Rathfinny Wine Estate

Sarah’s a wine expert – it’s official!

We have had the most wonderful weather over the last few days – long may it last!  Sunny, warm, blossom on the cherry trees and no mud – truly gorgeous. Our local farmer is now concerned that we’ve had our rain for the year!  In the vineyard the pruning has finished, the buds are starting to swell and Cameron is telling me we may have an early bud burst this year.  There is a sense of excitement around the place that is all to the good.

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What have I been up to?  Well, the most exciting thing has been that Georgia and I took our WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 – and passed, with distinction!! (I think I even got a higher grade than Mark, though he responds with ‘a little knowledge can be dangerous Sarah!’)

Anyway, as I’ve long wanted to do, I want to write an easy explanation of tasting and enjoying wine, which I have to confess I am starting to learn to do.  I never thought I would be the one to swill a glass and say “mmmm, spicy, black fruit with hints of pepper!”

Here goes ….. (for the experienced among you, just skip this bit)

Approach your tasting as you would a glass of wine – no, not a grab and gulp but with your

EYES – is it clear or hazy?

How intense is it – pale or deep?

What colour is it?  If it’s white, is it lemon or amber.  For red, purple or ruby?  Hold it, slightly tilted, above a sheet of white paper and see the difference.

NOSE – does it have an intense smell and what can you smell?

Clue – at first I didn’t notice much, but after you’ve tasted a chardonnay a few times and everyone says oak, you’ll start to notice it, especially if you put it next to a un-oaked one, which is currently becoming more popular.  You may start to think lemons and limes or mango and pineapple, depending upon where the chardonnay came from.  Mark says go to a supermarket and literally smell the fruit.

Clue 2 – hotter climates produce more tropical flavours – just relate it to what you would find on your holidays.  If you’re in northern France, it’s more apples, whilst in Australia or South Africa it’s melons and passion fruit and pineapple.  (Now someone’s going to tell me you don’t get those in S Africa!!)

MOUTH (though it’s posh to say Palate!) – 5 things here:-

  • Sweet – this isn’t too hard to work out
  • Acidity – here you’re judging how much your mouth waters – think ‘lemons’ and you’ll know what I mean
  • Body – mmm, kind of the depth and feel in your mouth.
  • Flavour – to be honest, often much the same as the aromas you’ve smelt.
  • Finish – how long the taste lingers.

To do all of this you need practice – and more practice – yah!!!

I thoroughly recommend the WSET course – check out http://www.wsetglobal.com – because it gives you the chance to try lots of wines and then you’re off.  See – an expert already.  Watch this space for more exciting info on how to be a wine whizz!  You never know, one day it might be me they want to interview!

For an outline to the WSET systematic approach you can download the following file: http://www.wsetglobal.com/documents/l2_wine_satcard_2012_eng_new.pdf

Enjoy…

Sarah Driver

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Flint Barns take shape

Another busy, varied week which started with a trip to the Home, Craft and Top Drawer exhibition at Earls Court with Georgia and Nikki.  Not only were we looking for ideas for the Gun Room’s spring and summer collections, we were on the look out for everything to fit out the Flint Barns.  After what seemed like miles of trekking down row after row of over-lit aisles, trying to keep up a pace, we left exhausted but full of ideas.

The Gun Room and Heritage Centre with its history of Alfriston and the Cuckmere Valley, has been a big success and Nikki and her team have done wonders in creating a stylish, peaceful place to escape, read and browse.  I for one am sold on the Caudalie range of beauty products (made from grape and vine extracts) – you may not recognise me, I look so young and radiant!  The candles, wine jellies, leather notebooks, gorgeous glasses, vases, books about Sussex – the list goes on and on – are soon to be supplemented by a new spring range and we are talking to local artists about new ideas.  Watch this space!

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Equally exciting was my first visit to the Flint Barns since the roof has gone on.  It has really changed the space and made it seem much bigger.  Within the ‘body’ of the old barns, two floors have now appeared and you can really begin to see the vision.  It’s been, and will continue to be, a challenge.  I’m so glad we started work on them before the recent storms, as I’ve no doubt they wouldn’t be standing if we hadn’t.  (They were originally damaged in the 1987 hurricane).  As always, we are trying to mix the old with the new, keeping and restoring the original flint walls for example, yet creating windows that will allow the light to flood in.

