Rathfinny Wine Estate

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!

rathfinnyestate.posterous-56

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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

rathfinnyestate.posterous-57

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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!

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Praying for rain…

Like everyone else in the UK I am enjoying this delightful warm spring weather and wonderful sunshine. It is warmer in southern England than most of Spain. However, we are desperate for some rain.

The weather station at Rathfinny has recorded just 8.5mm of rain since the beginning of March.

http://www.weatherlink.com/user/rathfinny/index.php?view=main&headers=1

We planted our cover crop of mustard seed two weeks ago and although it has come up in some areas, in others the field is still bare. We also have to water the trees in the windbreaks every few days to keep them alive.

However, the really big news this week is that Cameron Roucher, our Vineyard manager, and his wife Nikki and children have arrived at Rathfinny from New Zealand.  Liz is particularly pleased to see him as he can take over the watering of the trees!

So I’m enjoying this lovely unusual spring weather but praying for rain.

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Royal Wedding wine list…

I heard some disappointing news last week. I had not received an invite to the Royal Wedding much to Mrs Driver’s dismay! No, seriously, at the Royal Wedding of William and Catherine they won’t be toasting the happy couple with English Sparkling wine but with French Champagne. Quel horreur!

Given that Nyetimber’s classic cuvee 2003 won the best sparkling wine on the planet award last year, Ridgeview won the Decanter award 2010 for the best sparkling wine and Camel Valley won the best Rose sparkling wine in the world (including Champagne) award in the Bolcini Del Mondo international wine awards in Verona, I was a bit surprised to hear that the Royal couple have ditched the best in the world to toast the happy couple with Pol Roger instead of the best of English.

We have a right Royal opportunity to show the rest of the world what only the experts seem to know – that we are producing the best sparkling wine in the world, right here in England.

So I asked a friend of mine why this might be, perhaps they don’t have enough to supply such a big party? I doubt it, Nyetimber, Ridgeview or Camel Valley must surely have enough to supply a party of 350 people at Buckingham Palace. Is it too expensive? Surely our Royal family can afford the best and English sparkling wine is a bargain compared to French Champagne, I doubt that that is the reason. So why has Prince Charles, who is normally such supporter of English produce deserted our fine English wine in favour of the French? Perhaps it’s the new entente cordial, to appease our French cousins as their French Champagne slips into obscurity. Will they have Dijon not English mustard on the table? Perhaps they will drive to the church in a Peugeot not the customary Rolls Royce? Under William’s rule will fish and chips be served with French wine vinegar instead of English malt vinegar?

So I spoke to Kevin the vineyard manager at Plumpton college to ask him why such a decision could have been taken. Incidentally he also makes wine at Bluebell Vineyard, who have just got their sparkling rose onto the wine list at the Savoy group after winning a blind tasting. He couldn’t understand why, in this country, he’s from New Zealand, we seem to talk down the best of our English produce and talk up overseas produced goods. It would never happen in New Zealand or in France and definitely not in America. Can you imagine the American President holding a party and not serving American Champagne (by the way they get away with calling American produced sparkling wine Champagne, can’t remember why?).

So I hope that the person I was speaking to is misinformed and that Prince William and Catherine will be toasted in with the best sparkling wine in the world – which as we all know is now from England, not France.

Perhaps it’s not too late and we can change their minds?

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Budget Deficit and all that…

Forgive me, but with my ex-hedge fund manager’s hat on I can’t let the end of the tax year slip by without a comment on the recent budget and the march against cuts in London.

My son keeps asking me to try and explain “what’s going on in the world at the moment” because he’s at University and wants to be able to give the other side of the argument. He’s like that. He’s studying Philosophy and English, and he’ll make a good Barrister on day, as he’ll argue the other side on anything.

So here goes, and with a health warning, I’m not a politician. I studied economics and I hold no deep political views.

However, I am frankly shocked that Ed Balls can get away with saying that we can afford to stop or moderate the program of cuts announced by the coalition government last year. Step back and look at where we were in May last year. The dollar was hovering at $1.45 to the pound, having fallen from over $2 dollars to the pound in 2008 and the Euro, that battered currency, was heading towards €1 to the pound. We were on the brink of a currency crisis.

If the new government, whoever was chosen, had not instigated some radical cuts to expenditure then the international community, who buy our debt, could well have walked away from the UK, leaving the pound to collapse and the cost of our borrowing to rise.

