Rathfinny Wine Estate

A poor year for English grapes?

We are all putting on brave faces this year but we have to admit that so far it has been a horrible year for English grapes.

Just to recap – After a very warm, dry March (the third warmest on record), we had the coldest (for 23 years) and wettest April on record. May was cold then very warm so was average overall, but better in the north than the south. June turned out to be the wettest dullest month on record. June is a key month for grape growers, the vines normally flower in June but with 145mm of rain, which is twice the normal average, any flowers would have been washed off and it was cold and windy as well. So April – June 2012 turned out to be the wettest period since records began in 1910.

Hosepipe bans were abandoned as reservoirs were replenished and July wasn’t much better. As temperatures dipped and the heating was turned on people were asking whether we would ever have a summer. Luckily, the end of July and early August has turned out to be a little warmer.

So this year has not followed the trend of recent years for hotter and hotter English summers. However, as my kids always point out ‘it’s not global warming but climate change, Dad.’ And the statistics back that up.

Did you know that in June 2012 the average surface temperatures in the northern hemisphere hit an all-time high, 1.3°C above average!

What’s more globally the average land surface temperature for June 2012 was also the all-time highest on record, at 1.07°C above average. The global average surface temperature for January–June 2012 was the 11th warmest on record, at 0.52°C above the 20th century average.

The trouble is that whilst Austria basked in record 37.7°C heat and experienced its warmest June since records began 250 years ago, the average UK temperature was 0.3°C (0.5°F) below the 1971–2000 average, making this the coolest June since 1991.

You won’t have to tell the Americans this. July 2012 was the hottest July in north America since their records began. And the Greenland ice sheet melted at such an alarming pace that scientists couldn’t believe the data.

According to the NOAA what they call an ‘anomaly’ has not just affected Great Britain but the whole of northern Europe. Norway had one of the coldest Junes on record and northern France was also suffered.

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At Rathfinny the biggest problem has been the wind. You normally get the odd summer storm, which whistles up the English Channel. Remember the Fastnet yacht races, which were devastated in 1979 and 2007? This year we had several storms and the winds seem to have been unrelenting. This is not great news for young vines, which stop growing when the wind picks-up. We planted trees as wind breaks in 2010 but they are still too immature to have any effect.

So our vines are still growing and are doing okay but should be a lot bigger. However, I feel sorry for other more established English vineyards that are likely to have very poor year and low crop yields. Of course we could all be saved by a scorching August and September. But the message is to look to the long term, the UK is still a beneficiary of ‘climate change’ and it is likely that next year will follow the trend of the last twenty years and be another scorcher.

In the meantime with a lot of hard work led by Cameron, David, Felix and Ian the trellising work is now nearly complete. We have a vineyard…

Read Mark's Article

Crystals in your wine sir? – Cold stabilisation and electrodialysis.

I first came across this problem in the mid 1990’s when someone gave me a bottle of Slovenian white wine which must have spent a few days on a frozen lorry travelling across Europe to get to the UK. Tiny crystals of Potassium bitartrate had formed in the bottom of the bottle. It didn’t affect the taste it just made the last drop a bit crunchy!

Don’t be offended if you find crystals in a still white or rose wine, it is not a fault per se, and it might even show that the wine was made in a more “natural” way.  Crystals also do not impact on the organoleptic qualities of the wine: they are just tartrates.

However, at Rathfinny we are talking about sparkling wine. The presence of crystals in a bottle of sparkling wine is pretty much a disaster.

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Combine dissolved CO2 and tartrate crystals and you have a gushing wine fountain, not as spectacular as what one can see at the Formula 1 podium, but sometimes such bottles can lose half of their contents.

[My wife, Sarah, says unless you’re a chemistry bore – stop reading now!]

Tartaric acid is naturally present in grapes. So is Potassium. Both can combine, and while the resulting salt is soluble in grape juice or ‘must’, it becomes insoluble when alcohol is present, and crystals will form at lower temperatures.

