Each year the Oregon Winegrowers hold their annual symposium in Portland. The symposium is comprised of two full days of panel discussions and presentations covering the most relevant topics in viticulture, oenology and wine business. In addition to this it also hosts the Northwest’s largest wine industry trade show.
This year I was lucky enough to attend the symposium as well as spend a day visiting vineyards in the Willamette Valley. For those of you who aren’t up to speed with Oregon wine this is prime Pinot Noir country.
We have recently received approval from the South Downs National Park Planning Authority for permission to build two, admittedly large, new buildings to process our wine – bottling, riddling, disgorging and labeling, and store our sparkling wine ‘on-lees’ – whilst the wine matures and the secondary fermentation takes place and the bubbles appear. After a nervous presentation we got unanimous support from the committee for our plans. Thank you to the SDNPA as we had no plan B!
Our harvest was quite late, even for England.
We started picking grapes in the last week of October. The summer was poor, July and August were cool and a little damp but September and October were fine and dry and great ripening months so we managed to pick our first decent harvest at Rathfinny. We had over 25 tonnes of grapes and the really great thing was that they were really clean and had a great balance of sugars and acidity for sparkling wine. So we have a happy and busy winemaker and we will be bottling some 25,000 bottles of Sussex Sparkling, adding to the 6,000 bottles from 2014 in the cellar, in spring 2016. So we’re still on track to release our first Rathfinny Sparkling wine in 2018.
Every year the French winemakers organise the Vinalies, which is a professional national tasting that assesses both French and foreign wines. The first rounds of the tasting have each region of France tasting its own products for a pre-selection. Once that selection is done, the final tasting will occur when all winemakers are gathered again, in April, when the pre-selected wines are tasted and rated to pick our favorites, give awards and finally publish a guide.
Now if that title has not stirred your interest nothing will.
Has winter arrived? Are the birds singing? Can we see ‘mother’ nature stirring from her slumber in the vineyard and in our gardens?
Phenology is the study of the cyclical change in nature in relation to the climate and the seasons. We were glad to see the temperature finally dip in the vineyard just in order for the vines to realise that they can stay a sleep a little longer. While they sleep through the winter they can take pretty much any climatic variation the UK can throw at them. During their sleep we still tend to them, as they are the most important element on the Estate (apologies Sarah) and they all get a haircut to regulate growth and stimulate grape production – this haircut is referred to as pruning and is far better described in Cam’s previous blog.
Finally it’s starting to feel like winter.
We’re getting frosty starts, and colder days, still plenty of rainy one’s too but we’re managing to work around those.
This winter we have almost 240,000 vines to prune, which is no small task.
Is it me or did this half term holiday seem to come round really very quickly? Looking at the BBC weather forecast for the next week it looks like it could be bright and sunny, but chilly. That sounds like perfect weather for getting out and about – why not come and have a good ramble on the Rathfinny Trail and pop in to our café for a well-deserved hot drink and piece of cake or even come up for a tasty lunch? The café will be open 10am to 4pm every day over the half term period, why not lounge by a log fire with the daily newspapers.
Who knew how long it takes to do a new website? Well I do now and it’s a very long process that has seen me sitting concentrating for hours on end on spellings, making sure links go to the right place, consistency of style and so much more. Basically all the things that bore my husband to bits.
Which reminds me that this is what I spend much of my time doing at Rathfinny – checking other people’s letters, blogs, all our literature and documentation because for some reason or other, we seem to attract a lot of people who can’t spell (dyslexics by another name!) When Jamie joined us, I thought – yes, someone else to share the burden – until one week later he confessed that he couldn’t help on that front and in fact would be adding to my work load as he too is … dyslexic! I can forgive all this however because I know first hand the great other qualities dyslexics bring to the workplace, not least their ability to think creatively and tackle problems from a different angle. (By the way, I must quickly add that I do not include Richard in this category and he helps out on the checking too.)
Two articles have appeared this week on the excellent Berry Brothers and Rudd blog site to do with the Sussex PDO, which is still pending submission by DEFRA to the European Commission.
A recent article in Decanter discussed whether or not to disclose and/or display disgorgement dates on bottles of sparkling wines. I was horrified to read that a Champagne producer thinks “that the recent obsession with disgorgement dates is reducing the winemaking process in Champagne to insignificant numbers which are not understood by most of the people talking about them”. What a way to think about your customers!
It’s great to see that all the flooding that has been around Alfriston is starting to dissipate, from our view on the hill it looked like the whole Cuckmere Valley was one big lake. Thankfully the wind and rain has abated this week and we are seeing more traditional wintery days now. It’s a little bit too chilly though for Spike, so we might have to buy him one of those little dog jackets – Rathfinny branded of course!! Apparently Jamie’s Springer Spaniel has a quilted puffer jacket but he’s not admitting to it!
The classical music Festival 2016 at Rathfinny is cancelled.
Let me start by wishing you all a very happy New Year. It’s a time of reflection and of resolutions (I’m on a dry January though no one will be surprised to hear that my husband is not!) and I have done much reflecting and thinking over the past fortnight and have come to one of the hardest decisions since we started Rathfinny 5 years ago.
As we looked ahead to what will be an incredibly busy year, with major building works due to start in June, constructing a wine processing and storage facility, and as we edge ever closer to launching our first Sussex sparkling wine, we took the time to muse on the past year. After a lot of thought and with a heavy heart we have decided not to go ahead with the annual Festival of classical music with the London Conchord Ensemble.
It’s that time of year and I have five wishes for the New Year:
- A great diet from Tophealthjournal to keep myself healthy and share it with all my friends and family and make work out, using instahard.
- I’m sorry to say this but a badger cull. We don’t get much damage from rabbits and we can generally build fences to keep them away from our vines, but badgers just push through the fences and they cause so much damage in the vineyard and eat so many grapes. They even got through the nets and ate half our Pinot Noir Précoce this year!
As the year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on the past year and what we’ve achieved at Rathfinny.
In 2015 we have started to see the results of all our collective hard work over the last five years. Yes, we have made mistakes and yes, we’ve been on a steep learning curve. For example, we underestimated the effects of the wind and the need to plant temporary wind breaks in order to give our tree breaks a chance. However, we have had a superb harvest giving great quality fruit and good yields from our young vines, and the Winery smells like a winery, the aromas of fermenting wine wafting up to the rafters and into the Tasting Room.