Rathfinny Wine Estate

Four Seasons in One Day

I was going to report on the seasonal changes on the Estate as the autumnal colours develop and leaves fall and the majority of our feathered friends have left for sunnier climes.

To tell the truth, I’m not totally sure which season we are in!  I know spring was about 3 weeks late because I waited patiently for the blackthorn and hawthorn blossom.  Then today I started in full waterproofs and wellies as if it was a monsoon, and when I joined the ‘elite squad’ down at the Gun Room, to view the build progress and discuss oak flooring, the bright sun was out punched by the gale force wind.  It’s this same wind which Cameron is planning to tame to allow our vines and shelter belt trees some respite.  I’m investigating the more micro climatic properties of using inter row planting of species such as phacelia and clover.  The phacelia could provide some shelter and combined with the clover would support a plethora of predatory insects to aid our vines.  I just need to clarify how to manage/control the phacelia in the future.

Back to today and it was tipped off in our resplendent Winery Tasting Room which was draped in full summer sun!  Good ol’British weather.

Since my last blog, my time has been spent landscaping around our rather majestic looking Winery.  All of this work has been ably supported by the rest of the vineyard team.  I say ‘supported’ in the loosest sense as I spent my days bouncing around on the dumper truck under the watchful eye of Rick (“the other Kiwi”) as he is our resident Chelsea Flower Show medallist.  Every vineyard should have one!

It has warmed my cockles to see the native plants being used in the landscaping such as holly, beech, white beam and my personal favourite the spindle tree.

spindle

Its outstanding fruit in pink and orange is totally juxtaposed with its angular edged bark.  To me, spindle is a vastly underrated element of our countryside.  I can’t wait to see it flourish.

The tree gets it name from its use as a spindle for spinning wool and I won’t dwell on its other use as a laxative.  I’ve personally used it in basic bushcraft as a very useful and straight skewer for cooking with.

Which brings me to the BBC’s announcement of this year’s winner of the Great British Bake Off.  The jury is still out here at Rathfinny for our own Estate award.  Nikki launched a full on assault at the title with a stupendous chocolate cake last week.  This full throttle fat inducing cake puts her in the lead. The only flaw in her composition was its size.  Far, far too small for my liking.

cake

(image taken after only 3.2mins of round 1)

We patiently await the next entrant to the Bake Off….

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Rollercoaster Ride

Our progress to enhance the landscape and wildlife on the Estate has really gathered pace over the summer.  I was going to highlight our plans for next year’s provision for more pollen and nectar rich wild flower planting or the technicalities of planting over 100 mature trees to landscape the winery.

Then I took this image of a levitating kidney-spot ladybird and following on from Cameron’s blog, I thought I would extoll the virtues of our wild flower areas being a haven for predatory insects which will assist us in controlling vineyard ‘pests’.

ladybird

However, my subject matter changed again as the other weekend I was present for the world’s finest rollercoaster ride.

On the 15th September my ride commenced from the vertiginous 13th floor of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospital.  I was a passenger and my wife had a special reserved seat.  After an incredible undulating journey with apprehension, excitement, tears and fears – the finale was quite incredible!

My wife (and passenger me) are now the proud parents to spontaneous triplets to join our 6 year old daughter Romilly – instant large family achieved.  Edward took the finishing tape at 11.43am weighing in at 4lb 15, closely followed by Miles (3lb 4) and Cordelia (4lb 6).

babes1

Edward is a particular boy’s name we chose, Miles is Latin for soldier as he had to be a little fighter during his time ‘inside’ and Cordelia was King Lear’s favourite and youngest daughter.

My wife and I will forever remember the rollercoaster for various reasons and she has recovered amazingly well from the journey.  She is the proverbial rock.  All 3 small dudes are now in the incredible care of the Trevor Mann Baby Unit.  The level of care is indescribable.  All of the staff should wear halos.  I am completely in awe of the work they undertake to look after all the “little people”.

So deep breaths.  Shoulders back.  Work to be done on the vineyard and surrounding Estate.

What a ride though.

Richard James – Landscape and Environmental Officer

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Thinking outside the box

Rathfinny will always be more than ‘just’ a vineyard.  As you will have seen from our website the Estate is still part vineyard and part arable farm at the moment.  So what are we doing that is ‘outside’ the usual realms of establishing a vineyard and winery?

In 2012 we joined many farms on the South Downs and signed up to the Higher Level Scheme (HLS) administered by Natural England.  We may be different having a vineyard on the Estate but like many farmers we strive to make a place for nature.

“So what?” I hear you cry.

By committing to HLS we now have a legal obligation to continue to conserve wildlife and enhance it where we can.  It is now that I should go off on a tangent and explain that there is one huge problem with conservation – there is an utter plethora of acronyms!

We are in the HLS and ELS, we have a SSSI and a SNCI and while claiming for SPS to the RPA we are mindful of our HK7 and soon we will be harvesting our OSR.  All of this is done under the umbrella of NPPF and SDNPA while awaiting for changes resulting from CAP reform.*

P1010199

Round leaved fluellen in our arable margins

“So what?” I hear you cry again!

What we are aiming for is to enhance the whole landscape so wildlife can thrive.  So far we have done this by creating strips for arable plants such as the rough poppy and Venus’s looking-glass.  Clearing unwanted scrub for downland flowers to spread like the rounded-headed rampion and devils bit scabious.  And we are providing seed and tussocky grass for farmland birds.  Already the results are being seen – and we have only really just begun.

 poppy

Marmalade hoverflies on poppy

As the vineyard expands our agreement with Natural England becomes more tailored and we will be able to explore more exciting ways to work with nature.  Just last week I had a fantastic meeting with Kew and their Millenium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst.  More on that to follow as we investigate how we can really make a difference.

Perhaps the title above should have read “On my soap box!”

(* deep breath – ELS Entry Level Scheme, SSSI Site of Special Scientific Interest, SNCI Site of Nature Conservation Importance, SPS Single farm Payment Scheme, RPA Rural Payment Agency, HK7 Restoration of species rich grass, OSR Oil Seed Rape, NPPF National Planning Policy Framework, SDNPA South Downs National Park Authority and CAP Common Agricultural Policy – and relax)

by – Richard James – why not follow me on twitter @rathfinnyrich

 

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