It’s no secret that the weather over the past few months has been rubbish. Given that we’re now in the middle of meteorological spring, and it’s the beginning of June, when will it properly warm up? It’s of little comfort that its not just us suffering, reports from Champagne, the Loire, Germany and even as far south as Provence and Tuscany are stating below average temperatures with vine growth well behind where they should be.
Usually the meteorological spring comprises of 3 months, however March as most of us would rather forget was a winter month, and not just a normal winter month, it was a colder than average winter month that then decided it would extend into early April. So by default we should see a late, long and hot (ok maybe warm) summer as the jet stream moves into a more normal position, bringing with it more settled weather. June at least is looking slightly better with the daily minimums starting to pick up at the end of the first week.
So what does all this mean for the vineyard and vines? Leading up to budburst in vines, key factors that are needed are adequate soil moisture (we’ve had plenty of that) and sunshine with temperatures above 10°C (growth occurs when mean daily temperature exceeds 10°C).
Now that spring has finally decided to rear its head from the depths of winter, I can safely say that we have finally hit budburst properly on all varieties across both the existing and this year’s plantings in the last few weeks. Not just budburst either, we’re starting to see some decent growth, the Riesling and Pinot Meunier are again looking good in the warmer parts of the vineyard with the Pinot Noir not far behind. Our poor old Chardonnay, which is on the more exposed slopes, has actually started well and has surprisingly even growth.
What we now hope for is that settled weather we’ve been missing for the past year, pretty soon we’ll be seeing our vines flowers become more exposed just waiting for the sunshine. Meanwhile, we’ll be enjoying the new green growth, the warm spring days, and the growing intensity of the sun. In these gentle spring days you can almost hear the vineyard growing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this continues and slowly develops into the summer we’ve all been hoping for. One thing that working in vineyards has taught me over the years is that no two years are the same, and even a slow start can eventually change into a wonderful year, and yes, there’s still plenty of posts to go in.
I have just come back from a trip to the Pierre Guérin factory in Niort, France, where Rathfinny’s tanks are currently being fabricated. I met up with Gerard, our winery engineering consultant, to inspect and make sure that the tanks are built exactly to our specifications. It is amazing to see the different techniques and tools used to assemble cylindrical tanks from flat stainless steel sheets.
Sheets are first welded together, then cut to desired dimensions to become one tank. Welds are then completely polished, to the point where they become difficult to detect. You can see on the pictures before polishing.
After polishing, they are then curved to size and welded along the seam to form a cylindrical shape, at this stage there is no top or bottom. Those are different pieces built separately, welded onto the cylindrical body form.
Tank tops and bottoms start as circles, from which a slice is taken out so that they can then be bent into a cone. Those cones are finally welded—yes, that is a lot of welding—to each end of the cylindrical tank.
Wine tanks must be outfitted with various items:
- an access door, to access inside the tank,
- valves, to connect hoses to transfer juice or wine,
- temperature probes, linked to a temperature control system.
Openings are cut through the stainless steel, either mechanically or by a plasma ray.
You can see above some the pre-cut of where the door will be assembled.
Jackets, through which a liquid coolant will run to regulate the temperature of the wine, are welded in a spiral shape, either manually for smaller tanks, or with a machine for larger tanks.
Legs are then attached to the bottom of the tank for stability.
The inside and outside tank surfaces will be polished, producing a mirror finish on the inside, making it so smooth that virtually nothing will stick to it! It may sound inconsequential, but this makes cleaning the tank an easier task than it otherwise could be. It enhances hygiene, which is a critical point in winemaking since contamination of the wine can lead to spoilage.
Lastly, external components are fitted, including the valves, level gauge, door mechanism and chimney.
Here, Gerard inspects the first completely finished Rathfinny tank. He approved, and so did I!
We are expecting the delivery, installation and commissioning of our order of 24 tanks the first week of July, along with our Coquard press.
And we’ll be ready before harvest—well, that’s the goal at least!
Last year Rathfinny became a member of the English Wine Producers, which is the marketing arm for the commercial wine producers in England. The EWP works in a very collaborative way, recently promoting English wines at ProWein, the international wine trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany and on Tuesday of this week they managed a very successful ‘pop-up’ wine tasting at the London International Wine Fair at the Excel centre in London. Yours truly was also at the LIWF talking about English sparkling wine under the rather ridiculous title “Is the bubble about to burst?”
I say it’s ridiculous because the only bubbles in English sparkling wine are in the bottle. The simple fact is that we don’t produce enough for there to be a bubble. Sure, various new producers are coming into production over the next few years, including Rathfinny, and production is going to grow, however, we will still be a very small wine producer on the international stage. We are being compared to New Zealand yet they produce over 200 million litres of wine compared to our 2 million!
