Rathfinny Wine Estate

Further lessons….

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.

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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.

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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.

Eumorpha

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

 

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Lessons learnt…

It is almost three years since we bought Rathfinny.

We were on a sailing holiday in Menorca when I received a call from a land agent at Strutt and Parker. “Mr Driver, I think I’ve found the perfect site for your vineyard!”.

vine growth

So three years on what have we learnt?

  • Planting vines is easy. You order and purchase your vines, eighteen months ahead of time from a nursery and hire the help of a friendly German who will machine plant them with GPS accuracy.
  • All consultants seem to have different opinions on your soil, what vines to plant – root stocks and clonal varieties, vine spacing, winery design and what trees to plant for windbreaks.
  • There are a plethora of consultants required for every conceivable bat, badger, archeological feature and historical reference, and when they hear that you are planting a vineyard they seem to double to price.
  • Getting planning permission takes a long time and costs a lot of money.
  • Irrigation – do we really need it in England? We thought we did in 2011 then we had the summer of 2012, this year (2013) we needed it.
  • Wind – is the main enemy of vines, more on this later.
  • How to work with my wife. Oh, and my wife is always right!! But I knew that already.
  • Double time and double money! (My lovely wife told me that as well!)
  • People love wine. Everyone, everywhere asks me “how are the vines Mark?” We have over three hundred acres of wheat and barley but no one asks me how are my cereal crops.

However, the main thing I’ve learnt, apart from the fact that my wife is always right, is that wind is the main enemy of vines.

When I studied at Plumpton College we learnt how winds above 10mph stop photosynthesis in vines. Basically, when the wind picks up the stomata, the little holes on the bottom of the leaves that allow gases, CO2, oxygen and water vapour, to enter or leave the leaf, close and so the plant stops transpiration. They close to stop the vine from drying out but this also stops photosynthesis which, if you remember back to your biology lessons, is the means by which the cells in the leaf convert water and CO2 into sugars which, move around the plant, providing energy for the vine and ends up in the grapes. So before we bought Rathfinny I thought long and hard about wind and I looked at historical weather statistics from the Met office. They seemed to be okay, the average wind speed during the summer growing months was 4.5metres per second, which is less that 10mph, and that is the average for the whole site and the lower part of the slope at Rathfinny gives much greater protection from the south-westerly winds and we could plant wind breaks to slow it down further. How wrong could I be?

Well as it turns out the average is the 24 hour average and the winds tend to be stronger during the afternoon, when the vines are meant to be growing! And the trees we planted as windbreaks are taking a lot longer to grow than I had expected. So we have taken the decision to put up more temporary wind-breaks, made of netting, which will hopefully provide the wind protection needed until the trees grow.

Shot Berries

I am still confident of a small crop this year but it will be very small as the vines we planted last year had to cope with the wet cold summer of 2012 and the vines we planted this year are too immature. The good news is that they are putting on enough growth this year to lay down a small cane so hopefully next year we will get a decent crop.

Young vines

Lastly, as an eternal optimist, I have to mention on the positive side at least we rarely get hail storms in East Sussex. A recent hail storm in Champagne wiped out 300 hectares of vines in 2 hours!

Enjoy the rest of the summer….

Mark Driver

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Wine tasting ….

I have to confess that with a household full of hungry teenagers this will be a short blog.

We have recently had a wonderful holiday in Italy where we have tried several of the local wines.  Those of you who know me from previous blogs will know that I am no great expert and prefer to sit down at the end of a long day, raise a glass to my lips, take a deep swig and declare it either ‘marvelous’ or ‘horrid.’  Mark’s attempts to get me to pick up different flavours usually falls on deaf ears, and if I’m particularly tired, I have been known to respond rather tartly.

However, as a co-owner of a vineyard, even I can see that I need to have some knowledge.  My last foray in formal wine tasting, (see my blog  https://rathfinnyestate.com/estate-news/?p=668 ) ended up with me declaring tastes of ‘bubblegum’ and even ‘camphor wood chests’ – but I really am going to try.

Here is one particular wine I really liked on our holiday.

