Rathfinny Wine Estate

Clearing the Way.

Those fortunate to live in sight of the South Downs may feel that the Red Indians are in full swing at the moment as the skyline becomes peppered with small fires and the associated smoke (signals).

Don’t worry.  No need for the Lone Ranger just yet.  From October to the end of February is the ideal time to manage the internationally important chalk grassland which forms the back bone of the Downs.  During the winter, while so much wildlife lies dormant, we have a window of opportunity to clear any ‘unwanted’ vegetation.

Now the word ‘unwanted’ is a contentious one.  The vegetation we wish to see is the previously mentioned chalk grassland and its myriad of colours.  This can be lost if shrubs and trees such as blackthorn, hawthorn and bramble for example go unchecked.  Historically, the pressure of grazing animals would keep any ‘unwanted’ growth at bay.  Times have changed and it is now down to person power (and the odd chainsaw) to remove this vegetation and allow the flowers and grasses to thrive.  The areas of blackthorn and hawthorn are often referred to as scrub.  And with all things in life, it is a question of balance.  We would like some scrub, as it is important for all kinds of wildlife such as birds and butterflies for example.  Whereas too much scrub means the wonderful flowers are overshadowed and lose out – which affects all manner of things further up the food chain.

We are fortunate, that being within the South Downs National Park, we can utilise the highly skilled workforce which is the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service.  Here are some of them after a great days work assisting us to restore our chalk grassland.  Thanks so much to them and we hope to see them again soon.

As our vines are dormant at the moment, the vineyard team have done an amazing job clearing the scrub.  The image below depicts the great lengths Health and Safety will go to make us less susceptible to harm.  Even our pitch forks have protective covers on the prongs.

But we do find the marshmallow protectors rather tempting.

After a good day cutting and burning a warm bath is always welcoming. From reading Jonathan’s blog I may just sink into a bath of Beaujolais instead….


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Beaujolais Nouveau!

I always make a point of tasting Beaujolais Nouveau—and it’s that time of the year again. Beaujolais Nouveau often gets a bad rap (sometimes deservingly so), but it’s more than that. It’s a celebration of the most recent harvest, and a time for community celebration. The pub next door to my house even offered a French cuisine menu to celebrate the release of the 2013 vintage, which was well received in my local Sussex community.

Beaujolais Nouveau is not a complex wine—after all, it is usually sold a mere six to eight weeks after being harvested—but nonetheless is an interesting wine, at least for being quite atypical. Because winemakers use whole berry carbonic maceration (anaerobic fermentation) instead of a crushed berry aerobic fermentation, the wine is driven on fruit aromas and lower tannin levels.

By keeping the berries whole or intact, in an environment artificially saturated in carbon dioxide, the fermentation process does not extract as many potential harsh compounds (tannins, for example), and the overall metabolism produces fruitier molecules compared to a “classic” fermentation.

In fact, it is technically very hard to achieve a pure carbonic maceration: filling a tank with several tonnes of grapes will automatically generate grape crushing because of the weight applied to the berries at the bottom of the tank. What occurs is that both anaerobic and aerobic fermentations occur simultaneously.

In practice, a tank is filled with whole berries and goes through carbonic maceration for a week or two. Then it is emptied, pressed, and the wine produced goes through the aerobic alcoholic fermentation.

Beaujolais Nouveau can be very soft and quite light. Some may say that it lacks of complexity, but what you are looking for when you taste such a wine is that it is simple, straight forward, and affordable. No snobbism there.

Frankly, I feel it can be nicer than some of the wines found in supermarkets in the same price segment. But if you don’t care so much about drinking it, maybe you would consider bathing in it?

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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I’m in trouble, should have done this by yesterday and instead I find myself doing it early on Saturday morning before we go on and beat the All Blacks later today, Cam! (Might have to edit this later!)

So what has been going on?  The Gun Room is up and running and we are having our first opening on Monday evening, to thank all those involved in the project.  Anthony Sherwin has done an incredible job, working with Martin Swatton, in designing the interior of the building so that it complements all our other designs on the Estate and blends ‘the old with the new,’ which is a recurring theme at Rathfinny, and Paynes Builders have been a delight to work with.

Nikki and Georgia have been working flat out for several weeks getting all the stock ready and this week have been concentrating on getting it on the shelves.  It looks fantastic, as I think you’ll agree.

gun room

Cellar Door heritage centre

Their attention to detail is incredible and Nikki, as the Manager, has really set the standard.  We’re also delighted to have recruited two new members of staff who we know will fit right in with the Rathfinny family.

So as well as interviewing prospective staff, what else have I been up to?  It’s the range of work that always amazes me.  I’ve been working on the Employment Handbook, ably assisted by my daughter, Faye. We’ve been battling with those crucial issues such as, under the heading ‘Appearance’, how do you encourage deodorant and yet say not so much perfume that it interferes with tastings in the future? Don’t get me started on the debates about tattoos (a personal bug bear of Mark’s, though I’m sure one of our kids has or will have one lurking away) or piercings.  All high-powered stuff!

