Rathfinny Wine Estate

How Snow Globes changed my life!

For those of you who regularly read this blog, you will note that I have not featured on it since my early blogs when it started, just over a year ago.

As the long suffering wife of Mark, I thought I had deftly sorted the problem of having a ‘retired’ husband aged 46 hanging around at home all day.  To the cries from my friends of ‘we’ll have a snitch among us, relaying our every move to our husbands’ – I came up with a cunning plan. Enthusiastically support his bizarre idea to go back to college full time to study ‘viticulture’ (what’s that?) for 2 years and to buy a farm and plant a vineyard.  Problem solved.

However, what that’s they say about the best-laid plans?  At first it seemed quite amusing – 5am discussions about the number of snail species on the South Downs – did you know or care that there are over a 100?  No, well neither did I.  Then there were the hours of shouting at the computer to contend with as he tackled wine posters and modern technology, combined with proof reading essays on vine moths (I live in a household of dyslexics) and long (one sided) conversations on the intricacies of malolactic fermentation (don’t ask!)

All of this I could just about cope with along with 4 children (don’t believe anyone when they say they get easier with age,) an MA of my own and a part time job devising an education programme for dyslexic children but then there was the vineyard to contend with.  In an earlier life I was a city solicitor for my sins and whilst I was whispering ‘are we insured,’ ‘have you asked a lawyer?’ and ‘where’s the contract?’ I started to find things creeping onto my desk. CV’s, employment contracts, planning papers (what do they say in Harry Potter – he who must not be named!), trade mark applications – the list went on and on.  Pillow talk took on a new meaning as every issue to do with the vineyard passed over it.

It came to a head in December as Mark waved yet another pile of ‘can you just’ jobs at me as I was dishing up dinner.  Admittedly I had had a day pretty much to myself, which meant I’d fitted in a yoga class and had a quick sandwich with some mates but I was reaching the end of my tether.  As we were dishing out jobs, I pointed out that not one Christmas present had been bought by him to say nothing of the million and one jobs in the house that had somehow made the way to the bottom of his never ending list.

That’s when I brought out my piece de resistance!  I had purchased some particularly tacky snow globes for each of our 4 children.  All I needed was for a delightful picture of us happily together to be found, printed off and put in each one.  Once that was done – I would happily look at the waving pile of paperwork.

Suffice it to say, it was a particularly difficult negotiation which saw the usual cycle of husband:wife arguments – shouting, silence, sulking, more shouting, apology (he’s good at that), compromise and peace.

The upshot is – I am now ‘in’ having agreed to devote 2 full days a week to developing our vineyard, dedicated time to concentrate on all the issues and to be appreciated and acknowledged for having done so.

Oh – did I say that he promised me a fabulous trip to South Africa to tour vineyards?!  More on this in my next blog!

PS.  Actually, the snow globes job never was completed.

PPS. Maybe we just didn’t have a happy picture of us as a couple to go in the snowglobes?? You’d think we would – we’ve been married 25 years this July!!

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Read Sarah's Article

Rathfinny Winery planning application approved

It has been a long and at times arduous process but we have finally got our planning application for the Winery at Rathfinny approved!!!

We have spent most of the last year, using consultants from all over the world, designing the Winery and the plans have finally been approved.  What is significant is that it was approved as an agricultural building. Agricultural determination was very important not only to us but for the future of the English Wine Industry, as it now sets the precedent for all future Wineries in England.

Wineries need to be built as close to the Vineyard as possible to reduce damage to the grapes. If our Winery had been classified as an industrial building I am not sure we would have got the permission, especially as we are in a National Park.

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However, they have not only granted permission for the Winery they have also approved the building of a small solar site behind the Winery to help reduce our carbon footprint and the establishment of a waste water treatment plant located behind the grain barns. This will enable Rathfinny to get closer to our goal of being sustainable on energy and water usage.

The first vines arrive in just seven weeks time so the clock is ticking and we need to get the Winery built by the summer of 2013 so we are ready for our first harvest

I wish to thank all those who have given their support, both written and verbal, to these plans especially those in our local community of Alfriston, who have not only been so welcoming, but enthusiastic about the project.

Thank you.

Read Mark's Article

English Sparkling Wine outsells Champagne at top London Restaurant

We heard some really encouraging news over the Christmas period.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Marcus Waring’s recently opened London restaurant, Sir Gilbert Scott, is now selling more glasses of English sparking wine than Moët et Chandon, theChampagne region’s biggest global brand.

“When I first put English sparkling wine on my wine lists five years ago, people were scared,” said Mark Cesareo, head sommelier at the Sir Gilbert Scott, which stocks three English sparklers. “The people who were most averse were the English themselves while tourists and even French people wanted to try it.

“Now I stock three English wines by the glass, Gusbourne, Ridgeview and Nyetimber. If I sell 10 cases of Moët a week, I will do six of Gusbourne, five of Ridgeview and three of Nyetimber.”

According to a recent Wine Intelligence consumer report published in Decanter magazine, 15 million out of 25 million people in the UK who consume sparkling wine more than once a year have tried English Sparkling Wine and “English sparkling wine growth has been phenomenal (in 2011), and the product appears to be familiar to a much wider group than we had previously thought.”

Berry Brothers and Rudd have reported a 50% growth in English Sparkling Wine sales and Waitrose reported that sales of English Sparkling Wine grew by almost a third in 2011. In the three months to Christmas sparkling wine sales at Waitrose grew by 26% compared to the same period in 2010.

Coupled with this is the news that Ridgeview is now selling 20% of its production overseas into the US, Finland, Japan and Hong Kong.

Remember that we still import over 35 million bottles of Champagne and we only produce 2-3 million bottles of English sparkling wine per annum.

It was a good Christmas and New Year for English wine producers and given the quality and value to be had in English Sparkling Wine it has a very bright future as well.

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Since when was a Winery not an agricultural building?

We have just submitted our planning application for the Winery at Rathfinny.

I have to admit that it has been a very frustrating and tortuous process and despite considerable local support for the whole project, it was touch and go as to whether we would be allowed to build a Winery on the site at all.

The problem was not the design or because of local objections but because we hit a brick wall with the planning authorities. They refused to accept that a Winery is an agricultural building, despite legal precedent (Millington v Sec. of State 1999 – a case that went all the way to the Court of Appeal) and our own expensive legal opinion stating that it is.  The local district council and the South Downs National Park Planning Authority were insisting that we apply for planning permission for the Winery as an industrial building.

How could a Winery not be an agricultural building? If we grew apples we could process those apples in an agricultural building. If we had cows we could milk them in an agricultural building. We store and dry our grain in an agricultural building. Our vineyard will produce grapes to make wine, so the building that processes those grapes, the Winery, must be an agricultural building. Yet the planning authorities were insisting that a Winery is like a chip factory.  But the analogy is completely wrong. If you grow potatoes, the end product is a potato, so making chips or crisps from those potatoes may be considered an industrial process. We aren’t making chips we aim to produce top quality sparkling wine, which is the end product from the grapes that will grow in our vineyard.

However, we have finally met a planning officer at the South Downs National Park who recognises that a Winery is an agricultural building and has confirmed that we can apply for the Winery on that basis.

And what a beautiful building it will be. The first phase will be largely sunk into an old silage clamp allowing us to use gravity to drop our grapes into the presses and move juice into the fermentation tanks. The grass roof has the same profile as the land behind and will be planted with South Downland grasses so the whole building will blend into the landscape.

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The Winery will be built next to the existing grain stores, which we intend to re-clad with locally sourced oak and then re-use as wine stores for bottle aging our sparkling wine. The cattle barn beyond will be replaced in 2016 with the second phase of the winery, which will house a barrel room, wine store and vineyard equipment store. Eventually we will replace the old grain dryer to provide further bottle storage in 2018 by which time we will have planted out over 400 acres.

