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
We are just starting to recover from a fabulous but ‘oh so busy’ planting week, which saw us all up at 4.30 am last Monday – yes, including the teenagers – waiting for the sun to rise in time to film BBC Breakfast. There was a sense of great expectation as we nursed hot cups of tea in the chilly, breaking dawn and then it was all hands on deck.
Volker and his family, ably assisted by Cameron and our newest member of the team, David, got to work planting the vines in even, GPS directed rows and Mark set to with the media. Nikki, Liz, Georgia (have I told you I had PA envy and have now got one of my own? – my long suffering friend, Georgia) and I made more cups of tea, ferried the press to and from Polegate station and around the farm and that was really how it was all week, with a few family ‘must-do’s’ thrown in like the obligatory holiday dentist trips and forced revision sessions.
It culminated on Saturday in the most fantastic way with close friends and local villagers joining us to plant their own individual vines and to share in a hog roast. The ‘close friends’ were roped in, along with all the kids and their respective partners, in making the day a great success. The video below says it all.
There are too many people to thank but (yet another old friend) Mary Jackson was our artist in residence that week, sketching and painting(http://www.newenglishartclub.co.uk/artists_pages/jackson_mary.asp?art=58) and Jenny of Complete Bliss (www.completebliss.net) (yes, you guessed it – another close friend) provided amazing food on the day, Liz (“run ragged”) who did a fantastic job all week keeping everyone fed and watered and Nikki, Cameron’s wife, who made teas and coffees whilst ferrying her kids to school and back, and was generally a rock all week – thank you one and all.
A selection of photos from Saturday.
PS… Please send any other photos of the planting party day to Liz email@example.com
“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.
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.
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.
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 …..
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?
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!!
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, while also using great decoration for the event, including flowers and chair covers so everything look perfect. 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!
Sarah, better known as ‘Crushed Grape,’ here – I know I am completely rubbish at this. Last week, tired at the end of a long day, we went out for a drink and I ordered my favourite tipple. Mark leans towards me, I lean back, and he says, “What does it taste like?” “That’s easy,” I think replying, “English sparkling wine” – actually, that’s a lie, I still say Champagne, but I’m learning! He tries again patiently, “break it down,” he adds to which I churlishly reply, “I don’t want to, I just want to enjoy it!”
This is not the first time I have had this experience. I am the one at a wine tasting who drinks most of the first glass in one go, pulls a face and is about to say something horrid only to look around and see smiles and joy as others talk of “the sensation of mousse” – salmon or chocolate I wonder? While others talk of hints of honey and shortbread, I wander into thoughts along the lines of …. I haven’t had shortbread since I made a burnt batch at school, and didn’t we make rock cakes too then as well? Who makes either of them anymore? I then get completely absorbed in remembering things like cheese straws, which I loved and pineapple upside down cake which I didn’t, only to find I’ve now drunk 3 glasses and am none the wiser. I’ve said it before, I like what I like and I quickly know what I don’t.
Things I have learnt – to be skipped over by those in the know and that will hopefully redeem me in my husband’s eyes.
- France has Champagne, which it jealously guards as a name and has protected status
- Italy has Prosecco
- Spain has Cava
- What does England have? English sparkling wine!
To be honest, I never knew the difference, thinking Champagne was the real thing and everything else was somehow inferior. But, as we know with Ridgeview winning the prized Decanter award, taking it from the Champagne region for the first time, as well as multiple other awards being won in England, that is not the case.
Forgive me for keeping this simple – it’s how I think.
Champagne and English Sparkling Wine is made using the traditional method. What this means is that the wine is fermented once in a steel tank and then again, when yeast and sugar are added in the bottle, which provides the fizz. This gives a more ‘complex’ flavour than say Prosecco which is fermented in tanks in a shorter space of time, with more sugar. (I don’t follow much more than this as Mark talks of ‘yeast’ and I think of Marmite.)