Then there’s the Tasting Room, which has all come together under the wonderful eye of my designer friend, Susie Atkinson.  She has done an amazing job, again linking the ‘old and the new’ to create a room that will sit at the heart of the Estate and deliver a really unique experience to our visitors.

tasting room

We held our end of year party there last week, which was brilliant.  The vineyard boys had us in hysterics as they donned facemasks of the Great British Bake Off judges to judge all the entries of the Great Rathfinny Bake Off.


Everyone got a prize, though I ‘woz robbed!’ as the ultimate prize went to Nikki, despite my showstopper. photo 2

Not that I’m bitter and twisted!  (I did think that in revenge I would put in the photo of her winning the wooden spoon that Cam made, but even I couldn’t do that to her.)

Finally, the notes arrived for the Level 2 WSET wine course that Georgia and I are going on in the New Year.  Being a swot (Georgia, be worried!) I opened the pack with interest.  I’d like to say that I started with ‘The Wise Drinker’s Guide – Alcohol, Health and Responsible Drinking – first, because it was obviously the most important part, but that would be a lie.  It was the only booklet small enough to hold in the bath in one hand while balancing the much needed large glass of wine in the other!!

PS Here’s a quote about Champagne that will work whatever the result this afternoon.

“In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it.”  Winston Churchill

Sarah Driver

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Cultivating hair rather than vines, Movember

While the Great Rathfinny Bake-Off is drawing to a close, Movember is just getting underway with the boys at Rathfinny.

Movember (the month formerly known as November) is a moustache growing charity event held during November each year that raises funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer, and mental health.

At the start of Movember guys register with a clean shaven face. The Movember participants, known as Mo Bros, have the remainder of the month to grow and groom their Mo, raising money along the way to benefit men’s health.

The Team at Rathfinny have (mostly) taken up the challenge and have begun cultivating their faces for charity- mainly because they are unable to do anything else from all the cake they’ve been eating. We’ve even managed to get Jonathan to shave his beard, which he has had for 11 years.


Before……                        and after.

The whole idea behind Movember is that we get people talking about men’s health by the growing of moustaches and the community to support them by creating an innovative, fun and engaging campaign that results in:

•   Funds for men’s health programme investment

•   Conversations about men’s health that lead to:

–  Greater awareness and understanding of the health risks men face

–  Men taking action to remain well

–  When men are sick they know what to do and take action

So get behind the guys and support the Rathfinny Mo’s, and help us change the face of men’s health. All of those who have organised themselves to register are on the Rathfinny Team page ( http://moteam.co/rathfinny-mo-s) and there are individual links from there. So whether you want to donate a little or a lot, it all helps. And if you’d just prefer to have a laugh at the Mo’s, the pictures will be updated regularly.IMG_6734-2

At the end of the first week, some of the mo’s.

Briefly, in news from the vineyard, the guys have finally finished putting all the posts in for this year, and they’ve even self-proclaimed a world record posts per day of 768. The vines are in the stages of shutting down ready for winter, most of the leaves have been turned autumnal by the St Jude’s day storm, but otherwise everything weathered the storm well.IMG_6298

The last few posts going in.

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard manager

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The great storm of 2013

I remember the storm of 1987 very well and I must admit I slept through it. We were living in Brighton, well Hove actually. Waking late as my alarm clock didn’t work because we had lost power in the night, I was a little surprised to see so many trees down across Brighton as I tried to drive to work in Tonbridge. The A27 was completely closed by fallen trees, so I headed back home and spent the day reviewing the carnage along the sea front in Hove and Brighton.

Our Flint Barns were also a casualty of the same 87 storm. The roof was lost and never replaced and so they fell in to disrepair. Until now.

glulams at FB

The roof is being replaced, walls rebuilt and repointed and an extension added to provide a  kitchen, dining room, laundry and wash rooms for our seasonal workers’ accommodation. It’s beginning to take shape as you can see from the photo above. The white wooden glulam beams you can see will form the frame for the roof which sits above, housing solar panels to the south and roof lights to the north.

New FB from NW

This week we had practical completion of the Winery and we have the keys!! We also completed the Tasting Room at the Winery.

tasting room

This has primarily been designed as a trade tasting room. However, early next year we hope to start offering organised tours of the Vineyard and Winery. We will collect people from The Gun Room in Alfriston in a big Rathfinny van and provide a simple ‘wine makers’ lunch or afternoon tea in the Tasting Room. Watch out for the ‘Visit Us’ tab which will soon appear on our website.