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We are really pleased that the planning authorities are now considering the application as an agricultural building.  Our fear was that we would have to go all the way to the High Court to get this planning application through, which would have certainly delayed and could have stopped the whole project and potentially affected the growth of the English wine industry in its tracks.

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It does seem to be absurd that, particularly in the current economic climate, that we have to jump through so many hurdles to get planning permission for an agricultural building that, together with the other buildings at Rathfinny will provide full time jobs for 30 skilled people and seasonal work for nearly 200, to say nothing of the ‘knock on’ jobs created in the area. Personally I think the English wine industry will see significant growth over the next ten years and could provide much needed employment on the South Downs, with the benefits to the local and wider economy. Just as an aside, the Champagne region which has over 32,500 hectares under vines and produces over 400 million bottles of sparkling wine per annum provides full time employment for over 5000 people and seasonal employment for a further 100,000 people.

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So we are pleased that the South Downs National Park is sticking to its stated goal of seeking “to foster the economic and social well-being of the local communities within the National Park”.

We have just ordered more vines for planting in 2013 and we will be publishing a newsletter shortly.

Read Mark's Article

English Grape Harvest 2011

It was half term last week and we were going to take the kids to Cornwall for a few days but the weather forecast was so dreadful, strong winds and very heavy rain, so we decided to stay at home instead and do some things in London.

We went up to see the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Tate Modern, which was fantastic, moody, modern paintings, really worth a visit. We also went for a long walk in a very dry and dusty Richmond Park and it reminded me how little rain we have had this year.

I checked the weather station at Rathfinny when I got back and noted that year to date, we have had only 371mm of rain. We normally get an average of 800mm of rain every year. You can see the effects of this everywhere. The oak trees in Richmond Park are all under water stress, there were huge quantities of acorns under every tree. The lake in the middle of the park was very low and the birds where wading not swimming on the top. The Thames is also very low. We live close to Richmond lock, which marks the last non-tidal section of the Thames. At low tide the river beyond is so shallow that you can see birds wading in the middle of the river by Isleworth.

Not only has it been dry this year, it has also been wet at some of the wrong times for grape-growers. Although the warm, dry September and October was welcome, the wet June and July was not good news. This is flowering time for grapevines, which are wind-pollinated plants and the rain caused poor flower set. This coupled with a late frost in May, which hurt many vineyards in South East England, has led to small harvests this year. Some vineyards have recorded yields down more than 50%.

However, it is not all bad news. The very dry, hot spring we experienced meant that most vineyards in England experienced a very early start and, coupled with the hot dry end to the summer, the quality of fruit coming out of English vineyards has been excellent. As part of my course, I have been working in the Plumpton College Winery over the last few months and the grapes that have been coming in have very little botrytis and have very high sugar levels. It is will be a good year for the quality but not for the quantity of English wine.

It just all goes to demonstrate that wine making is an agricultural process and, looking ahead you know that no two years will be the same. As Gerhard Richter said about his landscape paintings, which he considered to be ‘untruthful’ because they glorify nature, ‘nature is always against us’.

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Now that the planning application for the Winery has been submitted and accepted as an agricultural building I promise to talk about it very soon.

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Vines in the Nursery

Cameron and I spent the week before last travelling across Europe looking at vines in nurseries for planting in 2013. The first stop was the Kimmig-Schwarz Nursery nears Worms in Germany, where with some trepidation, we went to look at the vines we had ordered in November 2010 for planting in April 2012.

We had ordered 72,000 vines, a mixture of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Riesling and Pinot Gris. All grafted onto Fercal rootstock, which is very resistant to high calcium levels, which are prevalent in the chalky soils of the Southdown’s. They are tall stemmed or high grafted vines and they look fantastic.

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Vines In the Nursery.

