Rathfinny Wine Estate

Please don’t put plastic in with your green waste…..

If you are going to all the trouble of collecting your household potato peelings or garden waste to put it in a ‘green waste’ recycling bin, why put plastic in with it? It’s like putting a brown bottle in a white bottle-recycling bin! Putting plastic, even plastic bags, in with your ‘green waste’ makes it completely useless to people like us who could use hundreds of tons of this composted green waste on our vines each year.
We have been trying to source of good quality, plastic free compost to go on the vines from local composting companies. These companies collect and compost down household green waste, but sadly it is proving very difficult to find plastic free compost.

When it is chopped up into a fine ‘soil conditioner’ and filtered the composting company can remove the majority of the plastic. However, by then the compost is so fine, that unless it is dug in, it will either get washed away or just blow around the vineyard.

So here is the deal. Tell your neighbours, tell your friends… Tweet it on.

DON’T PUT PLASTIC IN YOUR GREEN WASTE

Otherwise, we will end up looking like Champagne vineyards that misguidedly used Parisian rubbish in their vineyards in the 1980’s & 90’s and they still have bits of plastic sticking out of the soil now.

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If like us you collect food peelings and the like you can buy liners for your food waste bins from most supermarkets or on-line. They are made of cornstarch so they breakdown very easily and compost away. Unlike plastic bags!!!

Thank you – Rant over.

Got the message?

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About bottling…

I felt uninspired when I was reminded that I had to post on the blog this week.
My wife kindly told me that I should talk about what I do—or, what I would be doing—if the winery was up and running.

As Mark and I are scheduling a trip to Italy in March to go and visit a bottling-line manufacturing plant, it reminds me of the many stressful days and restless nights I had when I first started bottling over a decade ago. (Yikes, that makes me sound old!)

Bottling is easy, right? After all, a bottling line is just a big piece of equipment that, after proper set up, runs by itself. Well, that’s what it SHOULD be.

I started bottling on older equipment, where each machine was a mechanism that had to be set up independently, and also synchronised with all other machines, so the entire line would be able to run efficiently and smoothly.

Human labour was pretty intense: filling the conveyor with bottles, insuring that machines were always loaded so they would never run out of corks, bidules, crown caps, foils, and labels. Finally, transferring the finished product into cases. Any problem—even so much as a wrinkled label or one improperly-inserted cork—would most likely end up stopping the line, requiring restarting it, which felt like a waste of time. This used to be my nightmare. My reality.

The last bottling line I used was a “monobloc”, where all units are built in a single large unit, already synchronised, and the only adjustments were about shape and size of the bottles. It still required the same amount of human labour, but this was much easier to run, and it did not give me as much trouble, just a bit from time to time.

Bottling season is always a very stressful time for me. From making sure that it is a sterile environment, to making sure that it runs continuously and fast enough, and ensuring constant quality of the delivered product. As bottling is an addition of many different steps, there are lots of parameters to control, and it can get overwhelming at times.

And of course, when one thing goes wrong, it usually creates a chain of reactions on the entire line. Translate: late day.

Bottling is a fast paced process that really needs constant attention.

Bottling still wines is usually done in one session, from filling to packaging.

Bottling sparkling wines is a multi-step process: filling/crown capping the bottles for second fermentation, then disgorging, and finally packaging.

I do remember, in my early years (but after all, wine keeps me young), hearing the bottling line in my sleep, the perpetual clinging of the bottles bumping into each other, and dreaming that the line was having problem after problem… and me trying to fix them.

It takes time to get used to a bottling line, to “master” it. It is funny how eventually in such a noisy environment (earplugs mandatory!) any change in the surrounding noises indicates a problem or a fault, and how you do not even have to look at the line because you already now what the issue is. A simple grinding noise, a vibration, or even a subtle change in bottle-clinking. These are the moments when you know that you finally have it all under control.

Domination over the machine is a very nice feeling indeed.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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Rain, rain and more rain… then snow. How are the vines Mark?