Bund Landscaping

So whilst the vineyard crew have been finishing off the landscaping and cleaning up the debris blown around the vineyard by the storm, the ladies (and Martin, the designer of our Winery) are busy cooking in the Great Rathfinny Bake Off #GRBO. Someone has cleverly worked the ladies up into a frenzy of baking so the boys get freshly cooked cakes at their morning break! The final show stoppers have to be presented before Friday!! Well done Giles….

That’s all for now….

Mark Driver

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Four Seasons in One Day

I was going to report on the seasonal changes on the Estate as the autumnal colours develop and leaves fall and the majority of our feathered friends have left for sunnier climes.

To tell the truth, I’m not totally sure which season we are in!  I know spring was about 3 weeks late because I waited patiently for the blackthorn and hawthorn blossom.  Then today I started in full waterproofs and wellies as if it was a monsoon, and when I joined the ‘elite squad’ down at the Gun Room, to view the build progress and discuss oak flooring, the bright sun was out punched by the gale force wind.  It’s this same wind which Cameron is planning to tame to allow our vines and shelter belt trees some respite.  I’m investigating the more micro climatic properties of using inter row planting of species such as phacelia and clover.  The phacelia could provide some shelter and combined with the clover would support a plethora of predatory insects to aid our vines.  I just need to clarify how to manage/control the phacelia in the future.

Back to today and it was tipped off in our resplendent Winery Tasting Room which was draped in full summer sun!  Good ol’British weather.

Since my last blog, my time has been spent landscaping around our rather majestic looking Winery.  All of this work has been ably supported by the rest of the vineyard team.  I say ‘supported’ in the loosest sense as I spent my days bouncing around on the dumper truck under the watchful eye of Rick (“the other Kiwi”) as he is our resident Chelsea Flower Show medallist.  Every vineyard should have one!

It has warmed my cockles to see the native plants being used in the landscaping such as holly, beech, white beam and my personal favourite the spindle tree.


Its outstanding fruit in pink and orange is totally juxtaposed with its angular edged bark.  To me, spindle is a vastly underrated element of our countryside.  I can’t wait to see it flourish.

The tree gets it name from its use as a spindle for spinning wool and I won’t dwell on its other use as a laxative.  I’ve personally used it in basic bushcraft as a very useful and straight skewer for cooking with.

Which brings me to the BBC’s announcement of this year’s winner of the Great British Bake Off.  The jury is still out here at Rathfinny for our own Estate award.  Nikki launched a full on assault at the title with a stupendous chocolate cake last week.  This full throttle fat inducing cake puts her in the lead. The only flaw in her composition was its size.  Far, far too small for my liking.


(image taken after only 3.2mins of round 1)

We patiently await the next entrant to the Bake Off….

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VITeff 2013

I’ve just come back from Epernay where the biennial VITeff trade show was taking place. All the usual suspects were there: manufacturers of tanks, presses, pumps, packaging/labelling, and bottling lines, in addition to vineyard equipment and vine growers, and more.

Wednesday being the “Winemakers Technical Day”, I attended a conference on the filtration of white wines and, more specifically, of Champagne wines. The goal of filtration is to obtain a clear, sediment free and microbiologically stable wine.

Wines do not have to be filtered – it depends on the kind of wine produced. For example, in the case of either a red or white still wine barrel aged for 18-24 months, filtration may not be necessary before bottling: solids and yeast/bacteria might have all settled sufficiently, resulting in a clear wine that can be bottled as is. As an alternative, or in addition to filtering, winemakers can also use fining agents to help clear the wine of undesirable components.

With regards to sparkling wines, the base wine first goes through a primary fermentation, possibly a malolactic “fermentation”, and cold stabilisation. These processes generate a lot of solids including yeast, bacteria, and crystals that need to be removed by filtration prior to tirage (when a base wine is inoculated and bottled for secondary fermentation).

You might wonder: what happens to the solids after the second fermentation in the bottle? During tirage, we include adjuvants that help particles to settle and aggregate in the bottle, making riddling and elimination of the sediments by disgorging easy.

Deciding on the filtration method and medium is not always easy, since not only each vintage but also each “batch” of wine are different. From experience, one learns when and how to filter, bearing in mind that bench trials and experimentation help pinpoint the final setup.

Each method of filtration has its pros and cons, and methods might need to be combined in order for the winemaker to get the expected result. I will not go into detailed descriptions today, but here is a (short) list of some of these filtering media: D.E. (diatomaceous earth), cellulose, polymeric membranes, ceramic…

At the VITeff conference, one manufacturer unveiled a new high-performance cartridge filter, adding to the list of options available to winemakers.

I was also able to view this Pierre Guérin egg-shaped tank which is the only one of its kind for the moment (some exist in concrete or oak, but not in stainless steel like this one).


It is a bit pricey, but the buzz a statement cellar piece like this can generate amongst the winemaking community is priceless. Plus, maybe it’s cheaper by the dozen!

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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Alfriston is undergoing essential mains water replacement and there is no through access from 3rd January – 30th May. Click below for alternative routes: