Rathfinny Wine Estate

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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The first of many visitors…

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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.

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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.

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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 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

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Flint Barns – we’re nearly there!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

Sarah Driver

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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…

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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

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