Although the nursery was affected by the late frost in early May 2011 our vines were not and they are looking so healthy. However, the real bonus for us was to see how well high-grafted vines do, both in the nursery and in the early years. I really feel that these high stemmed vines will not only be able to keep the buds away from rabbits, but because the vine will reach the fruiting wire on the trellis in year one, we will get a crop in year two.

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One year old Vines – Planted March 2011

We visited one nearby vineyard to see their two-year-old vines. They had recently been machine harvested and appeared to have had 10-12 bunches per vine. This could be 1.5-2kg of fruit per vine.

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Two year old Vines – Planted March 2010

We then headed off to visit two further nurseries in France. Unfortunately, we had written down the wrong address for the second nursery, so eleven hours later we arrived in Vix, near La Rochelle. However, it was worth the trip, we had a very interesting day meeting the head of research at Mercier and looking at high grafted vines in their nurserys. We have decided to try a few new clones for our second year planting.

On the way back we dropped in to visit the Laurent Perrier winery in Epernay. They had already harvested but it was really good to look at the vineyard equipment and the vineyards. We were also shown evidence of Esca in some of the vineyards in Champagne. This is a vine disease which is becoming more prevalent in different parts of Europe, particularly France and Spain and is a concern for English Vineyards at the moment.

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Esca in a Vineyard in Champagne

We also found some very good equipment in Germany that we will be buying for the vineyard, more on that later.

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English Sparkling Wine

I think Peter Hall of our neighboring vineyard Breaky Bottom summed it up very nicely in Decanter magazine:

“What’s wrong (with the name) English Sparkling Wine?” as he goes on to say. “Lets call it what it is. In English. They are beautiful words. ‘Wine’ may be a common noun, but it has a long, reverberate historical trajectory: the polyvalent adjective ‘English’ has been yoked to it, with increasing success, for half a century of more; and ‘Sparkling’ is an exuberant and lustrous adjective in its own right, evoking not just celebratory wines but much else, including gemstones, witty conversation and the fine weather which follows rain.  To regard them as plain merely because they are not French is what the Australians call a ‘cultural cringe’.  We don’t need it.”

As Andrew Jefford the author of the piece also notes “the better English Sparkling Wine gets the more authoritative ‘English Sparkling Wine’ will begin to sound.”

My problem with “Britagne” as proposed by Coates and Seely is that it is a French name and as one of my friends said “it sounds like Brittany”, and the only good thing to come out Brittany are cauliflowers!

If we are to replace the name English Sparkling Wine, we need to find a name, which is better and English. Sadly the Australians have been trying to find a new name for their Sparkling wine for over twenty years and still not managed it.

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Albarino

We have the spent the last two weeks in Spain, sailing between Ibiza and Menorca. The weather has been wonderful and so has the wine and Sarah and I are convincing ourselves as we open yet another bottle, that we’re doing so in the interests of research.

We have been drinking a lot of mainly Spanish Rosé, which I must admit I rather like. But some of the wines are too sweet and they are also very high in alcohol. The Spanish have clearly identified a market as they seem very popular but the wine makers are adding too much sugar. It is not that they taste flabby, but they lack a crispness that a Grenache rosé from Provence would have. Taste them next to Aix, a very popular wine in the chiringuitos (beach bars) in Ibiza, this relative newcomer from Provence which has been taking the wine world by storm since winning it’s Gold medal in Paris in 2009, and many of the Spanish wines just taste too sweet. However, I would recommend Clan by Charcoal Las Animas, which is a great Spanish Rosé.

I’m sure most people have tasted Rioja, many of which I find too alcoholic and have over powering oaky flavours from spending too long in the barrel. If you are going to drink Rioja try the Crianza’s which are aged for a little less time than the Reserva and Grand Reserva and spend less time in oak.