Grillo front label

However, try as I might I just could not taste the promised papayas and mangoes referred to on the label.

Grillo back label

Having grown up in Hong Kong living on papayas and mangoes I count myself as something of an expert on them, so even though I was trying to show willing, I found myself ‘arguing’ with the label!  Not a good start.

Anyway, the plan is to take a formal course so for those of you who are already experts, you may ignore my blogs.  For those of you like me, who want to learn more, we can do so together.

This is one we all liked. Mark tells me Vermentino is a grape principally grown in Sardinia. This was lovely….

Vermentino

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Sarah Driver

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Thinking outside the box

Rathfinny will always be more than ‘just’ a vineyard.  As you will have seen from our website the Estate is still part vineyard and part arable farm at the moment.  So what are we doing that is ‘outside’ the usual realms of establishing a vineyard and winery?

In 2012 we joined many farms on the South Downs and signed up to the Higher Level Scheme (HLS) administered by Natural England.  We may be different having a vineyard on the Estate but like many farmers we strive to make a place for nature.

“So what?” I hear you cry.

By committing to HLS we now have a legal obligation to continue to conserve wildlife and enhance it where we can.  It is now that I should go off on a tangent and explain that there is one huge problem with conservation – there is an utter plethora of acronyms!

We are in the HLS and ELS, we have a SSSI and a SNCI and while claiming for SPS to the RPA we are mindful of our HK7 and soon we will be harvesting our OSR.  All of this is done under the umbrella of NPPF and SDNPA while awaiting for changes resulting from CAP reform.*

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Round leaved fluellen in our arable margins

“So what?” I hear you cry again!

What we are aiming for is to enhance the whole landscape so wildlife can thrive.  So far we have done this by creating strips for arable plants such as the rough poppy and Venus’s looking-glass.  Clearing unwanted scrub for downland flowers to spread like the rounded-headed rampion and devils bit scabious.  And we are providing seed and tussocky grass for farmland birds.  Already the results are being seen – and we have only really just begun.

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Marmalade hoverflies on poppy

As the vineyard expands our agreement with Natural England becomes more tailored and we will be able to explore more exciting ways to work with nature.  Just last week I had a fantastic meeting with Kew and their Millenium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst.  More on that to follow as we investigate how we can really make a difference.

Perhaps the title above should have read “On my soap box!”

(* deep breath – ELS Entry Level Scheme, SSSI Site of Special Scientific Interest, SNCI Site of Nature Conservation Importance, SPS Single farm Payment Scheme, RPA Rural Payment Agency, HK7 Restoration of species rich grass, OSR Oil Seed Rape, NPPF National Planning Policy Framework, SDNPA South Downs National Park Authority and CAP Common Agricultural Policy – and relax)

by – Richard James – why not follow me on twitter @rathfinnyrich

 

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They’re here!

Blog July 1

It’s been a very exciting week here at Rathfinny as our stainless steel tanks were finally delivered and set up.

The French team made everything look easy but it was actually not that simple: both their confidence and efficiency were very impressive.

This one tall tank barely made it in!

Blog July 2

We now have a total of twenty-four tanks, manufactured by Pierre Guérin in Niort, France. This year’s order was for four different capacities: 2400, 4200, 4700, and 13500 liters.

The smaller tanks will be used mostly for settling of the juice after pressing and for fermentation, while the larger tanks will be used for blending the different lots prior to bottling. Here you can see the difference: 2400 liters to the left, 13500 liters to the right:

Blog July 3

The gantries (I call them catwalks!) with the handrails allow access to the chimneys at the top of the tanks. It makes it much safer for us than having to climb on a ladder.

Blog July 6

You can also see the jackets circling around the tanks: glycol runs through these, which can either cool down or warm up the wine, depending on our needs at the moment. Recall, temperature control is critical in a winemaking environment.

At least for the first couple years we will be cold stabilising the wines using this cooling system.

The following picture shows the red fermenters that have an additional access door at the bottom, which we’ll use to evacuate the skins after fermentation.

You can also see the fittings—valves, tasting valves, temperature probes—all customized to our specifications.

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We will keep you posted with upcoming equipment deliveries soon!

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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