Rathfinny Wine Estate

A bumper crop on the way

After the driest September since records began and one of the warmest, we are in for a bumper crop of grapes in England this year. Unfortunately, not at the Rathfinny Wine Estate!

chardonnay

Our young vines have loved the warm spring, they certainly loved the warm June / July period and they even welcomed the August rains, but we just haven’t got much fruit this year. The main reason for this is that our vines are still very young, many are only two years old, but the other reason is that the buds which hold the flowers that produce the grapes are established a year earlier and the amount of fruit depends on the warmth and sunshine we had prior to the period before flowering the previous year.

vines 2014

So being the eternal optimist next year is looking fantastic for the Rathfinny vineyard as we had such a great warm and sunny June and July which is very good for bud development.

We look forward to picking the little fruit we have and running up the presses and then we will spend the winter pruning and getting the vines ready for next year when we might get our own bumper crop.

Mark Driver – Owner

PS – You’ve got to feel sorry for other parts of Europe that have really suffered this year. Italy has had a very poor harvest due to rainstorms, parts of France were devastated by hailstorms and Germany has been attacked by the Drosophila Suzukii fruit fly!

Oh to be in England!!

Read Mark's Article

Almost there……

As we near our final weeks of the growing season, we begin to feel the cautious excitement of the approaching harvest.

Word is that some other producers have already started, a sure sign that we are headed for an early harvest. Many producers are said to be up to 3 weeks earlier than normal. With such a great growing season it’s little wonder; the brilliant summer has continued to extend into the autumn bringing with it warmer than average days and great ripening conditions.

Picking crates and bins are prepared and one eye is kept on the weather forecast, quietly hoping that the warmer weather conditions continue, although the bite of autumn is starting to be felt.

We have the luxury of a few quite different varieties, which will all ripen at slightly different times to each other thereby extending the harvest. We don’t mind being a bit later than most as this extra “hang time,” allows the grapes to reach their full potential and develop more intense flavours without losing their structure and balance.

You can really see the differences in characteristics of the different varieties, from the delicate little bunches of the Pinot Gris slowly attaining their pinkish hue,
IMG_9153

the robust bunches of the ever reliable Meunier,
IMG_9094

the golden yellow of the Chardonnay,

IMG_9044

the tight small bunches of the Pinot Noir,

IMG_9192

and the ever hopeful Riesling still looking crisp and clean.

IMG_9122

Here’s hoping for a couple more weeks of good weather.

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

Read Cam's Article

Harvest!

Harvest is just around the corner: we anticipate our first grapes within about 3 weeks. A large part of harvest preparation is about cleaning: anything that can or will get in contact with the grapes and the wine needs a very thorough cleaning regime. The tanks have to be spotless inside and out to prevent any form of contamination, and the same applies to pumps, hoses and all connections and fittings, as well as both presses. This reminds me that I need to inventory stock to ensure I still have plenty of cleaning agents on hand. The below press is ready to go, it’s been thoroughly cleaned and mechanically tested to ensure that the bladder retains pressure as it should.

IMG_2006

Another part of harvest preparation is to make sure that all winemaking supplies are in, or on order: yeasts (for those who inoculate their must/juice, like I do), nutrients, miscellaneous agents (for example, I might use enzymes to clarify the must prior to fermentation, and/or other agents to clarify the wine after fermentation). This year we’ll be harvesting from blocks with low yields so we placed the odd order for some small tanks so we can work each lot separately. Unfortunately, these tanks come with fittings that require retrofitting to be compatible with our existing pipework: the new fittings are 1 inch (everything else is 2 inches), and are BSP, British Standard Pipe (everything else is in SMS, which is a standard used in the Swedish dairy industry, or in DIN, widely used in Germany). With new adapters and reducers there is going to be plenty to connect. Fortunately I excelled at playing with Meccano as a kid!

The lab is set-up, but needs to be fully commissioned prior to receiving fruit. We’ll run some analysis to make sure all equipment is calibrated and functions properly, and that we get consistent, precise, and accurate results whomever the operator is. That is a crucial point, because decisions during harvest need to be taken fast based on these results.

