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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?