We are aiming to achieve a comfortable, stylish ‘home’ that will house and feed up to 50 people at a time, be they seasonal workers tired from the vineyards, groups of school children who have spent the day exploring the Cuckmere Valley and the South Downs or a special interest group of 12 who have spent the day bird watching, painting or writing.  It’s an ambitious project – we’re not a hostel, but we’re not a hotel.  We hope to be a ‘home away from home’.

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Final exciting ‘high’ of the week is that we have agreed to become sponsors of the Charleston Festival, a literary festival that runs between 16th – 26th May and again with Small Wonder, a short story festival in the autumn.  We aim to collaborate with them on a range of things as time goes by, so again, watch this space.

Sarah Driver

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GRAND OPENING OF THE GUN ROOM – MONDAY 18th NOVEMBER!

I’m in trouble, should have done this by yesterday and instead I find myself doing it early on Saturday morning before we go on and beat the All Blacks later today, Cam! (Might have to edit this later!)

So what has been going on?  The Gun Room is up and running and we are having our first opening on Monday evening, to thank all those involved in the project.  Anthony Sherwin has done an incredible job, working with Martin Swatton, in designing the interior of the building so that it complements all our other designs on the Estate and blends ‘the old with the new,’ which is a recurring theme at Rathfinny, and Paynes Builders have been a delight to work with.

Nikki and Georgia have been working flat out for several weeks getting all the stock ready and this week have been concentrating on getting it on the shelves.  It looks fantastic, as I think you’ll agree.

gun room

Cellar Door heritage centre

Their attention to detail is incredible and Nikki, as the Manager, has really set the standard.  We’re also delighted to have recruited two new members of staff who we know will fit right in with the Rathfinny family.

So as well as interviewing prospective staff, what else have I been up to?  It’s the range of work that always amazes me.  I’ve been working on the Employment Handbook, ably assisted by my daughter, Faye. We’ve been battling with those crucial issues such as, under the heading ‘Appearance’, how do you encourage deodorant and yet say not so much perfume that it interferes with tastings in the future? Don’t get me started on the debates about tattoos (a personal bug bear of Mark’s, though I’m sure one of our kids has or will have one lurking away) or piercings.  All high-powered stuff!

Then there’s the Tasting Room, which has all come together under the wonderful eye of my designer friend, Susie Atkinson.  She has done an amazing job, again linking the ‘old and the new’ to create a room that will sit at the heart of the Estate and deliver a really unique experience to our visitors.

tasting room

We held our end of year party there last week, which was brilliant.  The vineyard boys had us in hysterics as they donned facemasks of the Great British Bake Off judges to judge all the entries of the Great Rathfinny Bake Off.

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Everyone got a prize, though I ‘woz robbed!’ as the ultimate prize went to Nikki, despite my showstopper. photo 2

Not that I’m bitter and twisted!  (I did think that in revenge I would put in the photo of her winning the wooden spoon that Cam made, but even I couldn’t do that to her.)

Finally, the notes arrived for the Level 2 WSET wine course that Georgia and I are going on in the New Year.  Being a swot (Georgia, be worried!) I opened the pack with interest.  I’d like to say that I started with ‘The Wise Drinker’s Guide – Alcohol, Health and Responsible Drinking – first, because it was obviously the most important part, but that would be a lie.  It was the only booklet small enough to hold in the bath in one hand while balancing the much needed large glass of wine in the other!!

PS Here’s a quote about Champagne that will work whatever the result this afternoon.

“In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it.”  Winston Churchill

Sarah Driver

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Wine tasting ….

I have to confess that with a household full of hungry teenagers this will be a short blog.

We have recently had a wonderful holiday in Italy where we have tried several of the local wines.  Those of you who know me from previous blogs will know that I am no great expert and prefer to sit down at the end of a long day, raise a glass to my lips, take a deep swig and declare it either ‘marvelous’ or ‘horrid.’  Mark’s attempts to get me to pick up different flavours usually falls on deaf ears, and if I’m particularly tired, I have been known to respond rather tartly.

However, as a co-owner of a vineyard, even I can see that I need to have some knowledge.  My last foray in formal wine tasting, (see my blog  http://rathfinnyestate.com/estate-news/?p=668 ) ended up with me declaring tastes of ‘bubblegum’ and even ‘camphor wood chests’ – but I really am going to try.

Here is one particular wine I really liked on our holiday.

Grillo front label

However, try as I might I just could not taste the promised papayas and mangoes referred to on the label.

Grillo back label

Having grown up in Hong Kong living on papayas and mangoes I count myself as something of an expert on them, so even though I was trying to show willing, I found myself ‘arguing’ with the label!  Not a good start.