IMG_2007

Even with all the time in the world to prepare for harvest, unpredictable things can and do occur. There’s always the fear that something’s missing, and I’ve been known to pop out of bed in the middle of the night with thoughts of fittings, cleaning agents, additives, and, yes, even sponges. It all adds to the mania and excitement of harvest. So, bring it on 2015, let’s see what you’ve got.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

Read Jonathan's Article

The first of many visitors…

IMG_8180

It was a lovely sunny day back on August 19th; when we had the pleasure of welcoming our first group to stay here at the Flint Barns. Twenty prefects and teachers from Brighton College came to stay  with us for the night. They arrived on site just after 1pm and after checking in they had some time to chill and look around the glorious Flint Barns.  After the down time off they went for a guided walk around the Estate led by Richard James, our Landscape & Environment Officer. The students and teachers had a good 2 hour walk and this was followed with a tour of the vines and of our winery. All of this culminated in a wine tasting of Plumpton College’s “The Dean” English sparkling http://www.plumpton.ac.uk/news/high-praise-for-plumpton-sparkling-wine/47    Following this came a tasty barbeque, which had some very yummy local burgers and sausages from Sam, at Downland Butchers in East Dean. After the very enjoyable meal, the evening ended with a group game of charades in the spacious lounge.

IMG_8211

The next morning a full English breakfast was called for and the students certainly enjoyed this and also the freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolate delivered by Jamie our COO (brought in from Brighton and not one missing – well done Jamie, not sure I could have achieved that!). After the breakfast the group met to discuss the visit and then departed shortly after 11am. The feedback from the group was fantastic, plenty of praise about the building, the food, the beds and also our service. They also gave us some welcome feedback on areas that had something missing. We always learn from feedback whether positive or not so positive, it will always help us in improving our product and service to the customers. Thanks to Steve (group leader), the other teachers and all the prefects of Brighton College, it was fantastic to have you come and stay at our “home away from home” Flint Barns.

IMG_8268

The next couple of weeks are going to be a busy time for us – we have our snagging list to sort with the builders and also planning for an important barbeque we are hosting on Sunday 14th September. The Flint Barns at Rathfinny will be hosting the SEVA (http://www.seva.uk.com/ ) Summer Barbeque, fingers crossed that we are blessed with a great sunny day.

I have to tell you that we also received another booking for the Flint Barns in May 2015, a prep school from the Reading area is coming down to stay with us for 2 nights. Soon we will be actively marketing the Flint Barns for business and as Sarah says in her blog https://rathfinnyestate.com/estate-news/?p=1434  “We’re nearly there”.

Would you be interested in renting the Flint Barns for Christmas or New Year? If so then just email me at adrianl@rathfinnyestate.comand we can discuss a package to suit.

Adrian Lamb – Flint Barns Manager

Read Ade's Article

Flint Barns – we’re nearly there!

001

The builders have gone, the kitchen’s complete, the beds have been made, the furniture’s gradually filling the rooms and we have had our first visitors.  All so exciting!

IMG_8397

The Flint Barns truly are a ‘home away from home’ – so much so, that I want to move in! Ade, Georgia and I have worked really hard at sticking to our core Rathfinny values whilst fitting out the building that can sleep 46 people.  That means we’ve ensured that everything from the fittings and fixtures, the bedding and the décor speak of quality and attention to detail.  We are not talking about a 5 star hotel here; these are converted barns for seasonal workers at certain times of the year after all.  However we are talking about a place where you can walk the South Downs, amble around Alfriston village and then curl up with a book in front of a fire, play cards, eat simple, home cooked, locally sourced food and sleep in a comfortable bed.

IMG_8442

We have 10 rooms, which house a combination of bunk, single and double beds.  It’s ideal for walkers, families (perfect to take away the whole extended family!) and groups of friends.  Our nephew is getting married in the courtyard next year, hay bales and all, and we’re already getting enquiries.  It’s also perfect for educational visits, with so much to do in the area from geography in the Cuckmere Valley, history with visits to Hastings and locally, arts and culture with Charlston and the Towner Gallery nearby.  We’re also looking at running writing retreats and other special interest weeks and weekends.