One thing that many people don’t realise is that the Spanish make very good white wine. Verdejo is a very underrated grape used in the Rueda region just north of Madrid. They produce a wonderful crisp dry white wine with bags of apricot fruit flavours. I particularly liked the Pie Franco a Blanco Nieva, which is a great example of a Verdejo. The other wine I have fallen for is Albarino.

The history of this Albarino grape is rather uncertain. It is now grown extensively in Galicia, north west Spain, the bit above Portugal. Alba-Rinõ, which supposedly means white grapes from the Rhine (although none of my Spanish friends knew this(!), perhaps it’s a Galician word?), would indicate that the grape is possibly a derivative of a Riesling, and it certainly has the fruit to match a Riesling. It is believed that the grapes where brought to the area by monks from the Alsace region of now France.

Albarino is a wonderful wine. It is dry and crisp, with lovely apricot fruit flavours and great stone fruit aromas. It is subtle, not overpowering and I have found two that I highly recommend.Terras Gauda – is lots of apricots and subtle apple, it is crisp and dry and has great length, perfect with fish. The other Albarino I’d recommend is Grånbazån – this is my personal favourite, it has just has the most wonderful length. It goes on and on.

Both of these wines are relatively inexpensive costing less than €10 a bottle.

Now don’t let me put you off the Martin Codaz Albarino that you will find in Majestic or even Waitrose, but I get the feeling that the Spanish are leaving some of their best wines at home.

I’m off to supper now and I am looking forward to the “boquerones”, tiny fresh anchovies in oil and vinegar, just great with a glass of Albarino!

At Rathfinny, we are busy with planning applications for the new facilities needed to run the vineyard. We have submitted plans for an office as we are currently using Liz’s breakfast/dining room. We have also submitted plans to remodel one of the estate houses to accommodate Cameron and his family. We are finalising our plans for the winery and workers accommodation and later this year will submit plans for a house for us.

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What’s in a name?

Why can Cheddar cheese be made anywhere in the world but yet the name originated from Cheddar in Somerset where they stored their cheese in the caves in the famous Cheddar Gorge? Why is a pasty a Cornish pasty when it comes from Cornwall? Why does Stilton cheese have to come from three counties in the Midlands but can’t come from Stilton in Cambridgeshire? Why is sparkling wine from Champagne called Champagne but from the Loire a Crement? Because they have a PDO: Stilton and Champagne are products of a Protected Designated Origin. They are unique to that region and that has been established under EU law. So the Duchess of Cornwall can rightly comment that English Sparkling should be called Champagne “because it is as good as Champagne”, but we can’t call it Champagne, nor should we want to.

English Sparkling wine is a unique product, it has far more fruity characteristics than Champagne, it doesn’t rely on autolysis (the biscuity / yeasty characteristics given to the wine by aging it on the yeast lees in the bottle) to bring flavours into the wine, and English Sparkling Wine has those as well. It is not flabby like an Asti or sweet like much Sekt, it is not Cava, it’s English Sparkling Wine. However, recently a healthy debate has begun in both the trade and national press to do with a new name for English Sparkling Wine. As you can read in the news section on our website,http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/englishwine.htm

Producers’ opinions are split on a new name. We have spent the last few weeks meeting various English wine producers and I would say that opinions range from “English Sparkling Wine, says what it is so why change it”, to “we need a new name, let’s get on with it”. However, my own feeling is that neither of the names, Merret or Britagne, really cuts the mustard.

When you think of other classic wine regions they all conjure up images of what you are likely to get. Think of Bordeaux and you think of rich, oak aged, tannic red wine, Claret. If you think of Burgundy you think of thinner red wine made from Pinot Noir. In the New World if you offered someone a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc they would know what to expect, much like if I offered you a glass of Chianti from Tuscany.

So any new name has to relate to the region that the wine is coming from. It has to reflect what the French call Terroir, the unique characteristics of the area the wine comes from; it’s not just the soil but the climate, the way the wine is made, the grapes used.

