Rathfinny Wine Estate

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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Media Coverage of Rathfinny

I must admit that we have been amazed at the response that we’ve had to the initial article that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 2nd January about the Rathfinny Wine Estate. I sense that a lot of the interest is due to the scale of the project and I guess the fact that I was a hedge-fund manager had something to do with it, “city slicker…turns to drink” etc. However, so far we have had articles in three different US financial magazines, interviews on two radio stations, the Sydney Morning Herald carried the story (I suppose they wanted a distraction from the Ashes), and last month BBC South East news did a little feature on the project.

Concerns about over supply, voiced in the English wine world about Rathfinny, seem a bit short sighted. Ask yourself this question. When was the last time you found an English wine on a restaurant wine list, let alone an award winning English Sparkling Wine? In fact when was the last time you found any English or even Welsh wine on the shelves of your local store or supermarket? Given the fact that over the last eight years English Sparkling Wine has won more awards than any other country in the world, and last year Ridgeview won the “Best Sparkling Wine in the World” award (this is the first time it has ever been awarded to a wine outside of France), and Nyetimber and Camel Valley have also won International Awards, isn’t it about time that restaurants caught up with this and started to offer us the best Fizz in the world?

Oz Clarke has also been upsetting the English wine world with his predictions that grape prices are heading for a bust. He is right in some respects, but again his nose is too firmly fixed into a glass, he needs to look around and in particular look east. Chinese wine consumption has more than doubled over the last five years to over 1 billion bottles and they are set to over take the UK wine market, which currently consumes over 1.7 billion bottles annually, in the next few years.

Oz used some rather extreme examples, comparing English Chardonnay grapes selling for £2000 a tonne as opposed to the same quantity of Australian grapes selling for £200. Firstly, the real price for English grapes is closer to £1500 a tonne, and Aussie grapes are being given away at £200 a tonne, which is about the cost of picking them! This is because there is massive oversupply in Australia and hence vines are being grubbed up all over the country. I’m not sure that those low prices will last for long or that English grape producers should expect to achieve £2000 a tonne.  However, the fact remains that England only produced about 3.5 million bottles of wine last year, compare that to the 270 million bottles that a little country like New Zealand produced or the 5870 million bottles that came out of France. Also, compare it to the 350 million bottles we imported from Australia last year out of our total consumption of 1.7 billion bottles.  Even when English Sparkling Wine production doubles, as it is forecast to do over the next four years, we will still only be producing a little over 1% of the total production of sparkling wine from Champagne. Did you know that Champagne represents 25% of France’s wine exports but only 6% of French production?

So the next time you go for dinner, ask for a glass of best, ask for English Sparkling Wine.

Now just to set the record straight: I haven’t bought a tractor. The holes in the land visible from Google Earth, are not ancient lay lines, Neolithic settlements or bomb craters, they are probably quarries, which is where the flint came from to build some of the buildings on the land, or dew ponds. Oh and Sarah is not French!

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