What the winemaker will normally do to protect the wine is called “cold stabilization”: different techniques can be used that ensure these crystals will not develop in the wine after it is in the bottle.

The most normal method adopted is to cool the wine down to -4Celcius for a number of days or weeks in order for the crystals to form and drop out of the wine. The wine can then be bottled and is deemed to be “cold stabile”.  However, this requires huge amounts of electricity to reduce the temperature of the tanks of wine to the required temperature and keep it at that temperature for the required length of time. Another method, which we are considering is ‘electrodialysis’.

Sounds high tech? A little bit: Electrodialysis is a technique of separation through membranes of positively charged elements (cations) and negatively charged elements (anions) under electric current. Membranes will let through either cations or anions. It will remove principally tartaric acid, charged negatively, and Potassium, charged positively.

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The whole process is automatic; there is a simple test that has to be done for each wine to determine how the unit is going to run, since each batch of wine is different and unique in its composition.

Why would one choose electrodialysis over more classic cold stabilization techniques?

Well, each technique has pros and cons. For example, the technique using cold temperatures to bring the wine below freezing temperature, will initiate crystallisation in a tank. The crystals will be sticking to the wall and to the bottom of the tank, then the wine will be gently transferred into another tank, without crystals. Cream of tartar (basically, crystals of potassium bitartrate) can be added to the wine to enhance and speed up crystallisation. And as stated earlier this technique is highly demanding in energy and requires lots of cleaning of tanks!

On the other hand Electrodialysis can run continuously, does not require a lot of energy, is safe, precise, does not affect the wine’s qualities, does not require additives of any sort… it requires some chemicals, and some water. All effluents will go directly into our wastewater treatment plant.

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We are still investigating if this is something we want, but it looks like it might be a pretty good option for us down the line.

Read Mark's Article

What grapevines clones to plant in the UK?

Many people have been asking me what grape varieties we have planted? Choosing the variety is the easy part the real problem is choosing which clone. Choosing a grapevine clone is like choosing a rose bush, you know you want a red rose, but what size of flower, when do you want the flower to bloom and do you want it to have a fragrance? The same decisions face the vineyard owner.

That is the problem that I faced, when I had just started my course, in October 2010 when I ordered our first set of vines. What clones to choose? I knew I wanted to plant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier for sparkling wine and I’d taken a rash decision to plant out some Riesling for still wine, principally because I like it and I believed that it would do very well at Rathfinny.

I had already worked out what rootstock to use, that was a relatively easy decision.  It had to be Fercal or 41B because these rootstocks have a high tolerance of alkaline soils ie chalk, which we are on.  As we have a little more topsoil than some, we could use Fercal instead of 41B, as it is deeper rooting.  In addition, Fercal promotes early ripening. All of that I could work out in Plumpton College library.  What I could not get enough information about was the difference between the various clones of the chosen varieties.

In other parts of the world what your granddaddy planted, and what your neighbour planted and found to work, is what is planted. In the UK we are still pioneering, we have no history to our vineyards. What little we have over the last thirty years was ruined slightly by planting rather obscure German varieties.  Some have done well, like Bacchus, others have not and in some instances make very interesting tasting wine! With the improving climate I was confident that we could ripen classic grape varieties but needed all the help we could from choosing the correct clones. Unfortunately, all the consultants told me different things so I had to do my own research.

Like most vineyard owners we are looking for really good quality fruit with good aromas and flavours, fruit with a good balance of sugar levels and acidity, and in the UK you need clones that ripen early. I also believed that you needed to find clones that produce open clusters (space in between the berries). Having spent a few weeks picking fruit at Plumpton College during a warm but wet September you see the effect of damp on ripe grapes! You get horrendous grey rot, and not the noble good stuff. So I wanted open clusters, which would enable preventative sprays to get into the cluster or bunches, but also allow the fruit to dry out after rain to reduce the risk of botrytis rot.