The majority of English Sparkling Wine comes from the Downs, both North and South and some from the lower greensand bit in the middle. It is easy to define and describe the Downs. They are dominated by the rolling chalk hills to the north and south, and as Denbies pointed out they will be a major feature of the Olympics in 2012, as a cycle race will ride up and down Box Hill on the North Downs. Most of the top English Sparkling Wine comes from this area, the vines benefit from the same free draining chalky soils found in Champagne, and anyone who has visited the region will recall the lovely long summer days when the sun sets late into the evening.

With that image in mind it may be easy to come up with a name, which could represent the unique characteristics of our Terroir. It would be easy to define as a geographic region, it is boarded by the Thames to the north and the English Channel to the south and the chalk ridge runs into Hampshire to the west. It encompasses Kent, Sussex (West and East), Surrey and most of Hampshire. Let’s not make the same mistakes as Cheddar, or for that matter and more appropriately Coonawarra in southern Australia, and not define the region our wine comes from.

I would suggest we find a name and establish it as the new name that sets the sparkling wine from South East England apart from the rest of the England and the World. Is it the “Downs” or “Downlands”? All we need to do then is produce a set of guidelines, which will ensure that anyone who uses the name produces sparkling wine of a quality that justifies the name.

Answers on a postcard please…?

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English Wine Week

Given the size of the English wine industry we do get some fantastic press coverage. It is worth putting our little fledgling industry into perspective – we currently produce less than 5 million bottles per annum, that is a mere fraction of the 350 million bottles we import from Australia every year and even less than the amount of wine we import from Hungary! We consume approximately 1.7 billion bottles of wine per annum, or about 4.6 million bottles per day. We have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of production.

We have introduced a new item to our website recently which is worth promoting. We are now collating news about the English Wine Industry on the following linkhttp://www.rathfinnyestate.com/englishwine.htm or click on the link at the top of the blog home page (above).

Over the last two weeks we have had plenty of good news: The Queen is planting out vines in Windsor park. Denbies Chalk Ridge Rose has won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge. Chapel Down’s Rose Brut won a gold medal in the same IWC competition. Ridgeview’s Fitzrovia Rose was served at the state banquet when the Obama’s visited last week. M&S reported a 70% increase in English wine sales and the Duchess of Cornwall was incredulous that we can’t call our fine English Sparkling Wine Champagne as a lot of it is better than the French stuff. “It’s so annoying not to be able to call it champagne, when it is champagne.” Take a look at our news page.

As I head into the end of my first year at Plumpton, you may be relieved to hear that I passed (I think, I am still waiting for the results from a couple of assignments). I have to say that we have come a long way in the last year. I have learnt a huge amount and we have just bought our first tractor… more on that next week.

In the mean time I have to report that I have just picked my first cucumber from the greenhouse this year, about month earlier than last year, this weather has been incredible, sadly it has not been good news for our cereal crops which are looking a bit stunted, they need some rain desperately and the long range forecast is for very little rain until September, perhaps this will be the bar-b-q summer we were promised last year?

This week is English Wine Week so I hope that you are all tucking into some delicious English wine

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Cover crops

About four weeks ago our local farmer, Duncan Ellis, planted out a cover crop on the fields we will be planting with vines in 2012.

I spent many weeks in the Plumpton College library reading books about cover crops and got very confused.

Essentially you plant a cover crop to protect the soil from erosion, to prevent weed growth and as a green crop to improve soil fertility, adding nutrients and improving soil structure by raising the humus level in the soil. This last point is very important to us as the soil samples we have taken indicate that, although the soil is fine for arable crops, the potassium, phosphate and magnesium levels are below the levels ideal for vines. So prior to planting our vines in spring 2012 we are trying to raise the levels of essential nutrients in the soil by direct addition of fertiliser, green waste (the council recycled stuff) and cover cropping.

I had initially planned to plant out red clover as our cover crop, however, as the soil at Rathfinny is so well draining I was advised that clover doesn’t take very well.  So I then looked common vetch, Austrian peas, rye and mustard. All cover crops that have been used in organic vineyards in California.