IMG_8233

So if you’re interested, do contact Adrian at adrianl@rathfinnyestate.com

Sarah Driver

Read Sarah's Article

Four Years On – What have I learnt?

It was summer 2010 when I first visited Rathfinny and we agreed to buy the land to establish a vineyard. So four years on what have I learnt?

Firstly, Patience – establishing a vineyard is a labour of love, money and time. Everything takes time. You have to order your vines from a nursery eighteen month ahead of when you plant them. It then takes at least three years for them to get established before you get your first crop. It will take further three years before we release our first Sussex Sparkling Wine.

Double time double money – I’m not sure who first created this statement of fact but it is true as Sarah reminds me, all too often. Everything seems to cost twice as much as we originally budgeted and take twice as long. It took us nearly two years to get planning permission for the Winery and the cost! Who knew you needed a consultant for everything from bats to bees and that we’d have to relocate two ‘common’ lizards before we could start building?

Every expense is upfront – Planting a vineyard is expensive, I knew that. It’s not just the vines but the trellising, wire, equipment (tractors and the like required) and the maintenance for the first three years before you get a crop. I knew we’d have to plan for the future but with a vineyard everything is upfront. We needed a winery to cope with not just this year’s small crop but our planned crop in 2020, so we needed a building four times the size of what is required for the first three years. We needed workers’ accommodation to house a seasonal work force and we had to build an office designed by the office fitouts brisbane company to house the staff required to manage the project.

Weather – I have now become a weather watcher (a farmer). Our crop is completely dependent on the weather. Since 2010 the weather has been extraordinary – 2011 was very hot and dry and we had what the local farmer called ‘Australian wheat’. It hardly grew above our ankles (while wearing an ankle brace) as it was so hot and dry. Then we entered 2012 and we planted our first vines in April in 23ºC into dry soil, a hose pipe ban was imposed and then the heavens opened and it developed into one of the wettest, coldest years since the 80’s. 2013 was more promising but spring started so late we planted another 80,000 vines in April, but this time through snow! 2014 is a more ‘normal’ unpredictable English summer, long balmy July days have given way to a cooler than hoped for August.

Wind – I’d done a project on the site as part of my Wine Production degree course at Plumpton College and knew we had a windy site. Some wind on a vineyard is good but the storms we had in the summers of 2012/13 delayed the growth of the vines. We have now erected temporary windbreaks to help the trees, which form shelter belts across the land, grow.  It has made a huge difference but I guess we are about a year behind where I hoped to be.

Stress – I have to say that owning a vineyard is nothing like as stressful as running a hedge fund. We have hired a fantastic team of people who have taken on responsibility for the various areas of the project, but like any long term investment I do keep looking at the business plan and historical weather data and question is this really a sane thing to do?

And the answer is YES – I have learnt that there is a great market for high quality Sussex Sparkling Wine, but you can’t expect people to just turn up and buy it. You have to promote it and work hard at selling it. We have had interested buyers walk up the drive from Sweden to China but bottles don’t just fly off shelves. The Rathfinny brand needs to be built worldwide which is partly why we encourage media coverage.

Including this article in the Easyjet magazine this month – http://traveller.easyjet.com/features/2014/08/top-of-the-pops

IMG_8010The Vineyard team –

So, refreshed after a cool summer holiday in Scotland and Cornwall (we seem to have missed the sun everywhere we’ve been!) I’m really looking forward to getting back to Rathfinny and seeing how things have progressed.

Mark Driver – Joint owner with she who must be obeyed…

Read Mark's Article

Veraison- nearly

For once I’m not going to talk about the weather.

After a fantastic summer we are about to reach the onset of Veraison.

IMG_7721Often we find ourselves saying this is an exciting time in the vineyard. Veraison is one of the true highlights of the year however. Veraison is a French word which has come to mean the onsite of grape ripening, but in all reality is the change of colour of the berries. It represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening: up until now the grapes have been going through cell division and expansion,the initial phase of berry growth. As berry growth slows the lag phase takes over. The lag phase is not a physiological stage, but a designation between the two periods of berry development. This is when veraision occurs.

