I say that summer has finally arrived with a tone of caution. It was only earlier last week that we had a northerly wind blowing and it felt like we were back in winter.
The vineyard is starting to actually look like a real grown up vineyard now, with lots of lush growth. So much so that we have to thin out some of the shoots, in a process believe it or not we call ‘shoot thinning’.
Shoot thinning is the first stage of canopy management in the growing season- not including pruning of course. Each year once the vines start to grow, they send out shoots from the buds that we laid down when pruning.
We reached a milestone last week and bottled our first wine at Rathfinny.
A still wine which we’ve chosen to label under the Cradle Valley name, so not to confuse the consumer about Rathfinny being a sparkling wine producer. It’s a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. It’s a very nice wine, but I would say that wouldn’t I?
You will have your first chance to try it at our classic music concert at Rathfinny on the 12-14th June.
We’re bottling our first wines next Monday and Tuesday. Sarah and I had a final taste yesterday and they’re tasting really good. The Sussex sparkling is a pure Chardonnay ‘Blanc de Blanc’, it’s a great base wine, with good acidity and body which will age really well. This wine will stay in the bottle, on the yeast lees, for about three years, until the end of 2017 or early 2018. Our first still wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay and this will be sold through the Gun Room in Alfriston from early June, under the label Cradle Valley. I’ll let you when it hits the Cellar Door and you are welcome to come in for a tasting!
This years planting was quite unlike any other, and for more than one reason.
Once again we had the team from Vinplant over from Germany to get our vines in the ground at the beginning of last week.
Unlike previous years we planted quite late (for us) the last week of April rather than the first. Luckily this meant we planted into moist soils from the previous weekends rain and have since had a few good downpours of rain to help bed in the vines. If we had planted early the vines would have gone into parched, dry soils, with no rain for weeks. So much for April showers!
Nothing creates a sense of place like live music, so when Sarah and Mark invited my chamber ensemble, London Conchord, to become the resident ensemble at Rathfinny we jumped at the chance to bring music into the stunning setting of the Estate and to make Rathfinny our musical home. As a group and as individuals we have played all over the world in venues such as the White House and the Wigmore Hall, but never in a Winery. The acoustics are perfect!
This is one of the many quotations left to us by the great Winston Churchill. He finished by saying that the most important thing about education is “appetite”. Any of us could finish this sentence in a different way. Here at Rathfinny Estate we aim to whet the appetite as well as fulfil it. We are also aware that education does not stop when you leave school. The appetite may change, you may seek new ideas or just wish to look at the world via a different perspective.
In the English wine industry we are fortunate to have Plumpton College, which is affiliated to Brighton University, right on our doorstep. Plumpton has become world renowned for its courses in both vinification and viticulture. Many of our vineyard staff have been trained at Plumpton and continue to do so. The Estate were major supporters of the new Rathfinny Research Winery at the college to really hone the skills of their students which come from all over the world to study there.
As I write this blog I’m on my way to Cornwall for a week’s break in Treyarnon near Padstow. I used to work in Treyarnon Bay and have fond memories of the area and people; I’m certainly going to try a couple of bottles of Camel Valley whilst I’m there along with a few other Cornish tipples. It’s been hectic on the Estate since the New Year and the Flint Barns have been no exception to this. We’ve launched our new website www.flintbarns.com and this has had over 1000 views already and with the website going live, we also launched the online booking engine and this has already been busy.
It is often said that we know less about our oceans than we do our solar system, what is more amazing is that we know less about our soil under our feet than we do the surface of the moon.
In order to broaden my knowledge last week I attended a field lab on Soil analysis, which looked at different approaches to soil analysis and comparing them. As growers we are faced today with various methods and approaches to assess the fertility and health of our soils, and new methods are being continuously developed.
The newspapers this week have been full of articles about how a group of Sussex wine producers, including Rathfinny, are drawing up a proposal for a PDO. So what is a PDO and why are Rathfinny so keen about a PDO for Sussex?
“A Protected Designation of Origin (PDO): is open to products which are produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics which must be due to the geographical area.”
There are various examples of PDOs in England such as Cornish Pasties, Clotted Cream and Jersey Royal potatoes. Champagne is a PDO, and other wine regions across Europe have established PDO status to protect the producers within specified geographical regions.
PDOs are “EU Protected Food Name schemes” that “highlight(s) regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed.” They are designed to promote and protect names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs across Europe.
There are signs that Spring has arrived with groups of snowdrops at the foot of the trees on the Tye in Alfriston. We are celebrating its arrival with some fabulous new products and a luxury beauty event.
Sarah and Georgia have been hard at work sourcing new products for the Gun Room. Our aim is to bring aspects of the Sussex countryside into our shop, so that our products reflect the changing seasons, our natural resources and activities on the Estate.
As the weather warms up and birds begin to nest, we are stocking Magpie’s Birdy range which includes mugs, plates, tea towels, wash bags and an espresso set for the grown-ups, and some lovely suitcases for young children, all featuring robins, thrushes, blue tits and wagtails. For keen gardeners we have some beautifully designed products from Burgon and Ball.
Following on from Ade’s blog last week, check out the review of the Flint Barns from Sawdays!
Hello everyone, it’s my favourite season of the year, spring is just around the corner and so is the opening of the fabulous Flint Barns. I’m super excited to be able to tell you all that our first weekend of opening will be 27th & 28th February. To begin with the Flint Barns will be open only on the weekends or during the week for large groups or exclusive hire. For further details or to make an online booking our website is now live so please visit the website here www.flintbarns.com.
If there is one thing I have learnt over the past four and a half years, it is that we are on a steep learning curve in so many ways! Not only with the world of wine and creating the perfect Sussex Sparkling but in relation to starting a business, taking on a staff (now 19), opening a shop, understanding PR and branding, designing websites, fitting out Flint Barns (recently described by Sawdays as a ‘poshtel’!) but I have also learnt more than I want to about planning applications, bats and waste water treatment plants!
We’re still Pruning and it was suggested that we try and explain why we prune and how we prune the vines so what better way to do this than with a short video…
So we have produced a short video on pruning, with Rick Burrows from the vineyard explaining how, and why we prune:
While all the tasks in the vineyard are important nothing is more critical than pruning. There are a four main reasons we prune: