Rathfinny Wine Estate

Phenology, polyphenols and potties

Now if that title has not stirred your interest nothing will.

Has winter arrived? Are the birds singing? Can we see ‘mother’ nature stirring from her slumber in the vineyard and in our gardens?

Phenology is the study of the cyclical change in nature in relation to the climate and the seasons. We were glad to see the temperature finally dip in the vineyard just in order for the vines to realise that they can stay a sleep a little longer. While they sleep through the winter they can take pretty much any climatic variation the UK can throw at them. During their sleep we still tend to them, as they are the most important element on the Estate (apologies Sarah) and they all get a haircut to regulate growth and stimulate grape production – this haircut is referred to as pruning and is far better described in Cam’s previous blog.

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Eclectic Goings On

Harvest is just around the corner for Rathfinny Wine Estate and the tension is mounting!

While Jonathan Médard prepares and Cameron nurtures, other diverse things are happening on the Estate. Last month saw the launch of the South Downs Food and Drink Portal (http://www.southdownsfood.org) at our Winery. The portal is an interactive website where you can search for local food and drink providers, businesses and places to visit. Rathfinny sources as much of its food and drink from local providers as we can and it was great to meet so many more at this event, make new connections and of course try their produce (a number of times, just to make sure!)

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Keeping it Local

Over the years many people for many reasons have carved figures into the chalk – from the Cerne Abbas Giant, Long Man of Wilmington and White Horse in the Cuckmere Valley near Alfriston, these dramatic ‘carvings’ have become both iconic and in some cases mysterious.

Rathfinny Estate are on a journey to produce internationally renowned sparkling wine, and now we have our own chalk work of art.

Ours is steeped in local history. Firstly, the shield itself – this has come from the Sussex county flag which depicts six martlets (these are heraldic swallows, and I can’t help thinking of the scene in Monty Pythons Holy Grail when they discuss air speed velocity of a Barn Swallow flying with a coconut – I’m not sure a heraldic swallow would get to Africa wearing a gold crown!). I digress.

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“The most important thing about education is…”

This is one of the many quotations left to us by the great Winston Churchill. He finished by saying that the most important thing about education is “appetite”. Any of us could finish this sentence in a different way. Here at Rathfinny Estate we aim to whet the appetite as well as fulfil it. We are also aware that education does not stop when you leave school. The appetite may change, you may seek new ideas or just wish to look at the world via a different perspective.

In the English wine industry we are fortunate to have Plumpton College, which is affiliated to Brighton University, right on our doorstep. Plumpton has become world renowned for its courses in both vinification and viticulture. Many of our vineyard staff have been trained at Plumpton and continue to do so. The Estate were major supporters of the new Rathfinny Research Winery at the college to really hone the skills of their students which come from all over the world to study there.

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Mid-Summer Ramblings

Just like a Marmalade fly my thoughts are scattered and flit about for this edition of the blog. It was with some relief that I could announce to the team the other week that our newly constructed access road was drivable. We now have a sinuous driveway which more importantly provides safe access to and from the Estate for authorised vehicles.

Then like the more common ‘house’ fly my relief was swatted as I became entangled between two very well known tele-communication companies. What I was requesting for the Estate appeared to be simple, but as these companies ironically had communication issues this may not be a smooth ride!  Updates to follow.

On a far more positive note the Estate Tours have commenced and feedback has been good as well as constructive. Apart from gaining access to our state of the art winery and consuming chefs locally sourced delights, the visitors have been greeted by a riot of floristic colour straight from the outset. The first wheat field they see is bordered by some of our wild bird seed mix. This is awash with poppies, sainfoin, clover, vetches and speedwells to name but a few. Thus conversely not only can you see the colours but you can hear the field. It’s humming with the sound of summer.

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Our wildbird seed mix above is providing a smorgasbord for insects.

The weather has been kind to us at the moment, and the arable element of the Estate will soon be harvested. Alas, kindness is not a word being used by our wine making counterparts in California. Here, when vines usually require about 700mm of rainfall per annum, they are suffering drought conditions. Time to look to Australia for advice perhaps?

But back to our arable – with harvest approaching over another golden sunset, we have planned our next cropping to ensure we can comply with new agricultural regulations. However, this planning is being thwarted. Much of our Estate is under various “options” to benefit wildlife and enhance the landscape. But we still await government clarity on the details of the new scheme. I will refrain from making any comments on the juxtaposition of a minister showing clarity.  Again, updates to come and please follow me on Twitter for daily musings (@rathfinnyrich).

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This bumblebee is rather laden with pollen as it goes in again to a poppy.

All this Estate planning and forward thinking requires meetings, and meetings must contain caffeine.  (Jamie our COO would, I’m sure, concur.) Which brings this particular rambling to the subject of coffee. I would personally describe myself as a consumer of good coffee (my wife calls me a coffee snob) From the Estate I occasionally provide a substitute role for the Gun Room, our cellar door in Alfriston. To add to the other delights already in the Gun Room we now serve coffee and teas. To ensure I can provide adequate support to the team they trained me to make coffee.

How hard could it be? Hot water, decent coffee and ‘in date’ milk. Surely that’s it? After the first hour – how wrong could I be??

Choose the blend, type of coffee, type of grind, mocha, chai, flat white, speed of pour and don’t even get me started on the complexities of making frothy milk!!

Thank goodness the A-team in the Gun Room are competent baristas to serve visitors to the shop and Heritage Centre. For the time being I’ll avoid the composition and concentrate on the consumption!

(Addendum – night time cycle around Estate last evening provided excellent opportunity to hear and see two quail.  A wonderful farmland bird with a very distinctive call – very happy cyclist!)

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