This is what I chose and we have planted in 2012: –

Chardonnay clones planted are 75 & 76 (both Dijon clones and they are in many ways very similar) and 95, which is one of the most widely planted Champagne clones; it is a higher yielding clone. Lastly, 809, which was originally isolated at the University of Dijon in Burgundy.  This relatively new clone is known for its intense floral/tropical nose and rich mouth feel and it is often described as having Muscat-like overtones.

Pinot Noir Clones Planted – 

GM 1-47 – Is one of the most popular open cluster clones planted in Germany. It produces wonderful fruit and a medium yield. GM 20-13 – This clone produces smaller berries and so is lower yielding but has great fruit and open clusters. GM 2-6 – Is a higher yielding Pinot Noir clone, however, it also produces more open clusters. A2107– This clone also produces open clusters. Is it a medium yielding clone.

The Pinot Meunier clones planted – We36 – Meunier clone that produces modest yields and We292, a lower yielding clone. Both of these are open cluster clones reducing botrytis risk.  

The Riesling clones planted – GM 198-25 – A classic Riesling clone with more open clusters, great fruit and lower yields and acidity. GM 239–20 claims to be a more aromatic clone producing both the typical Riesling terpenes such as linalool, nerol and geraniol, which produce the rose scents and considerable amounts of a-terpineol and beta-terpineol, which is more lily of the valley and citronellol (lemon and geranium). It is a more complex clone producing medium yields.

A lot of this information was gleaned from winegrowers websites, the Kimmig and Co, nursery we dealt with in Germany and Traubenshow (a German viticulture website), you need Google translate with this one!

Next year we have chosen to plant some more of the same clones as well as some other Geisenheim (GM clones) and no they are not genetically modified. Geisenheim is a research university who have worked hard to breed clones with specific characteristics, like open clusters. We are also trying some other French Pinot Noir clones and Chardonnay clones from Burgundy. One of which is spectacular and produces some of the most beautiful fruit we have tasted, the French didn’t want to sell it to us, it’s that good! More on that next year!

So by the end of 2013 we will have worked out what really works at Rathfinny. Then we can plant out more of the same on the remaining 120 hectares (300 acres).

Read Mark's Article

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

Read Sarah's Article

Do you want a job – Study Wine Production at Plumpton College

If you are thinking about what to do with the rest of your life, or advising someone what to study at university, then think about studying wine.

I just handed in my final piece of college work on Monday of this week, a twelve-page analysis on wine sensory evaluation. Last week, after spending many frustrated hours shouting at my computer, I handed in the last of the posters I have had to produce this year, this one was on budburst of UK grown grapevine cultivars. Despite my almost luddite aversion to technology, my poor concentration span and the complete lack of knowledge about plants, soils, vines and wine production, the last two years studying Wine Production at Plumpton College have been absolutely brilliant.

Two years ago, I knew I liked wine. I’d drunk a lot of it, but I had no idea how it was produced, I could barely remember the biology I was taught at school, and chemistry was a very distant memory.

Over the last two years, we have been taught grapevine biology, chemistry and botany and soil science. We have learnt about different wines and spirits of the world, which involved lots of tasting! We spent many days in the college vineyards picking grapes, pruning vines, fixing trellising and planting vines. We learnt about different trellising systems and how to identify the various pests and diseases that affect grapevines. This year we have learnt how to make wine and we spent a day a week in the college winery, pressing grapes, racking and fermenting, fining, filtering, blending and bottling, and recently disgorging, corking and labeling the college wines ready for sale.

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Earth filtering in the Plumpton College winery

Plumpton College is the only place in the UK that you can study wine production or wine business and the courses are excellent.

More importantly, if you can learn about wine and wine production YOU could be involved in a whole new emerging wine industry in the UK.

At Rathfinny we will be employing over thirty full time skilled people to work in our vineyards and winery. We need people with the skills necessary to tend the vines, make wine and sell it. We are not alone. There are various other vineyards being established in the South East of England who also require skilled staff.

I expect very strong growth in the English wine industry – there are even some crazy people growing grapes in walled gardens near Sheffield!