Anyway, the plan is to take a formal course so for those of you who are already experts, you may ignore my blogs.  For those of you like me, who want to learn more, we can do so together.

This is one we all liked. Mark tells me Vermentino is a grape principally grown in Sardinia. This was lovely….

Vermentino

You can follow my blogs by clicking on the link on the right!!!

Sarah Driver

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Too exciting …..

Ok, so I don’t write anything for ages and here I am pushing in with a second blog in 2 weeks!

However, whilst Mark gets excited about tanks and cross flow filters and electro dialysis (yawn!), I got really excited this week about our winery tasting room, which is taking shape. It has been a difficult room in some ways to fit out as it is long and narrow, but with the tireless help of Susie Atkinson, who has fitted out several Soho House venues, and Martin Swatton, our designer, we are nearly there.

Here’s our passage to the tasting room

tasting room hall

And our samples

tasting room samples

And our tasting room!

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The plan is to use this room to host trade tasting as well as events and it will be available for hire for off-sites, conferences and entertaining.

Finally, I then got even more excited down at the Gun Room where they are making great progress.  Look at what we found under the pebble dash ……..

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Beautiful flint walls!  What was with the pebble dash??

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(If you’re worried about the benches – they’ve been temporarily removed to keep them safe whilst this work is undertaken.)

The Rathfinny Gun Room which incorporates Alfriston’s Heritage Centre will be open in November for early Christmas shopping – did I say Christmas!?  That will probably be the next time I write a blog knowing my track record!

Sarah Driver

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Visit to Champagne

It has been another busy week here at Rathfinny, starting with a visit to Champagne.

Mark and I had an amazing tour around Taittinger getting a serious case of cellar envy!  20 metres under their main site in Reims (pronounced Rance!) are Roman chalk cellars dating back to the third century, that they call ‘crayeres’.  They are incredible, dome shaped, rising like pyramids above you to small vents at ground level.

We saw rounded caves stacked with bottles, 72,000 to be exact, that take 2 men one week to fill.  With the help of wooden bars to line up the bottles exactly, they stack them 42 levels high – any higher and too much pressure is exerted on the lower bottles.

cellar taittinger

Then there was the range of bottles that made the standard 75cl bottle look positively tiny!

bottle sizes

I learnt their names – from smallest to largest – demie, bouteille, magnum (1.5 litres, 2 bottles), Jeroboam (3 litres, 4 bottles), mathusalem (6 litres, 8 bottles), salamanzar (9 litres, 12 bottles), balthazar (12 litres, 16 bottles) and finally nabuchodonosor (15 litres, 20 bottles).

I also learnt that Taittinger are one of the only Champagne houses to age their champagne in a jeroboam.  Many others decant from smaller bottles into a jeroboam after the secondary fermentation.  Taittinger only decant into bottles bigger than a jeroboam and we saw this process with a mathusalem.

transfer method

We met Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and his son, Clovis and took on board their words of wisdom on how to market our sparkling wine all over the world.  The main messages I have taken home with me are it is hard work and attention to detail is paramount.

Back at Rathfinny there’s the winery tasting room fit out to finalise, seasonal workers’ employment contracts to draft, overseeing the Gun Room building works, preparing the winery for the delivery of the tanks, meetings with our PR agency to finalise our plans for next year, details to sort out for the winery opening, decisions to be taken on our labelling …… They were right about one thing – it is hard work!

Sarah Driver

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St Vincent’s Day Tasting

I have to apologise for not having posted a blog for months.  (Mark is leaning over me and tells me I haven’t done one since August last year!!)  He must be desperate, as he has also told me that someone has requested that I write more as I made him laugh – thank you Seaford golfer!

I could give you lots of excuses but I’ll stick to two.

  1. I’ve been doing an MA – last submission is in so only my dissertation to do over the summer.
  2. I have been working on my dyslexia campaign, which culminated in the launch of a report, The Fish in the Tree, at the House of Lords last month. If you’re interested, check out our website http://driveryouthtrust.com/?page_id=63.

I may have not been writing blogs but I have been working hard at Rathfinny.  With the able help of Georgia and Nikki we have been sourcing items to sell in our new cellar door, the Gun Room in Alfriston.  We got our last bit of planning permission yesterday – hurrah – so we should be ready to open in the autumn. The whole team has been working on designing the interior of the barns – think ‘simple, stylish hostel.’  All going well, we should be open in February next year.  I have enlisted the help of a great friend, Susie Atkinson, (http://susieatkinson.com) who has worked on many of the Soho House projects, to help with designing the interior of the Winery tasting room.  It’s a challenging shaped room, being long and narrow, but what she has come up with is exquisite.  There will be no better place to sit with a glass of sparkling wine and look upon the vineyard.