So let me give you some facts. Sadly we don’t have the numbers for 2012 but given the dreadful summer, production was probably down by 30-50% on 2011. Total English wine production in 2011 was just over 3 million bottles, of which just over half was sparkling wine.
In theory today, based on historic yields, from the roughly 1,350 hectares planted in England and Wales, we could produce close to 6 million bottles and nearly 4 million of that is likely to be sparkling wine. So how big is the market for English sparkling wine?
The UK is one of the largest consumers of sparkling wine in the world, we drank nearly 120 million bottles of the stuff last year and consumption is growing by 3% per annum. We are also the second largest consumer of Champagne in the world drinking 36 million bottles last year. Interestingly according to wine intelligence 14% of sparkling wine consumers say that they drink English fizz once a month. That would equate to 3.5 million bottles per annum. Which is great but we only produce 1.5-2 million bottles!
So what is the problem with us producing 7, 8 or even 10 million bottles of English sparkling wine? Can we find a market for it?
Well the main issue is price – English Fizz typically retails at between £20-25 per bottle, which is the price of the lower quality Champagne. So we need to continue to convince UK consumers that instead of buying poor quality Champagne, they should be buying more quality English Fizz, which is made in the same hand picked, hand crafted and bottle fermented method and much better value.
However, firstly we need to make it more available. Existing producers are all sold out. Whenever I ask in restaurants why they don’t have any English wine or fizz on the wine list, they say it is because they can’t get hold of it and it is the same story in our local off licence. Very few producers have the capacity to offer the quantities that some restaurant chains require. Lastly, we need to explore and expand the export market for our award winning sparkling wines.
So in conclusion, let’s stop talking about a bubble and talk about the bubbles. We have a fantastic product that will be consumed around the world so let’s shout about it.
Go English Fizz….
I have to apologise for not having posted a blog for months. (Mark is leaning over me and tells me I haven’t done one since August last year!!) He must be desperate, as he has also told me that someone has requested that I write more as I made him laugh – thank you Seaford golfer!
I could give you lots of excuses but I’ll stick to two.
- I’ve been doing an MA – last submission is in so only my dissertation to do over the summer.
- I have been working on my dyslexia campaign, which culminated in the launch of a report, The Fish in the Tree, at the House of Lords last month. If you’re interested, check out our website http://driveryouthtrust.com/?page_id=63.
I may have not been writing blogs but I have been working hard at Rathfinny. With the able help of Georgia and Nikki we have been sourcing items to sell in our new cellar door, the Gun Room in Alfriston. We got our last bit of planning permission yesterday – hurrah – so we should be ready to open in the autumn. The whole team has been working on designing the interior of the barns – think ‘simple, stylish hostel.’ All going well, we should be open in February next year. I have enlisted the help of a great friend, Susie Atkinson, (http://susieatkinson.com) who has worked on many of the Soho House projects, to help with designing the interior of the Winery tasting room. It’s a challenging shaped room, being long and narrow, but what she has come up with is exquisite. There will be no better place to sit with a glass of sparkling wine and look upon the vineyard.
Jamie Everett has been a godsend and I have delighted in sending him all my legal files, especially those dealing with trademarks. He has received them in good humour and is ploughing his way through all the work with good grace.
Finally, I did want to share with you an evening of wine tasting Mark and I went to in March. It was SEVA’s (South East Vineyard Association) St Vincent Day Tasting held at Bolney Vineyard, who laid on a lovely spread. St Vincent of Saragossa, for those of you, like me, who have never heard of him, is the patron saint of winemakers and his ‘day’ is 22nd January.
All was going well, I had a nice glass of bubbly in one hand, a canapé in the other and then they announced that the moment had come, we were to taste a selection of wines. I can do that, I thought. Taste, that is. However, they handed out a formal sheet of paper upon which there were 10 rows and columns headed with things like, ‘nose’, ‘mousse’, ‘taste’, ‘grape’ and ‘country’. It soon became apparent from the hush in the room, the serious look that descended on everyone’s face (except mine!) that something momentous was afoot.
Suffice it to say, I had a jolly time on my own and thought I’d done quite well. I had decided to concentrate on the ‘taste’ section. The only thing is that no one else seemed to have written down anything like my comments. They quickly looked bemused when I proudly suggested flavours of ‘bubblegum’, ‘tutti frutti’ and ‘camphorwood chests’ (which I was particularly proud to have come up with). From my notes I have also written ‘crushed up cornflake and a chappati’ but can’t imagine what sort of wine tasted like that! Anyway the good news is that none of the wines were English! I very quickly learnt that the best approach was to look wise, nod a lot and purse my lips knowingly.
Right! Done! I’m thinking Mark won’t let me write another blog after this!!