We have settled on mustard, principally because it will take well on the soil at Rathfinny, and despite the lack of rain since planting, it has already come up well in most areas. I was advised that peas could be susceptible to some forms of nematodes and also sclerotinia crown rot. Sclerotinia is a fungal infection, which can also affect grapevine roots. In order to lessen the risk of this infection in the peas, the advice was to plant two pea crops in succession. Which is a shame because from my research peas look to be the best returner of nitrogen, and the best biomass provider. Some of the vineyards in California have had problems with common vetch, which is also a good nitrogen and biomass producer, but it became too invasive and difficult to control. So in the end, after consulting experts from Plumpton College and Ohio State University, thank you Patti, we decided on mustard. Which, when mowed and turned into the soil in early 2012, will provide a good deal of biomass, some nitrogen and will probably reseed itself after the vines are planted out.

We may plant out some crimson clover and rye grass latter this year to add further biomass. This can be turned in prior to planting in spring 2012.

Mustard, as well as being pretty good for the soil it also looks good in a vineyard.

 A great blog about the use of mustard.

http://pinanapavalley.blogspot.com/2009/02/cover-cropsmustardanna.html

Our mustard is taking well… so are the nettles!

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Location, Location, Location

Our lecturers at Plumpton College drone on about site selection as being the most important element to consider for any vineyard site. That was highlighted last week when on the night of the 3rd/4th May, we experienced a late frost in many parts of southern England.

Late frosts are really bad news for vineyards and vines. It is like putting salad leaves into the freezer. The cold freezes the water in the plant cells killing them and leaving then shrivelled and brown. To mitigate this risk you need to choose a site on a slope, which will encourage the frost to drain away down the slope, avoid low lying areas where frost will settle, and try and get close to a river, or even a road, which helps move the frost away. Being close to the sea can help, as the sea raises the temperature of the surroundings. If you don’t have any of those then you will need to deploy “counter measures”. In New Zealand they use helicopters to force warmer air down onto the vines to disperse the frost. This sounds expensive, dangerous and could cause more damage to the vines with the down draft. Many people use small heaters which help raise the temperature, whilst other blast hot air into the vineyard from large gas fired fan heaters, or they use wind turbines to more the air around. In Martinborough in New Zealand they use water sprays to prevent frost damage.  However, the cheapest way to avoid frost damage is to select your site very carefully. Like any property purchase it’s location, location, location.

We were working at Rock Lodge vineyard last week and there was some damage to younger vines on the lower slopes but most of the vineyard was okay. I hear that some vineyards in Kent and Sussex experienced some damage but hopefully they will recover.

In Germany temperatures dipped to -5oC on the same night and according to the German Wine Institute some vineyards experienced the worst frost damage for 30 years, since back in 1981 when 90% of vines in Germany experienced frost damage.

Late frost in May is not that unusual. I remember we had a very hard frost in May 2009. Luckily Rathfinny didn’t seem to suffer from the late frost this year. The minimum temperature recorded on our weather station on the night of the 3rd / 4th was 6oC.

All we need now is a bit more rain, because the wheat is really struggling, along with the mustard we planted a few weeks ago as a cover crop, more on that later.

Frost damaged vine

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Prager Smargagd Achleiten Riesling

It happens rarely, but sometimes you try a new wine and you are completely and utterly bowled over by the complexity of flavours and taste. I remember this happening to me in the mid-90s, when we had a wine tasting at work and I was first introduced to Cuvée Frédéric Emile by Trimbach. I thought I was tasting an old Chardonnay or Burgundy, but it turned out to be a Riesling. The same thing happened a couple of weeks ago when we were out for dinner with an ex-colleague, and his lovely wife, at Maze in London.

We asked the sommelier to bring us something different. We gave him a budget and left him to it. He came back with a bottle of Prager Smargagd Achleiten Reisling 2006, from Wachau, Austria.