The simple facts are that we import over 1.8 billion bottles of wine per annum. We consume nearly 5 million bottles per day. However, we only produce about 5 million bottles per annum in the UK! Our climate has improved and with the right skills we could make more and even better quality wine. In particular we are now making some of the best quality sparkling wine in the world. Last week, Sam Linter at Bolney Vineyard won a ‘Gold Outstanding’ award for their Chardonnay Sparkling in the International Wine and Spirits Competition beating the likes of Moet and Taittinger. In fact English wine producers have won more awards for their sparkling wine than any other country in the world over the last eight years.

So if you want a job, learn about wine. This is a whole new and exciting industry that requires enthusiastic, skilled people.

Link to the Plumpton College website: http://www.plumpton.ac.uk/courselist.aspx?PageClass=Course&DepartmentID=46&DepartmentName=Wine

Read Mark's Article

Budburst at Rathfinny?

Now I’m a farmer I spend a lot of time looking at the weather. We have had over 130mm (5 inches) of rain since we planted our vines at the end of March! That’s nothing compared to Liscombe in Somerset; they had over 290mm of rain in April alone!

Not so much April showers as an April deluge. In fact it was the wettest April on record, with more than double the normal rainfall. It has also been very cold, the coldest April since 1989, March was the warmest on record, April the wettest, what is going on?

The rain was very welcome but the cold has delayed the vines bursting into life or what vineyard managers call “Budburst”. We are starting to get a few buds elongating but no green shoots.

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However, in between the showers Cameron, David, Felix, Jordon and Ian have been able to get some posts in the ground. They are averaging about 200 a day, which means we will hopefully have all the trellising up by the end of July!

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Jordon get your hat on!!

Try and watch The Apprentice (BBC1) next Wednesday 16th when the two competing teams are tasked with developing a website and marketing strategy for English sparkling wine. It should be interesting.

Jonathan Medard is off in Epernay this week looking at more winery equipment and we are close to agreeing the final specification of the winery so it can go out to tender in June.

I must get back to my college books, one exam down, one to go and two assignments to hand in. Then I can focus on the building work again.

Mark

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What is the government deficit?

The government has cut it’s borrowing by 11 billion pounds!” the BBC news presenter proudly announced.

I was so incensed by this comment that I heard on BBC radio last week that I had to write this blog to correct it. So forgive me for not talking about the 80mm of rain we have had since the drought was announced (!), or show you pictures of our new post basher at work or even show you pictures of some of the winery equipment we have been looking at. Instead I thought I’d give a little lesson in government accounts and explain what George Osbourne means by cutting the deficit.

The other reason is that I was shocked when I recently went into my eldest son’s old school to address the lower sixth and asked them this question, “how many of you believe that when George Osbourne says ‘we are cutting the deficit’ we are reducing the amount of debt?” Nearly half the hands went up, so here goes.

The fact is that we haven’t cut our borrowing by £11bn. We actually had to borrow a further £126 billion in the financial year 2011/12, which is £11billion less than we had to borrow in same period in 2010/11. So the government has reduced the deficit, which is the difference between what the government spends and what they raise in taxes to cover that spending but they still had to borrow a huge amount of money to cover that shortfall or deficit (see the chart below).

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Last year, total government spending actually grew by more that £20 billion to £703 billion, against revenues of about £580 billion, and the forecast is that government spending will rise by a further £20bn, every year, for the next three years. However, the hope is that revenues will grow at a faster pace so our deficit will fall.

So government borrowing has not fallen but risen to over £1022 billion, which is the equivalent of 66% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the total size of the UK economy. GDP gives a measure for how we, in the UK, can repay that debt. When you go to get a mortgage you can normally borrow about four times your income. When you look at a whole economy a Debt to GDP level of more than 60% has historically been seen as risky, but that depends on various factors including: The state of the economy – is it growing or contracting? Do we the consumers save a lot of our earnings? What rate of interest we pay on that debt?