Experiment – this I can recommend as it involves having to drink a bottle of both Prosecco and English Sparkling wine while pretending to be carrying out research! “Look at the bubbles in Prosecco,” says Mark, “they are larger, more uneven and don’t last as long as compared to those in the English Sparkling wine/Champagne glass” He looks up to see if I am following. “It’s true! I can see it,” pleased with my success. The only problem is, the glass never stays full enough for long enough to be more exact than that.
Feeling quite pleased with my new found knowledge – more soon!
“A day without Champagne is a wasted day!” Patrice Noyelle, President Pol Roger Champagne
Apologises for the delay in posting this blog. I feel guilty for having already broken one of the main rules of social networking I am told – post regularly, and I have a sinking feeling that before I’ve finished this one, I will have broken a few more.
I could say it’s because of Christmas and school holidays, but if I’m honest too, there are other reasons that I have delayed. I will admit to having been a touch disgruntled. Having been woken at the crack of dawn on the 2nd January by my husband viewing small photos of blonde women wearing skin tight vests on his ipad, my mood was not enhanced as he proudly claimed them to be ‘twitterers’ responding to his Sunday Telegraph article, ‘City Slicker Hopes For Vintage Year’ with comments like ‘I like wine’ and ‘only with cheese.’ “Who cares?” I snarled covering my head with a pillow.
Too late. Dark forces were at work. At a Christmas party a good friend in the advertising world declared, large wine glass in hand, that he wanted our blog to show the whole story, the highs, but in particular the lows, the struggles, the arguments. He saw my face. “Sarah, I don’t want you to fail of course – just almost!” he added with a laugh.
Was this the sort of thing he wanted? Grumpy, post new year’s eve reflections of a put-upon wife who not only was expected to go through CV’s, draft employment contracts, read husband’s essays, learn the intricacies of blogging but had, I realized with a hint of martyrdom, also bought every Christmas present, written every card and decorated the house while my husband swanned around the farm looking happy and having his photo taken.
No, I decided, this was not what the blog was meant to be about. So I then spent some time trying to stay relevant to our new project but also honest and true (another rule!) It didn’t get any better. I realized I don’t really like blogs and never read them. I’m not even on facebook. (Suspect I’ve just broken yet more rules!)
And then it occurred to me, I know NOTHING about wine. Seriously. Nothing. I simply regard it as either nice or not, and drink rather too much of the former category.
It’s not all bad news though (I say thinking of husband when we he reads this,) I do love sparkling wine, truly. It is my favourite drink and would be my choice every time. Daunted in the past by its cost and availability and by the looks I felt exposed to if I dared to ask for a glass of bubbly, I love the new trend where in good bars you can now order a glass, preferably English, sip with enjoyment and regard the world not as a grumpy wife, but a co-partner of an exciting new venture.
(Do you think that’s enough to be forgiven?)
A lovely picture of my Husband taken by David Rose for the Sunday Telegraph.
The largest vineyard in Europe! That’s where we’re heading now, but this time last year it wasn’t so clear. My husband had just decided with his partner at work that enough was enough in the City – too much stress, too much market volatility and it was time to stop. Aged 45.
My jaw dropped. Was it the lack of income? Of security? Of invites to corporate events? No. (Well, maybe a bit on the events front!) As the words of my mother’s generation floated through my head, ‘for better, for worse, but not for lunch’ as their husbands retired, my friends confirmed my worse fears. He would know what I got up to every day; he would become ‘Chief Sneak’ in my world of women.
I set to work. He admired a wooden bowl – I sent him on a week’s wood turning course. Carving – 1 day or 3 – I chose the latter. Cooking – we went through a phase of curries and complicated condiments on a regular basis. Just as I was running out of ideas he came into the kitchen with one of his own.
“I’m thinking of doing a full time, 2 year course in Brighton on Viticulture,” he said. Relief coursed through my body as an encouraging smile formed on my face. “Viticulture. Marvelous. Brilliant idea!” I said out loud as I focused on the words ‘full time, 2 years,’ and away even in ‘Brighton.’
A pause. I stopped. “Viticulture. What exactly is that darling?”