I am going to be a complete wine bore and tell you that words cannot do justice to the complexity of the flavours that bombard you when you taste this wine. It has a fantastic mineral base, lovely fruit from the Riesling grape, but it’s dry, with great length. Even Mrs Driver liked it and she doesn’t normally like Riesling, she prefers sparkling wine. It was a simply stunning wine.

I looked it up when I got home, as the sommelier was a little uncertain as to what the labeling meant. The Wachau region is the westernmost wine growing area in Austria, up towards the Czech border. It is also one of the smallest regions. Most of the vineyards are on the northern banks of the Danube and apparently the region experiences some of the widest fluctuations in temperature of any area in Austria, which might help with the development the flavour and aroma. Unlike the rest of Austria which tends to follow the German system of wine labeling, Kabinett, Spatlese etc, in the Wachau they have created their own quality rating system. We drank a Smaragd, which is the name of a emerald coloured lizard common in the area, and this rating indicates that the wine needs time to mature; they tend to be the most concentrated and alcoholic wines. Just for the record: Steinfeder, which apparently means grass on rocks, is the rating given to the lightest wines grown in the region. Federspiel, a devise to lure back a hawk in falconry, is the rating given to a wine requiring a year or two before consumption.

The owner and winemaker, Anton ‘Toni’ Bodenstein has a saying that ‘the wine must reflect the terrior”. Well all I can say is that he certainly achieved it.

As you may know we are planting out 7 acres of Riesling vines next year at Rathfinny. If I can produce a wine from our Riesling half as good as this I will be a proud and happy man.

Look out for Prager. It is truly stunning and I now see why we should be trying to make a Riesling similar in style to the Austrians at Rathfinny. If you are interested, I found it for sale at Berry Brothers at £34 a bottle (and no I’m not on commission!), not cheap but worth every penny.

Wachau Wine website http://www.vinea-wachau.at/home/en/home.php

Achlieten is the name of the vineyard were the grapes were harvested from.

achleiten.jpg

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Royal Wedding and English Wines

Sarah here – as usual very behind with my blogging!  Probably due to sleep deprivation as my husband keeps waking me up at some ungodly hour to discuss some new thought of his or, even worse, to excitedly shove a graph in my befuddled face and ask me to show the same enthusiasm he has for sales of sparkling wine the world over!

Anyway, lots has been going on ….. and here are a few highlights.

Chapel Down – Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down, sent us a lovely welcoming email to the world of wine a few months ago, inviting us down for lunch.  We had a brilliant time with him, me in particular, as he showed us all over the site and explained every part of the process, which I have never taken much notice of in the past when visiting vineyards, preferring (as is my wont!) to focus on the end result.  We finished off with an excellent lunch (the best soup I have had in a long time) and a tasting of some of their wines and bubbly.

Without pretending to know, I’d say the following:-

Bacchus white wine – I really liked this (and I have drifted away from white wines with age (mine, not the wine!) finding them too acidic) – the smell was heavenly and my first thoughts were elderflower and hedgerows.  Honestly!  So proud of myself when Frazer said exactly the same before I’d said a word.

Flint dry – I liked this too – very clear and light and eminently drinkable.

Of course my favourite was the Chapel Down Sparkling but here I fall down as I can’t remember which one we had.  I do know though, that I have a nice bottle of the Union to celebrate with tomorrow on the …

Royal Wedding.  Can my husband really wield such influence?  He’d like to think so since he wields little in the domestic arena.  Check out this story to see just why we should all be patriotically drinking our own English wines.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1380903/ROYAL-WEDDING-2011-English-wine-table-Kate-Williams-big-day–costs-8-50-bottle.html

Well done Chapel Down!

Finally, we recently welcomed the English National Trust and Natural England to Rathfinny and we will be working closely with them, in our new National Park, to save our chalk downland meadow with the help of ponies.  More on that later!

Read Sarah's Article