Rathfinny Wine Estate

Ribera del Duero

My wife has left me and gone to Salamanca in Spain for a month to learn Spanish. So I thought I’d better go and check in on her progress so spent a long weekend, with her, in the Ribera Del Duero.

This Spanish wine region was voted the best in the world in 2012. You can see why. Its sandy and chalky hills that extend along the north of the river Duero to the east of Valladolid provide a perfect, if not dry, place to nurture the hardy red Tempranillo grape that has made this region famous for its rich red wines. Note – many of the vineyards use fixed irrigation, presumably using water from the river Duero to help sustain the vines through long hot dry summers.

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We stayed in Peñafiel in a hotel owned by the family behind Pesquera one of the oldest and largest producers of wine for the region. We went on a tour of their more modern wine producing facility, which was in full swing as they are mid-way through harvest. We were shown one of the oldest grape presses I’ve ever seen. It presses grapes using the weight of the log!

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Pesquera produce a very pleasing, but what I would class as a traditional wine from Spain, heavily oaked in a high proportion of new French and American oak barrels, then bottled and released with the traditional Crianza, Reserva and Grand Reserva titles prominent on the label. [Spanish wine labelling is all about the ageing of wine principally in oak – Crianza means the wine is aged for 2 years before release and has spent between 6-12 months in oak barrels, a Reserva is 3 years old and has spent more between 12 – 24 months in oak and Grand Reserva is five years old and has spent more than 2 years in oak]. Pesquera sell over 50% of their wine to America and the rest around the world. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very well made wine but the oak is just over powering and although you can still taste the fruit, this sort of wine is not what this region is beginning to be known for.

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PAÑAFIEL

We then went into the cellars of a wine merchant in Peñafiel to sample wine from the upstarts: the newer and smaller producers who are beginning to produce wines which are an expression of the regions Terroir, that French word which I loath but love because it expresses so much in a single word about a region’s climate, soils and wine making techniques. Rather than being dominated by expressions of oak these newer wines possess an expression of the Duero region.

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I’m talking about wines like Aalto and a smaller producer called Lynus, who age their wines for twelve – eighteen months in oak but don’t call their wine a Crianza or a Reserva but they are a delicious expression of this wonderful lush grape.

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The fruit was still hanging, or hanging off the vines we passed. Most of the vines are on high trellises, but some are bushes like the one below and the fruit was so ripe you could taste the sugar. It was a rich sugary purple grape, busting with flavour.

So if you fancy a weekend off the beaten track in Spain I can recommend this region very highly. Oh and Salamanca is one of the most glorious cities I’ve ever visited and if you drive up from Madrid, one of the best airports in Europe, you can visit Avila with its wonderful walled city. Why did they need so many churches in the middle ages?

If you want to try some Aalto speak to Zoran at www.citywinecollection.co.uk

Back in Blighty now and hoping to harvest our grapes next week, if they haven’t been blown or washed away!

Mark Driver

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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!

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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.

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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!!

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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,
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the robust bunches of the ever reliable Meunier,
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the golden yellow of the Chardonnay,

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the tight small bunches of the Pinot Noir,

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and the ever hopeful Riesling still looking crisp and clean.

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

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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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.

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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.

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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

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