Up until this point the vineyard is a sea of green, with the grapes camoufluaged against a backdrop of leaves and shoots. From here on in it all changes, in the red varieties (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) anthocyanin’s start to develop in the fruit which cause the fruit to change colour to blue/red/black, while in the whites they start to get a yellowish hue.

After we see the colour change it’s all about the sugar and acid. The sugar in the berries accumulate and the acidity levels drop. The tannins become less bitter-tasting and softer, the grapes become more palatable and finally we have something to show for the season.IMG_4031

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

Read Cam's Article

Bubbles

A few days ago I was admiring a very nice glass that just got filled with sparkling wine. There were lots of steady trains of bubbles, the bubbles were quite fine (small), and they created a very pretty ring that lingered all around the surface of the liquid, in contact with the wall of the glass. In fact, it was a very good case study.

Whatever the method is of getting bubbles in wine, this is the simple principle of effervescence: carbon dioxide, or CO2, is dissolved (trapped) in the liquid. In sparkling wines, the liquid is “over saturated” in/with CO2, creating pressure as the bottle is sealed. The pressure inside a bottle of sparkling can reach 8 bars. The lower the temperature of the liquid, the more soluble the CO2 is. This is one reason why, in addition to make it more pleasant to taste, one might want to keep sparkling wine at cold temperature prior to drinking, so the CO2 does not escape too fast, causing the wine to become “flat” within minutes.

Train de bulles

The life cycle of a bubble is as follows: nucleation (birth), ascension and growth, burst (death). Bubbles appear on an immersed particle in the glass, usually dust or fibre residues (from a drying towel), or on a rough surface, like a scratch. Then they rise to the surface of the wine, loading themselves on the way up with more CO2. That’s why bubbles increase in size in their ascent. The composition of the wine affects the bubbles as well, and how the mousse, or foam, on top of the surface behaves. For example, tensio-active molecules, such as proteins, stabilise the gas/liquid interface of the bubbles.

As they eventually burst, they project minuscule droplets that disperse the aromas of the wine. It is important that the wine is poured properly, gently and with the glass inclined to avoid excessive CO2 loss. The glass itself is also very important. Sometimes we hear people complain that a sparkling wine is not fizzy enough, when it’s only a problem with the glass. As a reminder, glasses should be washed with hot water, using as little detergent (if any at all) as possible, thoroughly rinsed with very hot water and left head down to dry. It is likely one will use a towel to get rid of watermarks, and that’s fine. As for the shape of the glass, I recommend quite tall, and not too open on top, so aromas can concentrate and not be dispersed as soon as bubbles burst. Martini-style glasses to be avoided at all costs!

After all this attention, you’ll be able to get more out of the wine, and you’ll enjoy it even more.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

Read Jonathan's Article

Oh so close !!

IMG_7402

From derelict barn…

On Monday 4th August I’m due to receive the keys from the construction company to our Flint Barn.  It’s such an exciting time for us all here at Rathfinny. Firstly let me introduce myself, I’m Adrian and I’m the new manager of the Flint Barn, I’ve been in the hospitality trade all of my working career, lastly with the charity accommodation provider YHA whom I worked with for nearly 24 years. I started work on the Rathfinny Estate in mid-June and I’m so excited about my new job and my role in developing the barn business and what we are going to offer to all the lucky people who stay with us on the Estate.  Watch this ‘blog space’ for regular updates and news about the Flint Barn.

IMG_9203

During construction…

The building is looking so beautiful both inside & out and we will soon welcome our first group of customers at the end of August. In the future we will be using the barn for the accommodation of our seasonal pickers and pruners, out of those times we will be welcoming school groups, local & special interest groups and possibly families during certain school holidays. The building has been restored to a very high standard, it will truly be a home away from home for all our guests staying. The Flint Barn is built over 3 floors with accommodation on all levels, there are 10 rooms, which are all ensuite, with a total of 48 beds. The ground floor is the location of the stunning dining room, very comfortable and warm lounge and the Snug Room. There is a fantastic courtyard and this will incorporate a small café where, in the future, walkers of our Rathfinny Trail will be able to pop in and eat light lunches and ‘tipsy’ cream teas.

Exciting times ahead, I’ll be back here soon with an update on the first visit and also with some new pictures of the finished interior. In the meantime if you want further information or have any questions then do drop me an email on adrianl@rathfinnyestate.com

005This morning…

Adrian Lamb, Flint Barn Manager

Read Ade's Article

Mid-Summer Ramblings

Just like a Marmalade fly my thoughts are scattered and flit about for this edition of the blog. It was with some relief that I could announce to the team the other week that our newly constructed access road was drivable. We now have a sinuous driveway which more importantly provides safe access to and from the Estate for authorised vehicles.

Then like the more common ‘house’ fly my relief was swatted as I became entangled between two very well known tele-communication companies. What I was requesting for the Estate appeared to be simple, but as these companies ironically had communication issues this may not be a smooth ride!  Updates to follow.

On a far more positive note the Estate Tours have commenced and feedback has been good as well as constructive. Apart from gaining access to our state of the art winery and consuming chefs locally sourced delights, the visitors have been greeted by a riot of floristic colour straight from the outset. The first wheat field they see is bordered by some of our wild bird seed mix. This is awash with poppies, sainfoin, clover, vetches and speedwells to name but a few. Thus conversely not only can you see the colours but you can hear the field. It’s humming with the sound of summer.

wildbirdseed

Our wildbird seed mix above is providing a smorgasbord for insects.

The weather has been kind to us at the moment, and the arable element of the Estate will soon be harvested. Alas, kindness is not a word being used by our wine making counterparts in California. Here, when vines usually require about 700mm of rainfall per annum, they are suffering drought conditions. Time to look to Australia for advice perhaps?

But back to our arable – with harvest approaching over another golden sunset, we have planned our next cropping to ensure we can comply with new agricultural regulations. However, this planning is being thwarted. Much of our Estate is under various “options” to benefit wildlife and enhance the landscape. But we still await government clarity on the details of the new scheme. I will refrain from making any comments on the juxtaposition of a minister showing clarity.  Again, updates to come and please follow me on Twitter for daily musings (@rathfinnyrich).

IMG_6681

This bumblebee is rather laden with pollen as it goes in again to a poppy.

All this Estate planning and forward thinking requires meetings, and meetings must contain caffeine.  (Jamie our COO would, I’m sure, concur.) Which brings this particular rambling to the subject of coffee. I would personally describe myself as a consumer of good coffee (my wife calls me a coffee snob) From the Estate I occasionally provide a substitute role for the Gun Room, our cellar door in Alfriston. To add to the other delights already in the Gun Room we now serve coffee and teas. To ensure I can provide adequate support to the team they trained me to make coffee.

How hard could it be? Hot water, decent coffee and ‘in date’ milk. Surely that’s it? After the first hour – how wrong could I be??

Choose the blend, type of coffee, type of grind, mocha, chai, flat white, speed of pour and don’t even get me started on the complexities of making frothy milk!!

Thank goodness the A-team in the Gun Room are competent baristas to serve visitors to the shop and Heritage Centre. For the time being I’ll avoid the composition and concentrate on the consumption!

(Addendum – night time cycle around Estate last evening provided excellent opportunity to hear and see two quail.  A wonderful farmland bird with a very distinctive call – very happy cyclist!)

Read Richard's Article

Working at Rathfinny Wine Estate

It’s been a sad week at Rathfinny as we have been saying goodbye to two people who are leaving us:

Liz O’Neil, whose been ‘run ragged’ by Rathfinny, ran the Tudor House restaurant in Alfriston many years ago and her family still live in the village. She joined Rathfinny in 2010 when we first bought the land as my eyes and ears on the ground and became my PA. She was due to take over the management of the Flint Barns but her circumstances have changed and she is taking on an increased responsibility for looking after her father, so heading off to pastures new. We are hugely grateful for all she has done at Rathfinny over the past 4 years and we wish her every success with her new plans.

Also, Nikki Roucher (Cameron’s partner) will be stepping down as the Manager of the Gun Room.  She has done a brilliant job at establishing the Gun Room as an iconic shop and visitor’s centre in Alfriston and has worked hard to help source all the wine related products. We shall miss her but fully support her decision to spend more time with her young family. She will, of course, continue to have a presence in all our lives as part of the Rathfinny family.

We have started the process of finding a replacement for Nikki and if you’re interested then please see the advert on our website: http://rathfinnyestate.com/work

We have also recently welcomed two new members to the Rathfinny team:

Adrian Lamb – after working for the YHA for nearly twenty years has joined us to manage the Flint Barns, which will be used to house our seasonal workers and will provide accommodation for special interest groups. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with him.

And joining the vineyard team we have ‘Geordie’ Dave Porter (we now have two Davids in the vineyard!) who after working in the Margaret River and Hawkes Bay in New Zealand for several years, has come back to England to get involved in this new exciting industry, did he miss the warm beer? Also, Mark Lavender, an ex-chef for Eastbourne has joined the vineyard crew.

photo 2

So if you are interested in joining the Rathfinny Wine Estate and in particular if you have relevant retail management experience and would like to manage our shop in Alfriston please get in touch.

Mark Driver

Read Mark's Article

Our first award!

It’s been another lovely week at Rathfinny with the sun shining high in the sky. We are thrilled to have been awarded our first award, the Sussex Heritage Award – design for the future, respect for the past – for our Gun Room. Congratulations are especially due to Martin Swatton and Anthony Sherwin who worked collaboratively to create the fine building we now have on the Tye. Do come along as see what we have to offer in the shop, where we’re now doing delicious take away coffees, and what is on show upstairs in the Heritage Centre.

photo

On another note, (literally!) Emily and I have been planning our programme for next year’s concerts with London Conchord Ensemble. Make a note in your diaries now of the date – June 12th – 14th 2015 – as tickets will go fast. Every session will be completely different from the opening night on the Friday through to the Gala evening on the Saturday, interspersed with a morning coffee concert, an educational session, a piano recital and much, much more. Watch this space!

 

Talking of events you can now book our Estate Tours online. Here’s an extract from a satisfied customer who went on one of our Tea Tours,

 

            “thank you for the brilliant time we had at Rathfinny’s last Saturday. The whole experience was uplifting, informative and motivational. We enjoyed the first class tea and thank you for sharing Mr and Mrs Drivers awe inspiring vision/reality with us.”

 

Thank you for those kind words.

 

Finally, I was given a card the other day with the words that I have seen before, but which always make me smile! I shall have to start working on my quote for our Sussex Sparkling!

 

“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 if if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” Lily Bollinger

 

Read Sarah's Article

It’s flowering time in the Rathfinny vineyard

As Wimbledon fortnight is about to start I have finally found something in common with my 23-year-old son. We both want nice hot dry sunny weather. He wants it because he’s working as a court coverer on number one court, lucky chap, and as long as it’s dry he gets to sit around and watch the tennis all day, and get paid – who calls that work? I want it because our young vines are about to flower and rain would mean poor flowering and what’s called fruit set.

Infloresense

Some of our young vines have some decent inflorescence (a cluster of flowers on the cane) and as long as the weather holds the flowers will be out over the next week or so. Vines flowers are wind pollinated so rely on a gentle breeze to move the pollen from stamen to stigma (remember your biology lessons). If it rains the pollen gets washed away and we end up less of the flowers in the cluster being pollenated, ie ‘poor fruit set’ and then we get less grapes.

flowering1

So let’s hope that Wimbledon fortnight is nice and dry and warm. Then we might have a good crop this year.

Court coverer

Oh and the court coverers can watch the tennis (that’s him in the middle).

Mark Driver

Read Mark's Article

RATHFINNY HARVEST 2019 HAS BEGUN

IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON VISITING US DURING THIS PERIOD, PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK FOR MORE DETAILS

HARVEST VISITOR INFO PROCEED TO WEBSITE