Rathfinny Wine Estate

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….

rathfinnyestate.posterous-27

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-28

A closer view of the area to be planted next week.

Read Mark's Article

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-29

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-30

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

Read Sarah's Article

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-31

Jonathan & Lisa Médard and Brix

Read Mark's Article

A Wine Bore – After Only One Week!

Picture the scene.  I am guiltily leaving a school ‘do’ early, hurrying through the melting snow to meet Fran (my oldest friend) in a pub.  Behind I have left other ‘better’ parents mingling and discussing their child’s progress as I clutch my phone and ring ahead to get an order in.

“What do you want?” says Fran.

“Mmm, can’t decide … wine or perhaps a G&T?”

“We’re drinking white,” she says.

“Mmm,” and it’s here I start to lose it.  “What grape?” I ask.

“What what???” comes the bewildered reply.  Fran and I have been friends for over 40 years.  That means we’ve been friends since primary school.  We grew up together.  We drank our way through our teens – white wine, red wine, Dubonnet lemonade (remember that?), Kahlua, home-made egg nog (don’t ask!), rum and coke (who drinks that anymore?), San Miguel beer (we grew up in Hong Kong) but never, and I mean never, have we asked “what grape?”

“It says Cote du Rhone on the bottle,” she says trying to be helpful.  That throws me.

“I haven’t heard of that grape,” I say.  (You will now get a sense of how much I have to learn!)  By this time I am at the pub and can sample the wine on offer.

I sip, breathe air in slightly (proud that I can now do this without choking or spitting everywhere), dip the tip of my tongue behind my teeth, dribble a bit and declare, “I don’t like it.”  Fran is looking incredulous.  Is it the dribble or the fact that I don’t like what’s on offer?  I ask for red, swirl it around and declare it has ‘legs’.

“What?” she says and I detect a hint of grumpiness.

“Yes” I say with an air of confidence – “if you swirl a glass and see dribbly lines on the inside, that’s ‘legs’ and it means the alcohol content is high.  13.5% in fact.”  Now she looks a tad impressed so I don’t let on I’ve read the label.

By the time I start discussing the ‘tannins’ Fran has had enough.  She casts a teenager stare across the table.  “G.O.Y” she says and I detect a sneer.  But, ever the optimist, I interpret this as “Good On You” for my efforts.

“Get Over Yourself” she hurls, filling her glass and I’m sure she’s mixed the wines. Worryingly as the evening progresses, I dip back to the white wine and with each successive sip I declare I like it more and more.  I’m not sure that’s the way this wine appreciation business is supposed to work.  By the end of the evening all the red and white has gone and Fran is asking for a glass more.

“More of the same?” ventures the waitress who has insisted on clean glasses for each colour of wine.

“Oh no,” says Fran.  “A glass of house will do us.”

We are back on familiar territory!

I have clearly spent too much time with my husband (wine bore!) in South Africa.

To be continued …..

rathfinnyestate.posterous-32

Sarah & Fran at Glastonbury 2010

PS. Many thanks to all my close friends who have read my blog and pushed my ‘hits’ way above my husband’s!  Who says I’m not competitive?

Read Sarah's Article

A quick trip to Cape Town, South Africa…

It’s reading week at Plumpton College and I persuaded Sarah that now we have the planning permission to build our winery at Rathfinny, we should really go and spend a few days looking at wineries in South Africa.  She was keen!

However, when I explained that I principally wanted to go and look at wastewater treatment plants, tank spacing, pressing floors, floor drainage and cooling systems, you can imagine the response! She told me flatly that I was welcome to do that she on the other hand wanted to look at the tasting rooms and would be happy sipping fizz and reading a book in the sun.

Harvest had just started in Stellenbosch when we arrived last week. So it was a fantastic week to be touring wineries.

We were lucky enough to be shown around by Gerard de Villiers.  Gerard, as well as owning his own vineyard Kleinood, where he produces a very good wine in the Côte-Rôtie style calledTamboerskloof, a co-fermented blend of Syrah and Viognier, (really worth hunting out) has also had a hand in designing many of the wineries in the western cape, as well as in California and more recently the UK. This meant he could get us back stage to meet and chat to many of the wine makers.

Whilst Sarah took pictures of the soft furnishings in the exquisite tasting rooms and sumptuous restaurants, I inspected the charcoal filters in the water purification systems and pressing floor coverings of some of Western Cape’s best-known wineries.

We also tasted some of the most wonderful wine and some very disappointing stuff as well.

On the positive side, I really recommend the Ernie Els wines, he has a fantastic piece of land, beautiful north facing slopes and the best tasting room set-up out of the fifteen that we visited. His ‘Proprietors Blend’ is delicious as is his Syrah. The Delaire Graff Estate is a relative newcomer to Stellenbosch but the winery is beautifully designed, Morne Vrey the winemaker, uses an inert air press for his Sauvignon Blanc and you can really taste the difference. We really liked the ‘Coastal Cuvee’, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with a little oak aged Semillon.  Rust En Verde is a beautiful place, they produce a really nice simple winemakers lunch, a steak/chips and salad and the wine is good to.

A lot of the South African fizz can be a bit plump and smell a little like old apple pie. However, we visited several very good Methode Cap Classique (MCC -South African Sparkling Wine) producers. The Villiera, Monro Brut 2006 was lovely, a complex fizz with lots of yeasty, toasty notes, fruity but dry.  A really well made wine.

We also drove over to Robertson and visited the Graham Beck winery. Pieter Ferreira makes their Fizz and was very generous with his time, especially as they were mid-harvest and their cooling system had broken so he had been up most of the night. Their vintage wines are really very good and the non-vintage is crisp, dry and fruity.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-33

We got back to England in the grip of an arctic winter. Our mustard is looking very sad, I hope it recovers. Our winemaker arrives this week to help oversee the building of the Winery. More on that soon….

Read Mark's Article

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!!

rathfinnyestate.posterous-34

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-35

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.

Ridgeview-wine-007.jpg

Read Mark's Article

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-38

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-39

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-40

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-41

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’.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-43

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.

Read Mark's Article

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-45

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-46

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-47

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.

rathfinnyestate.posterous-48

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.

Read Mark's Article

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.

Read Mark's Article

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.

Read Mark's Article