The last of these is the most important factor and the most difficult to predict. Interest rates are set by the lender and in the case of a government that is the international money markets. If those lenders see greater risk to lending more money to the UK because they can’t see a coherent strategy to bring down the deficit whilst maintaining the economy, then they might demand a higher rate of interest on government debt to compensate for the risk that they may not get paid back on time. If the interest rate that the government pays rises then mortgage rates will rise and that can set off a vicious cycle, where higher mortgage rates may slow the economy and force house prices down. So we end up with lower tax revenues, so more debt will be needed to cover the short fall between government spending and revenue i.e. the deficit.

So it’s a confidence game. Showing the international money markets that you can and are aiming to reduce your debt but at the same time maintaining spending and government services. It’s like negotiating with the bank manager for an overdraft.

Don’t be fooled by those who say we can spend our way out of this. We are already spending way beyond our means. Government expenditure has more than doubled over the last twelve years from £338bn to £703bn and will rise further. We have to tackle the deficit before we lose the confidence of our lenders and interest rates rise as they have done in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and more recently Spain.

So don’t panic, keep calm and carry on…

We are busy putting in our trellising posts, I’ll post some pictures soon. I’m off to write up a project for Plumpton College.

Read Mark's Article

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.

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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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What a week!

We are just starting to recover from a fabulous but ‘oh so busy’ planting week, which saw us all up at 4.30 am last Monday – yes, including the teenagers – waiting for the sun to rise in time to film BBC Breakfast.  There was a sense of great expectation as we nursed hot cups of tea in the chilly, breaking dawn and then it was all hands on deck.

Volker and his family, ably assisted by Cameron and our newest member of the team, David, got to work planting the vines in even, GPS directed rows and Mark set to with the media.  Nikki, Liz, Georgia (have I told you I had PA envy and have now got one of my own? – my long suffering friend, Georgia) and I made more cups of tea, ferried the press to and from Polegate station and around the farm and that was really how it was all week, with a few family ‘must-do’s’ thrown in like the obligatory holiday dentist trips and forced revision sessions.

It culminated on Saturday in the most fantastic way with close friends and local villagers joining us to plant their own individual vines and to share in a hog roast.  The ‘close friends’ were roped in, along with all the kids and their respective partners, in making the day a great success.  The video below says it all.

There are too many people to thank but (yet another old friend) Mary Jackson was our artist in residence that week, sketching and painting(http://www.newenglishartclub.co.uk/artists_pages/jackson_mary.asp?art=58) and Jenny of Complete Bliss (www.completebliss.net) (yes, you guessed it – another close friend) provided amazing food on the day, Liz (“run ragged”) who did a fantastic job all week keeping everyone fed and watered and Nikki, Cameron’s wife, who made teas and coffees whilst ferrying her kids to school and back, and was generally a rock all week – thank you one and all.

Sarah Driver

A selection of photos from Saturday.

PS… Please send any other photos of the planting party day to Liz atinfo@rathfinnyestate.com

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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.

Read Mark's Article

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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Countdown to planting – 1 week to go

“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.

Madame Bollinger, quoted in the Daily Telegraph.

Here’s a scary thought.  Although most Champagne houses were established by mad men, they end up being run by their spouses!  Bollinger, Verve Clicquot and Pommery to name but a few.  Watch out!

I am sneaking in a quick blog before next week’s planting and all the experts take over with talk about vines and temperatures and GPS planting – watch this space!

In anticipation of this great event, we have had our pictures taken.  This involved Liz and I waking at 6am to decide whether we were going ‘country’ or ‘executive’ – suffice it to say, we look neither!  A lovely photographer, Ben (female) arrived to be toId by me that “I hate my photo being taken and I’m really un-photogenic.”  Everyone says that, she answered with a laugh.  An hour or so later, she was trying to remain enthusiastic.  “Would you like to borrow my lipstick?” she asked.  “Really? That bad?”  She grimaced.  “Don’t you do make up?” she enquired, to which I informed her that, for me, I had so much make-up on that Mark had looked slightly twitchy when I appeared first thing in the morning.  Anyway, Ben has promised that I will look gorgeous and about 23, so I’m feeling very relaxed about the results – not!