Rathfinny Winery Tasting Room

Jamie Everett has been a godsend and I have delighted in sending him all my legal files, especially those dealing with trademarks.  He has received them in good humour and is ploughing his way through all the work with good grace.

Finally, I did want to share with you an evening of wine tasting Mark and I went to in March.  It was SEVA’s (South East Vineyard Association) St Vincent Day Tasting held at Bolney Vineyard, who laid on a lovely spread.  St Vincent of Saragossa, for those of you, like me, who have never heard of him, is the patron saint of winemakers and his ‘day’ is 22nd January.

All was going well, I had a nice glass of bubbly in one hand, a canapé in the other and then they announced that the moment had come, we were to taste a selection of wines.  I can do that, I thought.  Taste, that is.  However, they handed out a formal sheet of paper upon which there were 10 rows and columns headed with things like, ‘nose’, ‘mousse’, ‘taste’, ‘grape’ and ‘country’.  It soon became apparent from the hush in the room, the serious look that descended on everyone’s face (except mine!) that something momentous was afoot.

Suffice it to say, I had a jolly time on my own and thought I’d done quite well.  I had decided to concentrate on the ‘taste’ section.  The only thing is that no one else seemed to have written down anything like my comments.  They quickly looked bemused when I proudly suggested flavours of ‘bubblegum’, ‘tutti frutti’ and ‘camphorwood chests’ (which I was particularly proud to have come up with).  From my notes I have also written ‘crushed up cornflake and a chappati’ but can’t imagine what sort of wine tasted like that!  Anyway the good news is that none of the wines were English!  I very quickly learnt that the best approach was to look wise, nod a lot and purse my lips knowingly.

Right!  Done!  I’m thinking Mark won’t let me write another blog after this!!

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I’m in charge! (Just don’t tell Mark!)

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With Mark sailing the high seas, I am in charge!  When I pointed this out to him a look of horror crossed his face.  “But Sarah,” he said, “you’re not allowed to make any decisions!”  Well, if you’re reading this Mark as you lounge in the sun, I am doing nothing but taking decisions, decisions, decisions!!  The first of which was to have a staff party at the end of the summer to celebrate all our hard work.  In fact, I’ve now appointed myself Director of Social Events and Liz and I are drawing up an exciting list of future dates.

It made me smile, and I am sure there are women out there who will know what I mean when I say – bless, and he thinks he’s made all those decisions on his own.  For some reason I am reminded of a card we have framed at home.

Husband: Do you know in all the years we’ve been married, I’ve never won an argument.

Wife: Yes, darling.  That’s because you’ve never been right!

Anyway, I digress.  If you have heard very little from me over the past month, it’s because life has been busy.  At Rathfinny, I’ve been plowing through all the legal paperwork that goes with employment, building contracts, registering trade marks both here and abroad, health and safety to say nothing of dealing with branding and PR.  I’m also working with Martin, our designer, on the fit out of the tasting room in the winery as well as starting to think about developing an outlet for our Sparkling Wine.  In relation to that, I’m having fun visiting local artists and suppliers with a view to stocking their goods, to complement our wines.  Oh, nearly forgot.  I’ve also been involved in the landscaping aspects of the new winery – inspired after our trip to South Africa earlier this year and am beginning to concentrate on the fitting out aspects of our Flint Barns, the planning permission for which has just gone in. Setting up a new business has certainly thrown more my way than I ever expected!

One of my highlights though has been working with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park on establishing the Rathfinny Trail, a walk that will take people across our land, through the vineyards and up to the Flint Barns where it is hoped they will be able to enjoy a cup of tea and a scone, or even a glass of bubbly.  Richard James, the Park Ranger, and I walked the route a few weeks ago and I got a foretaste of what’s on offer as he talked me through the rare flowers, told me about bees and enlightened me on the habits of the lark.  Watch this space for an opening date.

I was going to write about the employment debates we are having at the moment and my plans for writers’ retreats, but it will have to wait until next time.  By then, I’ll have made a million more decisions Mark!

Finally, we’ve just produced our third newsletter and you can find it here

http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/download/Rathfinnynewsletter.pdf

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