hill), has a forest on the top but the slope which faces south and southwest is very similar to the slope at Rathfinny and it is even planted out in a similar way. The Grand Cru Chardonnays are planted at the top on the slope and the Pinot Noir further down.

Bois de Corton

Rathfinnys slope

The name Charlemagne (Charles le Magne or Charles the Great) comes from the French emperor Charlemagne and Chardonnay was supposedly planted because his wife preferred him to drink white wine because red wines stained his beard.

Our rain dance worked and we got the required 10mm of rain we needed to bed the new vines in. Cameron and David are now busy putting up the trellising. More on that soon…

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Vine Planting Progress

Two days in and 24,000 vines have been planted.

We planted the Riesling in what we know is the warmest spot on the first field to be planted. We also planted the Pinot Meunier and we started planting some Pinot Noir today (Tuesday). We will be planting Pinot Noir all tomorrow and then move onto the Chardonnay on Thursday and Friday.

We have had some great media coverage of the whole event. I just hope we can get the message out that England is making world class sparkling wine and we should be demanding it in restaurants and bars around the world.

The BBC did a nice feature on us. This required a 5am start, that’s why I look so cold!!

My son Archie tried to convince the presenter Stephanie McGovern to create a viral hit and fall over whilst on live TV.  She almost bought it, until he added ‘then you could get up speaking a different language’. No chance…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17509313

And Richard Hemming from JancisRobinson.com posted a great clip on YouTube.

Just one correction the row width is 2.2m and 1.1m between the vines.

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Cameron has been working very hard as has Liz.

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The vine planting machine in full flow.

All we need now is a little rain next week to bed them all in.

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Am I the only one praying for rain?

Last year my eldest son worked as a court coverer at Wimbledon. You know the guys, and they are mainly guys, who drag the covers over the courts at the slightest speck of rain. He has managed to wangle himself back again this year and because the Olympic tennis tournament is being held at Wimbledon he will be working for the whole of June, July and most of August. The court coverers would pray for the threat of rain, they would be on alert and would have to sit at the back of the court just in case their services were needed. It’s a tough job watching tennis! When no rain was forecast his job was less glamorous. They were on clean up duty or he would have to hold an umbrella to provide shade for the tennis players during breaks in play. Wouldn’t you pray for rain, or at least the threat of it?

I feel like a court coverer at Wimbledon. We have completed all our preparation for our first vine planting at Rathfinny. We have carefully prepared the soil, adding fertilisers and turning in the mustard cover crop that we planted to raise the humus levels. We have planted over 2500 trees as wind breaks. We have bought all our vineyard equipment, tractors and trailers, post bashers and wire dispensers. We have even taken delivery of 18,000 trellising posts and the 27,000km of wire we will need to layout after planting, enough to take us half way round the world.

The vines arrive tomorrow. The planting machine will be here on Sunday 25th March ready to start planting on the Monday. The sense of excitement is building. All the preparation has been done. It all starts for real in just three days time. Except for one thing. One crucial thing is missing. Water. We need rain and ideally 10mm per week for the next 40 weeks!

I’m not a religious person, my Catholic mother did enough praying to last us all a lifetime. However, perhaps I should be. Or at least I should learn a rain dance, because if we don’t get rain this spring and early summer those vines, which have been given such a wonderful start and opportunity in life, will really struggle.

Over the last 20 years we have averaged nearly 800mm of rain a year at Rathfinny. However, last year we had only 600mm and 150mm of that fell in December! Overall it was a very dry autumn and winter. So we are facing a drought in southeast England and hosepipe bans.

One thing you learn when investing is that when a story is on the front page it is already “old” news, and the issue has peaked. I am hoping that the stories in the papers two weeks ago threatening hosepipe bans are a good sign. I am hoping Cameron (our vineyard manager) is right and we will get 10mm per week for the rest of the year. I just hope April showers turn into a normal English summer -warm and wet.

So am I worried? I’ve cracked and I’m learning a rain dance….

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A view of the first area at Rathfinny to be planted next week.

Just for the record in 2011:

Eastbourne Weather data – (just 6 miles from Rathfinny)

Eastbourne recorded an average temperature of 12.3°C in 2011 (compared to the long term average of 10.5°C), which is thought to be the highest annual average on record. The previous highest in recent years was 12.2°C in 2006 and 12.1 in 2002 and 1990.

Apart from April when temperatures were unusually warm (average temperature 13.2°C compared with the long term average of 8.7°C) the year was not exceptionally warm however average maximum and minimum temperatures were slightly above average in May, June, October, November and December which probably accounts for the high overall average temperature.

Up until the end of November, the total rainfall was exceptionally low (436mm) however above average rainfall in December brought the annual total to 630.3mm which is nevertheless still low compared to the long term average of 795mm. Despite this, there were higher than average rain-days, 175 compared with long term average of 161.

The total annual sunshine was 1950 hours compared to a long term average of 1828 hours and April had 273.9 hours compared with a long term average of 181 hours; this was just short of the all time record of 274.3 hours in 1893.

Eastbourne remained the sunniest place in the UK in 2011.

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A closer view of the area to be planted next week.

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