We are at that stage in the building program when everyone is blaming everyone else for the delays, and our winery building is still not finished. It’s very frustrating as we had hoped to be in by now and testing all the new equipment, instead of which we are still waiting for various areas to be completed.
One of the main factors being blamed for the delay is the fact that the new power supply was only switched on last Monday. I didn’t know how complicated and disjointed our power network is in the UK. The new power cable into the sub-station behind the winery has been in for months but we then needed a meter, but before you have a meter you need something else, which has to be done by someone who is not connected to the meter provider. Round and round you go and eventually when everyone returns from summer holidays, they then try and work through the backlog and power gets turned, on six weeks late.
The other factor being blamed is the tradition of European factories closing down in August and it would appear that the UK has become European; even our local cement company closed down for three weeks in August and we are still waiting for a ceiling, which was ordered in July, to be delivered for our tasting room.
In the meantime the landscaping is continuing and we have planted nearly a hundred trees on the bank in front of the winery and now the shrubs are being planted.
Whilst we wait for the winery building to be completed the steel frame in the Flint Barns, to be used for seasonal workers accommodation, is going up and the structure is starting to take shape.
Oh, and the vineyard team are still putting in wires and trellising posts and spreading compost under our young vines. It’s all go….
I hope it warms up as it feels like winter has arrived!
There was great excitement at Rathfinny last week when our gleaming new French grape press arrived.
Our new grape press, manufactured by Coquard, near Reims, France, in the Champagne region, required a specialised lifting system to lift it into place at the eastern entrance of the winery.
Note the customised red colour – it should be bright enough to keep the press operator awake even late at night!
There are 2 main types of presses, horizontal and vertical, but the Coquard breaks the mould:
– A vertical press, as traditionally used in Champagne, is a circular structure with a vertical axle. It gets filled with grapes and a plate moves down and compresses the mass, allowing juice to flow out.
Once grapes have been squeezed and juice has been extracted, the mass becomes a “gâteau” (cake), quite compact and hard to keep pressing. In order to extract some more juice the press releases the pressure, and using forks, the press operator has to turn up that cake, to uncompact the mass and rearrange it so it can be pressed again.
This action is called, in Champagne, “la retrousse”.
The membrane inflates, creating pressure and squeezing juice out of the berries.
The cycles consist of alternating inflation and deflation. Sometimes, while the membrane is deflated, the cage rotates a few times, rearranging the mass of grapes within the cage, facilitating further cycles of pressing. This rearrangement or “turn up” mimics the “retrousse”.
The Coquard press is hydraulic. Its principle is that, with 2 plates, one immobile and one moved by a piston, it replicates the traditional vertical Champagne press. But having both these inclined, when the moving plate releases the pressure, and creates space, the cake is inclined and its weigh makes it fall, creating a natural “retrousse” by gravity.
The press sit 6 meters over our heads in the cellar, which will allow juice transfer by gravity, rather that having to use a pump – it is considered a more gentle process.
Jonathan Médard – Winemaker
Being a photographer I tend to work in images rather than words however, something happened this week which has inspired me to add a few words to accompany some of my images. After 18 months of watching and waiting I have finally managed to photograph one of the more shy and elusive creatures who inhabit Cradle Valley at Rathfinny Estate, The Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)
When I discovered that hares were living on the Rathfinny estate I was naturally enthusiastic about this photographic opportunity and felt the need to photograph them quickly before the vineyard developed, became to busy and perhaps scared them away . However, I was later intrigued to discover the fact that hares are often associated with vineyards across the world to the extent that some vineyards and wines are named after them; these are just a few I discovered after a quick search:
- Dancing Hare Vineyard, Napa Valley USA ( produces a bottle of red called Mad Hatter)
- Running Hare Vineyard, Maryland USA (which produces a Jack Rabbit red and a Jack Rabbit white)
- The Leaping Hare Vineyard Restaurant in Suffolk
- Wild Hare Vineyard, Kansas
Clearly hares were enjoying life at Rathfinny long before the first vine was planted but interestingly, and despite the fact that hares are on the decline in the UK, their numbers appear to be increasing at Rathfinny. Maybe they like the shade and the protection against predators that the vines offer and perhaps they just have a fondness for foraging the wild downland grasses that grow on the estate. Whatever the reason, they appear to be respectful of the vines and are living in harmony with the vineyard. The Leverets (young hares) even appear to enjoy playing games of dodge with the tractors as they drive up and down the vines.