The week before last I was invited up to Liverpool to talk at a dinner held by a group who call themselves the LADS, the Lancashire Agricultural Discussion Society. I thought they’d want to hear about why I’m transforming Rathfinny from an arable farm into a vineyard, when wheat prices are hitting new highs. In fact many of them wanted to hear about hedge funds and how they work.

My memory of Lancashire when I attended Lancaster University, in the early 80’s, was that it rained everyday and the rain was mostly horizontal! So it came as no surprise to hear that it had been pretty wet up there in 2012. After the dinner several of the guys approached me and we talked about the weather, as you do. One farmer told me how in 2012, he had had 1498mm (59 inches) of rain, another had experienced 1422mm (56 inches).  Not wishing to sound like a weather bore, it was very interesting and made me look at our weather data when I got back.

We had 940mm (37 inches) of rain at Rathfinny in 2012, which is about 17.5% above the average for the past sixty years but 50% more the rainfall than we had in 2011! However, according to the Eastbourne weather data it is not a record or even close. In 2000 and 2002 Eastbourne, which is only 6miles away, recorded 1062mm and 1028mm of rain and in 1960 they had 1178mm of rain.

So what about temperatures? This is when it becomes interesting. The average annual temperature at Rathfinny in 2012 was 11.3C which, although lower than the record set in 2011 of 12.3C, was still above the average of 10.8C for the past sixty years. The trouble was that whilst we had a very very hot March, the key growing months of June, July, September and even October were very cool.

So whilst Cameron and his team are carefully pruning the vines and they rest under a blanket of snow, we are left to think ahead to 2013 and hope that we have a more normal weather year, hoepfully following the warming trend set over the last twenty years, and I promise that this year I won’t pray for rain!!

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By the way vines survive under snow and frost.  It’s only in extremely harsh winters, like those experienced in Canada, that you have to protect them. The picture above is of Champagne.

Weather bores, like me, can consult the Met office website…
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/2012/annual.html

Great excitement this week – the glue laminated wooden beams which will form the roof of the Winery arrived this week and despite the snow on the ground they started to put them in place.

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It’s Pruning Time

My favourite time of the vineyard year, pruning is such a wonderful and important part of the vineyard calendar.

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Pruning at Rathfinny started on the 4th of January, and our pruning team of Felix, Ian, David and (when not dragged away for other jobs-like blog writing) myself have been getting through the vines planted last year. We even managed to get Mark and his brother Philip out for an hours or so – although they struggled with the early start; they ambled up raring to go just as we were about to break for morning tea!

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As I write this we are just over half way through the whole vineyard, most of the vines are being cut back to two buds to enable them to push strong healthy shoots this spring, and hopefully a small crop. The vines that have done well over the summer we are laying a short cane on the fruiting wire.

We’ve also had the ground preparation for next year’s planting begin, many thanks to our contract farmers, The Ellis’s and their staff, for giving us a helpng hand with (slightly) bigger tractors than are needed in vineyards.

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On top of all this we’ve also had Richard Bartlett and his team back who have planted all our trees across the property to plant even more shelter belts in anticipation of the 2014 planting.

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There has been an increase in news lately regarding last summer’s rain and the effect it will have on food and in particular nutrient levels in food. We’ve all had the question asked of us: how are the vines?Vines, trees, and other long term crops fair a little better than most short term crops.Although in general, nutrient levels have been leached over the past year, we take a more long term view of nutrients and try to keep them in balance as much as possible so that extreme weather events, such as last year’s rain, don’t effect us. Whereas crops that are seasonal and rotated each season have to add the nutrient they require for that season, so when something like last year’s rain comes along most growers will struggle to either get the nutrient on or predict nutrient requirements for the year. The better growers take a more holistic approach and ensure nutrient levels in the soil are at a level where they can easily be maintained.

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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Progress on the Winery building…

British workers often get branded as lazy and slow, well not this lot. The steel frame arrived last Saturday and they got straight to work and started bolting it together over the weekend.

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By Monday the structure was really beginning to take shape.

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I should explain that the building has essentially two floors. With office space, a staff room, technical tasting room and a lab on what could be discribed as a third floor at the rear.

