We’re already well into the year, but still waiting for bud burst, and I can’t stop thinking about the infamous English weather. Last year was a stern reminder how all sorts of crops, including vines, can be dramatically impacted by a poor summer.
To me, having spent my last 10+ harvests in California, it looks like we can expect a late bud burst. Apparently, this does not seem to be unusual for England. Which is good, bud burst appears to be about two weeks late so far!
Provided we get a nice summer, and the vines aren’t the only things that could use some sun and heat, a nice harvest could await.
You might ask: what if we don’t? Or, the dreaded question, what if there’s a repeat of last year’s season?
Well, either we’ll get very light volumes, or worse, nothing at all. If that happens, what options do English wine producers have?
This leads me to a vital question: what are English producers’ positions on reserve wines?
The incorporation of reserve wines into a producer’s portfolio strengthens their business plan: it helps both to maintain constant quality, for those who produce a non-vintage, and constant volumes, to cover for low yield harvests over the years.
While I am a strong proponent of reserve wines, one potential drawback is that it requires valuable storage space; winemakers need to be prepared to “sacrifice” tanks for this purpose. It’s part of our long-term winemaking vision at Rathfinny.
In essence, the debate is whether or not it’s more sensible to produce vintage wines every year, or to produce non-vintage by blending different wines.
Vintage (millésime) Champagne is produced only in growing years considered to be of great quality and, during those non-optimal years, wines are a blend of different vintages.
I can’t help but wonder, as the English wine industry continues to grow is this a trend that will dictate winemaking expectations of English producers?
Jonathan Médard – Winemaker at Rathfinny
PS: I had to share this picture of the grass roof on the winery….
We recently had a group of journalists up to talk about the new plantings at Rathfinny and the inevitable question was raised, “what do you think about the name English sparkling wine?” and “do we need a new generic name for English fizz?”
This debate seems to ramble on and some producers have come up with their own solution. Ridgeview have adopted the name Merret, after Christopher Merret who documented how sparkling wine is made, well before Dom Perignon tried to stop bubbles from developing in the bottle. Coates and Seely have launched their fizz with the name Britagne, supposedly pronounced ‘Britannia’, but more likely to be pronounced ‘Brittany’ where they produce great cauliflowers! A wine blogger suggested ‘Albion’, whilst the Duchess of Cornwall proclaimed that English fizz should be called Champagne as it is made in the same traditional way and as good as, if not better than, Champagne. Good on you Camilla.
So what’s the problem with the name English Sparkling Wine? After all most fizz produced in England is labeled as such and it adequately describes what’s inside the bottle. Well the perceived problem is that it is a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t carry the same weight and kudos as Champagne, yet it is made in the same traditional method. However, neither do the generic terms Cava, Prosecco, Sekt or Cap Classic, used elsewhere to describe sparkling wine from Spain, Italy, Germany and South Africa respectively.
The point is that English sparkling wine has gained a great reputation in recent years, winning many awards in international competitions and therefore many people have been keen to come up with a generic term to match this reputation.
However, before we go launching into a generic term, perhaps we should look at what has happened elsewhere in the ‘New World’ of wine and can we learn from their mistakes? Mike Paul, who has done a lot of work through Wineskills to help market English wine, wrote a very good blog about this particular subject in January. He highlighted how Australia has recently suffered by not segmenting its wine production, as have New Zealand, in a similar way to Germany in the 1980s. It is worth a read… http://mikeakpaul.com/2013/01/20/going-regional-why-the-new-world-should-bother-2/
So what is Rathfinny thinking of doing? Well, we believe that looking ahead the fizz we produce from the Rathfinny vineyard will be different from the fizz that is produced in other areas of England. It has a lot to do with what I like to call our environment but the French would call ‘terroir’. Our soils, climate and wine making techniques will make a different wine than those produced in Shropshire or the West Country; we need to be able to differentiate ourselves from other English producers in other areas of England. So we are keen to establish Sussex Sparkling as a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
After all Sussex is such a great name. It is quintessentially English, it makes me think of the rolling hills of the South Downs and yet so much more. The sunny south-coast, chalky cliffs of Beachy Head, summer sunshine, cream teas in lovely little villages like Alfriston, great beer and according to the Argus newspaper this week, the best sparkling wine in England.
So the aim is that in ten years time you walk into a restaurant in Beijing and the bartender asks :-
“Would you like a glass of Champagne or a perhaps a delicious glass of Sussex, I can recommend the Rathfinny.”
This was the second year of planting and much larger than last; in fact we put in half as many vines this time round. Over 8 days we managed to get all 85,000 vines planted (with a little help from our friends at Vinplant) but this year we weren’t planting in the lovely weather we had last year. Instead of temperatures in the mid 20’s and T-shirts, we were subjected to frosts in the mornings, snow on a couple of days, and temperatures struggling to get above 5 degrees, not to mention the layers of thermals, coats, and beanies.
Despite the cold we had a magnificent run of planting and the vines look fantastic. A big thanks goes to Volker and the team at Vinplant without whom we wouldn’t have such lovely straight rows, also to the guys in the vineyard here at Rathfinny, early starts, long days and manhandling vines all day out in the cold isn’t the most fun but there wasn’t one grumble. And finally to Liz and Jamie, for keeping the team supplied with plenty of hot food, coke and chocolate, much needed moral boosters on those bitter days.
Now the real work starts, staking and tying up of the vines has begun, as well as the marking out for the posts. The first end posts have already started to go in. We’ve even had a “little” bit of rain to help settle the vines in. I am constantly reminded of last year when I suggested we needed some rain and it virtually didn’t stop for 6 months. I won’t say a word this time around!
Cameron Roucher, Vineyard Manager