Rathfinny Wine Estate

New Rathfinny Estate Website launched… check it out

I’m currently sitting in Cornwall in a howling gale with horizontal rain and we have had to turn the heating on. However, I can report that recently the weather at Rathfinny has been glorious and the vines are coming on very well.

A couple of panoramic pictures showing the area we planted under vines this year. The area to the left (the west) currently under mustard will be planted next year.

However, the main point of this blog is to launch our new website. It now has a few more bells and whistles under ‘Vision’ showing the location, soils, climate and vineyard planting map.

It has all the old stuff like a link to the latest ‘Newsletter’ and we still carry all the latest ‘News’ about Rathfinny and the English wine industry and a link to the latest weather at Rathfinny under ‘Contacts’.

Check it out….  http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/

Read Mark's Article

A poor year for English grapes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Mark's Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Mark's Article

What grapevines clones to plant in the UK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinot Noir Clones Planted – 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Mark's Article

I’m in charge! (Just don’t tell Mark!)

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With Mark sailing the high seas, I am in charge!  When I pointed this out to him a look of horror crossed his face.  “But Sarah,” he said, “you’re not allowed to make any decisions!”  Well, if you’re reading this Mark as you lounge in the sun, I am doing nothing but taking decisions, decisions, decisions!!  The first of which was to have a staff party at the end of the summer to celebrate all our hard work.  In fact, I’ve now appointed myself Director of Social Events and Liz and I are drawing up an exciting list of future dates.

It made me smile, and I am sure there are women out there who will know what I mean when I say – bless, and he thinks he’s made all those decisions on his own.  For some reason I am reminded of a card we have framed at home.

Husband: Do you know in all the years we’ve been married, I’ve never won an argument.

Wife: Yes, darling.  That’s because you’ve never been right!

Anyway, I digress.  If you have heard very little from me over the past month, it’s because life has been busy.  At Rathfinny, I’ve been plowing through all the legal paperwork that goes with employment, building contracts, registering trade marks both here and abroad, health and safety to say nothing of dealing with branding and PR.  I’m also working with Martin, our designer, on the fit out of the tasting room in the winery as well as starting to think about developing an outlet for our Sparkling Wine.  In relation to that, I’m having fun visiting local artists and suppliers with a view to stocking their goods, to complement our wines.  Oh, nearly forgot.  I’ve also been involved in the landscaping aspects of the new winery – inspired after our trip to South Africa earlier this year and am beginning to concentrate on the fitting out aspects of our Flint Barns, the planning permission for which has just gone in. Setting up a new business has certainly thrown more my way than I ever expected!

One of my highlights though has been working with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park on establishing the Rathfinny Trail, a walk that will take people across our land, through the vineyards and up to the Flint Barns where it is hoped they will be able to enjoy a cup of tea and a scone, or even a glass of bubbly.  Richard James, the Park Ranger, and I walked the route a few weeks ago and I got a foretaste of what’s on offer as he talked me through the rare flowers, told me about bees and enlightened me on the habits of the lark.  Watch this space for an opening date.

I was going to write about the employment debates we are having at the moment and my plans for writers’ retreats, but it will have to wait until next time.  By then, I’ll have made a million more decisions Mark!

Finally, we’ve just produced our third newsletter and you can find it here

http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/download/Rathfinnynewsletter.pdf

Read Sarah's Article