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The presses will hang from the first floor above what will be the fermentation area, which will have a series of settling and fermentation tanks in it. The first floor will provide a dry goods storage area, temporary barrel store and tasting room opening onto a balcony which runs along the south side of the building.

The link below, to a video, put together by Martin Swatton who designed the winery has been posted on youtube, it will give you a good idea of what it will look like:

By the way we have recently started posting some of our resident photographer, Viv Blakey’s, superb pictures:  http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/gallery/

Looking good….

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New Year activity at Rathfinny

It has been a busy start to the year at Rathfinny. The steel has just arrived which will form the frame of the winery and it is being erected as I write this, I’ll post some pictures later in the week.

Also, Cameron and I have been off to Lyon (France) to visit one of the nurserys we are using to grow the vines we will be planting in March this year. We ordered these vines in 2011 so we wanted to take a look before we place a further order for vines needed in 2014!

It’s a long process making vines:

Firstly, suitable rootstock cane (in our case Fercal which is good for our chalky soil and used extensively in Champagne) is collected from plots in the nursery.

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This is then sorted and graded..

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The canes are then cut into the correct length ready for grafting – We have chosen to plant 90cm ‘high-grafted’ vines, which means the graft union is closer to the fruiting wire (the bottom wire of the trellis set at 110cm that will hold the grapes), this will save the vines from rabbit damage as the buds are off the ground and will mean we will hopefully gain a year before we get fruit.

The selected grape variety, in our case mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is then grafted on the top of these rootstock canes and the vines are planted out in the nursery for a year.

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They are then dug up, trimmed, cleaned, packed and stored over the winter months in a cool room before they are dispatched to us for planting at the end of March this year. Notice that some of the vines in this patch of the nursery are low-graft and others high.

We have chosen the high-grafted vines but the above pictures show some smaller vines which have been cleaned ready to be sent to Canada. The tops are covered in wax to save the graft union from drying out. They look good don’t they?

So we are now finalising our order for a further 80,000 vines for planting in 2014.

Happy New Year to you all…

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Bubbles for every occasion!

Plowing_Dec_12.jpg.scaled1000As a year ends and another one is about to start – well, that’s hoping that we actually survive the apocalypse scheduled for December 21st – lots of us are gearing up for celebrating the New Year with sparkling wine.

Champagne has had for decades a dominant role in the end of year celebrations around the world. I had never really looked into the origin of this trend. It appears that prior to 1789, royals drank Champagne as a tradition to celebrate events,  because – being both a novelty and an expensive one – it was a status symbol.

Historians say that Champagne, after the French Revolution, became used in secular celebrations, replacing religious rituals.

The wine became traditionally opened at various religious celebrations, such as baptisms and weddings.

I remember the excitement when Champagne would gush at the podium of the Formula One Grand Prix. I begged my dad, who at the time was working for Moët & Chandon, to take me with him to one of these races, unfortunately this never happened! On the plus side, he would never fail when sabering a large bottle (chopping its neck off with a large sword)  at various events.

Sparkling wine is a lively and festive wine, traditionally consumed all around the world. Symbolically, it overflows in abundance and joy. I have always been a proponent of sparkling wine as an aperitif but also as a wine to accompany the whole meal.

If you are into wine pairing, look into it. There are a broad variety of sparkling wines, from the light and delicate to the full bodied and rich. There are so many different types of sparkling produced all around the world, no doubt you’ll find a gem somewhere.

Try to start with, say, a Chardonnay-based sparkling. Fine effervescence, delicate flavors and aromas to open your appetite. Then, when pairing with food, it can be quite simple, don’t be scared.

With rich foods, try a Pinot Noir-based wine, for it will have the body to stand up to their richness.

For seafood and/or a salty course, pretty much any sparkling will work, as long as it is not too sweet, i.e. avoid sec, demi-sec and look for brut or dry.

Rosé wines will work with smoked fish and chocolate.

With meat, have you ever tried a sparkling Syrah? Or Bolney’s sparkling Cuvee Noir?

Keep the sweet sparkling like sec, demi-sec for dessert or try with spicy recipes.

Try to be adventurous, and you’ll surely be rewarded.

Don’t tell, but I am taking English sparkling to Champagne for Christmas!

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker at Rathfinny Wine Estate

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Lots of progress on the Winery and planning consent for the Flint Barns!!

Work started on the Winery in September and already the foundations have been poured and the ground floor walls went up this week.

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It took over 40 cement trucks to deliver the 350 tonnes of concrete that were poured over 60 tonnes of steel reinforcement rods to form the foundations of our Winery. It’s not going anywhere!I it didn’t stop there. The steel frame will arrive in two weeks time and hopefully they will start putting that up just before or soon after Christmas.

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Jonathan Médard, our winemaker, and I have just returned from Bordeaux where we attended the Vinitech, a trade show for vineyard and winery equipement. We have finalised some of our choices for the grape processing area, including a red-grape sorting bench, de-stemmer and crusher. We also found a very good supplier of lab equipement, based in the UK but supplying the wine trade the world over.

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Meanwhile the boys have been collecting flints from the vineyard to use when restoring the Flint Barns because, DRUM ROLL PLEASE!!! – After two years of consultation and endless revision, we have finally been given planning permission to redevelop our Flint Barns into a 44-bed hostel for both seasonal workers, as well as educational and other organised special interest groups. It was a long painful process but we finally got there! Thank you SDNPA.

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Lastly, we have just published our Winter 2012 Newsletter so look out for the link on our Website and if you haven’t done so already, why not subscribe?

http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/newsletter/

 

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Without Soil Where Would We Be?

Wine writer Hugh Johnson once called vineyard soil “the unseen dankness where the vine roots suck.” It is an often forgotten part of our process.  I recently attended a seminar on the subject of soil, which got me to thinking about the many different facets of soil and why it is so fascinating.

Ok, so not everyone finds soil interesting, but consider this:

  • To the farmer, soil is where crops grow.
  • To the engineer, soil is a foundation on which to build.
  • To the ecologist, soil supports and connects the ecosystems.
  • To the archaeologist, soil holds clues to past cultures.
  • to crafts people, like potters, soil provides clay to make things.
  • Soil is all of these and more. Soil has been called “the skin of the earth” because it is the thin outermost layer of the Earth’s crust.
  • Like our own skin, we can’t live without soil.
  • Soil is the basis for all life on earth, not only delivering 90% of the food produced it most importantly delivers ALL the wine.

And through the complexities of soil we get different characteristics in our wine.

Soil (or more specifically vineyard site) is part of the trilogy of what makes a great wine, the other two pieces of the puzzle being grape variety and human input.

In a vineyard site there will always be a troublesome patch that under performs or an area that consistently produces a higher quality than those around it.

Given that if the varieties and clones are the same, this will most likely be down to soil.

While we say that here at Rathfinny we have between 15 and 30cm of topsoil over a chalk base, the truth of the matter is there is variation through the fields. Not just physically but biologically, and chemically. We are trying to work around this variation by setting up our blocks with the help of surveying the soil prior to planting.

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The guys from Soilquest have just been on-site to EC map our upcoming planting. What this does is build up an accurate field map of soil variation and nutrient status by measuring electrical conductivity to two depths; we then analyze representative soil samples from each soil type zone.

This enables us to pinpoint areas of similar soil type when we set out our blocks and in turn maintain a more even and easier to manage block.

A true farmer doesn’t just grow crops, but farms the soil.

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By Cameron Roucher

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Buying British…

I had a myriad of thoughts late at night during a recent trip home to Hong Kong for my niece’s wedding.

Long on my mind has been the issue of employment and sourcing – both of which we want to do from England.  We want to build a seasonal workforce made up of local people, who gain skills and come back to us year on year for both picking in September and pruning in the New Year.  We want to buy British wherever we can and, as I venture out to source products to sell in our tasting room (which we hope to open next summer,) and to stock in our winery and flint barns my continual refrain is “does it come from Britain?”

 

The issues are not straightforward.  Take employment.  We can have a team of pickers, many of them from Eastern Europe, who are honest and reliable. They arrive early, work hard and we only have to make one payment to their manager.  Incidentally, it gets more subtle, many of them have lived here for years, so aren’t strictly migrant workers.  Employing local workers raises practical issues – what do they do for the rest of the year?  Or are local workers simply ‘teams’ who go from harvest to harvest around the country – and how then are they different from the other teams?

See, it’s not that easy.  Everyone tells me, it can’t be done: that we won’t find local people who want to come and pick, who are reliable and hard working.  Well, I’d like to prove them wrong. It is our intention to try, so if you’re reading this and fancy vineyard work when the time comes, drop us a line and we’ll contact you later on next year.

Sourcing.  Again, this is not an easy issue.  We are looking at glasses for tasting and for our winery and the flint barns as well as to sell. What I’m learning is that England makes great crystal, but not everyday, good quality glasses.  For that we need to go to Eastern Europe or the States.  Willow baskets – yes, we can get them made here, but the costs are very high, whereas if we went to China ….

Whilst in Hong Kong we visited Shenzhen over the border where the employment and sheer energy is overwhelming.  This is a city that has grown from 10,000 people in 1978 to more than 14 million today.  The number of people eager to do business is extraordinary.  The number of fake English labels like Burberry, Mulberry and Cath Kidston reiterates the fact that I learnt at a British Council event – English brands have a great reputation all over the world and people want them.

With all these thoughts in mind, I’ve been reading ‘Time to Start Thinking: America in Descent’ by Ed Luce (which I highly recommend) that questions America’s role in the world.  It got me thinking that in the same way that we seem to follow what happens over the pond, Britain too will be heading this way unless we change our outlook.

I don’t know the answer to our employment and sourcing issues but suspect we’ll have to compromise on our desire to ‘buy British’ in every way.

Tired and confused, worried about the state of the world, I suddenly questioned whether we should be making sparkling wine, a high end and relatively frivolous product at all.  Horrified, I turned to Mark only to find my ramblings had long since bored him and he was fast asleep!

So I had to work it out myself.  Yes – we should be making English Sparkling Wine because we are making something.  In the tradition of this country, we aim to make a quality, unique British product that will not only sell here but abroad and in so doing, will create jobs and opportunities for people in this country.

At that I was, (and you probably are too!) exhausted!

PS.  The photos above are some of Viv’s great photos of the winery development.  The second half of the slab was poured today – 200 tons of concrete has been poured over the last 10 days!

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A votre santé, Professor Renaud

Prof. Serge Renaud was a French scientist who pioneered research into the prevention of cardiovascular disease, among other health issues. He participated in broadening research into the role of wine, alcohol, fatty acids and other components in preserving health and preventing disease.

His medical career took him notably to Montréal, Canada, Boston, Massachusetts, and Lyon, France.

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Professor Renaud died at the end of October of 2012, not too far away from Bordeaux, leaving behind so many contributions to science, that he was decorated in 2005 with the “Légion d’Honneur”, the highest French distinction.

Professor Renaud appeared on the TV program 60 Minutes, in 1991, explaining what people still refer to as the “French Paradox”. He challenged people to see the benefits of wine rather than its potential risks.

The United States of America, where 60 years before then alcohol consumption was illegal due to prohibition, saw red wine sales go up 40 per cent within days, like a revolution.

Over several decades Professor Renaud studied the effects of how food and diet relate to health and how some nutrients can promote health: Mediterranean diet, anyone?

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He said one day: “If I hadn’t lived with my grandparents and great-grandparents on a vineyard near Bordeaux, perhaps this idea wouldn’t have occurred to me.  When you see people reach the age of 80 or 90 years, who have been drinking small amounts of wine every day, you don’t believe wine in low doses is harmful.”

Nearly a century earlier, Louis Pasteur said “Wine is the most healthy and most hygienic of beverages”.

Even though some of the wine components’ effects, like Resveratrol, a natural phenol, are still being studied, it is now pretty widely accepted that a glass of wine can be good company to a balanced meal. Alcohol is not the devil it used to be anymore, as long as consumed in moderation.

Professor Renaud’s legacy is without doubt a whole new broader vision of the effects of diet on general health.

My take on this, and I do not expect it will get me the Légion d’Honneur, is that your meal will be even better when started with a glass of English sparkling wine.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker at Rathfinny 

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Fly Fishing in Montana

I was reminded whilst waiting in vain to cross the road in Columbia, South Carolina, that contrary to Dunkin Donuts assertion that ‘America runs on Dunkin’, America runs on gasoline, the car is king and the pedestrian a second class citizen.

Everything is big in America, the cars, the houses, the portions and the fish were no exception. I had never been fly-fishing before and everyone warned me how difficult it was and how I should get some lessons before I went. It seems a little crazy to fly all the way to Helena, Montana to go fishing but that is what I did two weeks and I would thoroughly recommend it. I travelled out via New York to visit friends and back via Columbia, South Carolina to see my eldest son who is studying at USC for a year, you forget how big America is until you try to fly form the northwest to the southeast!

He has started a blog which is hilarious: http://diggersatusc.tumblr.com/

The fishing was fantastic. We fished the Missouri River for two days and then Wolf Creek for a day on a boat. The Missouri river, which starts in Montana and ends up joining the Mississippi, is split by several hydro dams in Montana and the area we fished was below Holter dam. On our first day we lost count of how many large 18-24″ rainbow trout we caught. As our fantastic guide and teacher Nate Stevan said, “each one would have been a ‘day-maker’ on any other river”.

What an introduction to fly-fishing. Of course I have been completely spoilt as day three demonstrated as we fished Wolf Creek. We caught several fish including a decent sized brown trout but nothing as large as the fish in the Missouri.

I have to say that overall I was disappointed with a lot of the wines we found in the US. I tried a lot of Oregon Pinot Noir, which is made in the Burgundian style, light colour and body, but they seemed to lack the depth of the French wines and the prices where astronomic. However, one little gem was the Wild Hogg 2008 Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley in Sonoma, this is a great example of Pinot from that cooler area of the Sonoma Valley, California.

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If you fancy trying fly-fishing I recommend Nate Stevane as a guide, he runs a small outfitters called Trout on the fly Montana (www.montanatroutonthefly.com).

Back in England now to see how the building work is getting along. The foundations of the winery are going in and hopefully we can move into our new office in the next two weeks then we can get organised.

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It’s just grape farming……

As the end of my first full season in a vineyard in England comes to a close I wonder what next year will bring for us?

News of some producers not harvesting due to the poor quality of their fruit and others not even having any fruit to make that decision, leaves the rest waiting for a break in the weather to harvest.

Difficult growing conditions have plagued the 2012 harvests across Europe, with reports of a significant drop in vineyard yield’s from Champagne to Bordeaux, even in Spain and Italy. This year’s UK harvest compounds a series of challenging weather events for farmers – including the worst drought in 50 years in the US and a heat wave in Russia which have led to warnings of rises in food prices globally. In the UK, the cool and wet weather over flowering in June and July both reduced and delayed the fruit set leading to smaller crops and delayed ripening in UK vineyards.

What the general public tend to forget is that a vineyard is just another form of farming (our tractor’s are just smaller). Like any weather dependent industries we are just as liable to good and bad years, which is part of the beauty of wine, it gives us the challenge of trying to make the best from what’s thrown at us, and looking forward to the years when it all goes as it should. It also means we have no two years the same. So here’s looking forward to next year!

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The vineyard team has been working in all conditions this summer, with winter yet to come. They’ve done a great job of getting all the posts and wire in to support the vines – a mammoth task. They’ve just got a bit of general maintenance to do before we start to prepare next year’s planting, removal of fences and adding fertilizer adjustments.  As well as our normal tasks we now have to work around our contractors for the next 12 months while they build the winery (although they are great and flying along at a terrific rate) and it doesn’t make it easy having to work around diggers, dumpers and trucks to-ing and fro-ing. Soon they’ll be into the pruning, which granted won’t be for a couple of months until the vines are fully hardened off and dormant but as with everything it will be upon us before we know it.

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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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