It has been a succession of contracts and quotes over the past few weeks, with our main quote to all our consultants reiterating that we will not be earning anything until at least 2016 and so can they take the pain with us.  Not a desperately compelling argument, but one which most (I am happy to say) seem to accept, mainly it seems because of the sheer excitement and enthusiasm wine seems to evoke.  (At this point, I thank them all from the bottom of my heart, if not my purse, and promise that when we are seeing the profits of our work, they too, will see them flow their way.)

Promised a trip to South Africa, shallow as I am, the thought of a holiday in the sun with a book by a pool, ensured that I immediately became suddenly keen on the whole wine business.  It was not to be that quiet, relaxing trip of self indulgence.  I have to say though, I had the most fantastic time, despite inspecting 15 different wineries and I mean, really inspecting down to the drainage system, the benefits of different types of tanks and I can even tell you what the different stages of treating waste water are.  I have our charming and ever patient consultant, Gerard De Villiers (don’t even think of building a winery without asking this man!) to thank.

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Mark and Gerard inspecting waste water treatment at Hidden Valley

We were completely bowled over by the generosity of the wine people over there.  In particular, Louis Strydom, winemaker from Ernie Els (my favourite tasting experience), Cathy Grier Brewer from Villiera who supply M&S, Morne Very the wine maker at the exquisite Delaire Graff Estate and Pieter Ferreira at Graham Beck who graciously gave us two hours of his time after a sleepless night on a busy, picking day. Thank you all.

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The view from Ernie Els Winery

Wine – How Hard Can It Be?

I have decided to do a simple section every so often on my learning experience.  As the TV says, for those of you who know even a bit about wine, turn away from the screen now.  I am a complete beginner, so this will not be for you and will only be humiliating for me!

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far from my first experience of tasting wine, in South Africa.

  • There are many different grapes which give wines their different tastes. (I told you I knew nothing!)
  • Often, these different grapes are mixed together in different amounts – blended.
  • Chardonnay – I like this and learnt to recognise that it has a ‘smoky’ flavour, brought about by being aged (stored) in barrels of oak.
  • Oak – US oak gives vanilla flavours, French oak gives a different flavour, but I can’t remember what!  (I heard someone say this, but Mark says it’s completely wrong!  He says American oak grows more quickly and therefore the grain gives a more pronounced flavour, whilst French oak tends to have ‘tighter’ grains and is therefore more subtle. Confused?!
  • Sauvignon Blanc – I didn’t like it, describing it rather proudly as having a ‘vinegar taste,’ – which didn’t go down terribly well with the lady serving it!

Right.  Time to stop.  I’m feeling incredibly excited but also nervous about the next few weeks. Having vines growing in the ground will make this project so much more real and will be a daily reminder of the changes we have undertaken in our lives.

Sarah

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Our winemaker has arrived….

I am delighted to announce that our winemaker, Jonathan Médard has arrived with his wife Lisa and lovely dog Brix.

Hailing from Epernay in the heart of Champagne, Winemaker Jonathan Médard brings a wealth of international experience to Rathfinny Estate. Upon receiving a degree in biochemistry and a master’s in Oenology (Université de Reims), he trained in wineries of the likes of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Champagne Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon, and Champagne Boizel prior to honing his expertise in California and Virginia at Newton Vineyard and Kluge Estate, respectively. An alum of the University of California at Davis’ Wine Executive program and fluent in three languages, Jonathan was most recently Vice President of Winemaking for up and coming Central Coast California winery, Conway Family Wines. He is excited to return to his sparkling roots with Rathfinny.

Jonathan will oversee the building of the winery and be choosing the equipment needed to make our sparkling wine.

With planting just four weeks away everything is getting very exciting at Rathfinny.

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Jonathan & Lisa Médard and Brix

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