So let’s talk about the deficit. Firstly, the deficit is not our government debt; it is the difference between our income (tax revenue) and expenditure. If you or I started spending 10% more than we earned, and we had already borrowed a substantial sum of money, the bank would probably come knocking on the door and asking when we would be rectifying this. It is the same with national governments. The banker is the global financial community who buy our government debt, gilts, treasury bonds, they are all names for the same thing. Our deficit is huge, it is forecast to rise to £163bn this year, and we are currently spending over 11% more than we earn in tax revenues.  Our deficit was over £10.8bn in the month of February alone, up £2bn on February 2010. That means we spent £10.8bn more that we generated in tax revenues in February.

So how do we compare to the basket cases of Europe? Ireland had a similar budget deficit of over 11% prior to its collapse; Portugal, whom the EU is bailing out this week had a budget deficit is nearer 8%. So what about our total debt?  How much do we owe? We currently owe £875bn. This is about 60% of our GDP and it is rising. Even with the cuts announced we would still have a budget deficit of £74bn next year.

When the global financial community lose confidence in your ability to pay back your debt then two things happen.  Government bond markets sell off, because less people are interested in buying them, that means that interest rates rise and the value of the currency will fall.

Without the cuts announced we could be facing a very difficult outlook. Interest rates in Portugal and Ireland are now around 8%, double those in the UK and the rest of Europe. Imagine what would happen to the UK economy if mortgage rates doubled. What would happen to house prices, and then the inevitable spiral of bad debts and a further collapse of the UK banks? We are a net importer of almost everything into this country, as the value of the pound falls all prices will rise causing a further squeeze on the economy.

This is why we have to cut government expenditure and reduce the deficit and start to reduce our national debt.

But surely we can raise taxes? Sadly, we have been doing that for the last ten years, but in rather stealthy ways, like congestion charges, stamp duty on housing and national insurance rates. We have to remember that even prior to the financial collapse in 2008, because government borrowing had almost doubled over the previous five years, we were still running a deficit at that time. Now our taxes are some of the highest in the world and we have already instigated emergency tax rises to try and stem the tide.

Unfortunately, raising tax rates often leads to lower tax revenues. A chap called Arthur Laffer proved that in the 1970s (the Laffer Curve) and that’s what led to the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s. The problem is that we are part of the global economy where companies and increasingly individuals, are free to offer their services from any country in the world.  Often, companies and now individuals will move to base themselves in countries that offer lower tax rates, and it’s happening here.  I personally know of several companies and individuals who have done exactly that in recent years.

We need to encourage wealth creators to stay and work in the UK.  In fact you could, and we should, be arguing that we should be cutting taxes to encourage spending, rather than increasing taxes to fill a hole in the government deficit.

Now some might argue that the government should be spending more money to get us out of this hole. We should, but the government can’t.  They have no money.  They are already spending more than they earn and do we want them be spending more of our money?

However, the most important thing that our government can do is to maintain the support of the global financial community, because if they don’t then interest rates will rise significantly, the currency will fall and we will have one hell of a mess.

So there you have it. The British government is spending more than it earns and has one of the largest deficits in the world, government debt levels are still rising and we need to rein in expenditure, otherwise the global financial community will come knocking on the door and force us to do it, as they have in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

It all argues for continued cuts in government expenditure as painful as they may be. However, where you cut is the political decision. Personally I am disappointed that so many young people will be put off going to university by fees of £9000 per annum and I think we need to offer more bursaries to help the poorest get to university.

I promise to write about wine later this week.

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Newsletter and BBC South East Clip…

For those of you who haven’t subscribed to our newsletter, the first one was published last week… Please click on the link below. And you can sign up to receive it on the website!

http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/newsletter.htm

You might have seen Liz was on South East Today last night talking about the South Downs National Park.

We have finally found a copy of the film clip about Rathfinny that went out on BBC South East Today in February.

http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/bbc_rathfinny.mov

Have I really lost that much hair? It must the stress of trying to get those essays in on at time at Plumpton College. I can read and write, just (I am very dyslexic!), but I struggle with the technology needed these days to complete a University degree course. When I last went to Uni you could plagiarise mercilessly, as long as you changed the words a bit, as everything was written in long hand. Now everything you write has to be typed, beautifully presented, Harvard referenced and then passed through a computer that compares it against all known text, (surely it can’t do that?!) giving you an ‘originality score’. Scary stuff!!

I’m pleased it has started to rain so the poor trees can start growing. We are planting out our cover crop of Mustard. More on that later….

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377 Trees to Water? Simples

It was a typical off the cuff comment to our tree man, Richard Bartlett, a few weeks ago that put me on the hunt for the perfect way to water 377 young trees. “Should I be praying for rain” I laughingly remarked after noticing on our weather station we’d only had 6mm in two rather pleasant weeks. “You mean you haven’t been watering them?” he replies incredulously. “Umm,  errr , well not exactly, no”.  Straight on to the phone to Mark and a few minutes later we have a plan. Rent a water bowser locally and we would do it the next day, simples! Well it would have been if any of the  machinery hire places within a radius of 100 miles actually had one on their forecourt. Back on the phone to Mark, right we’ll buy one he decides, so I’m back on the internet and the phone to find someone who can deliver a 400 gallon water bowser quickly. An hour or so later I find a company who can deliver one the following afternoon, a quick card transaction and the deal is done, simples!

So I wait and watch for the delivery truck the following day, not so simples, it does not turn up. 24 hours later and it arrives, and we are only 2 days behind schedule. The truck driver parks up in front of the farm buildings rolls up the canvas and there it is, a beautiful blue bowser on it’s shiny galvanised trailer, all 990kg of it. “Got a forklift handy, luv?” “No, why?”I reply unnecessarily- a penny is slowly dropping and I know why alright, it’s a meter off the ground, weighs a ton and he has no apparent means of unloading it. The charming driver scratches his head and looks bemused “I wondered ow I was gonna get it orf when they was loading it this morning” Long story short and many expletives/phone calls later, Duncan the contract farmer comes to the rescue with a JCB with two big prong thingy’s on the front and it is expertly placed on Rathfinny soil, but not before I realise the coupling on the trailer needs a pin not a ball as on our truck tow bar. Oh boy here we go again, more phone calls and a trip to Eastbourne the following day and we have a bowser full of water attached to the truck and only three days behind schedule.

Mark comes down to help the next day after Plumpton, stands at the top  the first line of trees, turns on the tap and……a mere trickle of water limps out of the hose. Using a 2 litre plastic milk container we work out that it will take 160 seconds per tree , there are 377 trees, you do the math! Suffice to say by the time we clocked off we had 347 left to do. We needed a pump, simples!

Back on the phone and back  to the shops for me and with the help of the wonderful Tony Robbards (our handy man) the next day we are good to go with a hose and a wand, a pump that pumps a gallon of water every 15 seconds and an extension that  plugs the whole contraption into the cigarette lighter – only five days behind schedule and the trees are watered. Simples!

Our little blue boswer in action!

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Champagne sales up 16.3%…

Mark Here – I have just read on article on the drinks business website which claims that Champagne shipments to the UK were up 16.3% in 2010 to 35.5 million bottles.

This is an encouraging sign after the slowdown in 2009. According to the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), sales to the USA also rose by 34.9% to 19.9 million bottles and shipments to Germany were 13.3 million. However, the really big news is what is happening in the emerging markets. Sales to China rose by over 90% and are now over 1.1m bottles and shipments to Russia were up 88%. Wine consumption in China, largely driven by wages, is growing at over 20% per annum.

Incidentally I was lucky enough to be invited to the Champagne Information Bureau (CIB) annual tasting last Tuesday of 83 different producers, displaying over 250 wines. Amongst some spectacular wines there were some really disappointing ones as well. We tried to taste a lot of the smaller less familiar names and perhaps that is where we went wrong! But several were very short on fruit, and had an unpleasant tar character on the nose. We also found that a couple of the wines made of predominantly Pinot Meunier had an astringent finish. However, we did find a couple we liked a lot.

Alfred Gratien – NV Brut – had good fruit and balance and good length, with barrel fermentation showing through.

We also liked the Francois Dilligent – Cuvee Anastasia – and the Triple Pinot Rosé. The fruit from the Pinot Noir really showed through and the crisp dry finish was excellent. We even tried the Francois Dilligent 1990, which was like a fizzy Burgundy, wonderful.

The CIB ran a fantastic event but many of the English Sparkling Wines are up with the best of the French, and better value.

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