For those of you who have never seen a hare and are wondering what the difference is between a hare and a rabbit here are a few hare facts:
- Hares are significantly larger than rabbits, their ears are longer with black tips
- Due to the length of their back legs their gait can be likened to that of a wallaby or kangaroo – almost a lollop in comparison to the rabbits dainty hopping. This almost clumsy walk/hop gives way to a graceful and spectacular run. And at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour hares are the fastest mammals in the UK.
- Hares do not give birth to their young below ground in a burrow but above ground in a ‘form’, which is a shallow depression in the grass.
- Unlike the rabbit, hares are born with their eyes open and covered in hair.
- Generally nocturnal and shy in nature hares change their behaviour in spring where they can be seen chasing each other and standing on their back legs striking each other with their paws (boxing) which is generally the female fighting off the males unwanted attention. It is this spring frenzy or mating dance which has lead to the English idiom “Mad as a March Hare”.
Capturing an image of this elusive creature soon became a bit of a personal mission for me. Hours of fruitless waiting and watching has lead to the phrase ‘bad hair day’ taking on a whole new meaning in our household. On one occasion I had been lying still watching in vain for hours, when I decided to call it a day and stood up to go. A hare sprung and ran from less than 10 feet away from me! It must have been there all the time. When feeling threatened, hares will flatten themselves to the earth to avoid being to noticed – it works! He was too fast and I too slow, all I managed to capture was a blurry back leg.
My mission is far from over, there has been a sighting of some leverets playing amongst the vines at present and I hope to capture some images of the hares boxing in the spring, so keep a look out on the Gallery.
Viv Blakey – Resident Photographer at Rathfinny Wine Estate
As Mark’s latest blog mentioned, things are taking longer to develop than we first anticipated and some realities of farming are starting to hit home.
However, I thought that rather than dwell on the frustrations and obstacles we are facing, I thought I’d focus on the positives of our site and choices we have made.
Yes, we are exposed, and a windy site. This is great for disease control! It means that to control botrytis, powdery and downy mildew and other nasty diseases that plague vineyards in the UK and worldwide we rarely have to spray fungicides. Due to plenty of air movement within the vineyard we have the luxury of less disease risk than most sites.
We have very little topsoil, in some places as little as 20cm before we hit the chalk. This is great for vines; worldwide vineyards are planted on some of the poorest soils, which cause a lack of vigour, which in turn is great for fine wine. All of the finest wines are grown on soil that is considered less than ideal for other crops. Lack of vigour in the vines causes them to gentle stress, helping them to produce superior fruit.
We have used Fercal rootstock, this has the highest tolerance to chalk soils of all the types of rootstock available. It is slow to get established but has a deep rooting system, which means it will get its “feet” down into the chalk. It also ripens quicker than other options, which enables us to produce better quality wines with less pressure at harvest time.
We have great biodiversity, something Richard is far more capable of explaining than I am. What it does mean is that we plenty of natural predatory insects that are able to control the populations of unwanted species without the need to intervene chemically. Once again reducing our need to resort to spraying to control these pests with a termite control. The main thing is we don’t have beasties like the one below which can plague some vineyards overseas.
The photo is from Gayle Shulte in the US who discovered this in their vineyard, it is the caterpillar of the Pandorus sphinx moth and I can only imagine what a caterpillar this size could eat in a day!
Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager