We recently had a group of journalists up to talk about the new plantings at Rathfinny and the inevitable question was raised, “what do you think about the name English sparkling wine?” and “do we need a new generic name for English fizz?”
This debate seems to ramble on and some producers have come up with their own solution. Ridgeview have adopted the name Merret, after Christopher Merret who documented how sparkling wine is made, well before Dom Perignon tried to stop bubbles from developing in the bottle. Coates and Seely have launched their fizz with the name Britagne, supposedly pronounced ‘Britannia’, but more likely to be pronounced ‘Brittany’ where they produce great cauliflowers! A wine blogger suggested ‘Albion’, whilst the Duchess of Cornwall proclaimed that English fizz should be called Champagne as it is made in the same traditional way and as good as, if not better than, Champagne. Good on you Camilla.
So what’s the problem with the name English Sparkling Wine? After all most fizz produced in England is labeled as such and it adequately describes what’s inside the bottle. Well the perceived problem is that it is a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t carry the same weight and kudos as Champagne, yet it is made in the same traditional method. However, neither do the generic terms Cava, Prosecco, Sekt or Cap Classic, used elsewhere to describe sparkling wine from Spain, Italy, Germany and South Africa respectively.
The point is that English sparkling wine has gained a great reputation in recent years, winning many awards in international competitions and therefore many people have been keen to come up with a generic term to match this reputation.
However, before we go launching into a generic term, perhaps we should look at what has happened elsewhere in the ‘New World’ of wine and can we learn from their mistakes? Mike Paul, who has done a lot of work through Wineskills to help market English wine, wrote a very good blog about this particular subject in January. He highlighted how Australia has recently suffered by not segmenting its wine production, as have New Zealand, in a similar way to Germany in the 1980s. It is worth a read… http://mikeakpaul.com/2013/01/20/going-regional-why-the-new-world-should-bother-2/
So what is Rathfinny thinking of doing? Well, we believe that looking ahead the fizz we produce from the Rathfinny vineyard will be different from the fizz that is produced in other areas of England. It has a lot to do with what I like to call our environment but the French would call ‘terroir’. Our soils, climate and wine making techniques will make a different wine than those produced in Shropshire or the West Country; we need to be able to differentiate ourselves from other English producers in other areas of England. So we are keen to establish Sussex Sparkling as a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
After all Sussex is such a great name. It is quintessentially English, it makes me think of the rolling hills of the South Downs and yet so much more. The sunny south-coast, chalky cliffs of Beachy Head, summer sunshine, cream teas in lovely little villages like Alfriston, great beer and according to the Argus newspaper this week, the best sparkling wine in England.
So the aim is that in ten years time you walk into a restaurant in Beijing and the bartender asks :-
“Would you like a glass of Champagne or a perhaps a delicious glass of Sussex, I can recommend the Rathfinny.”
This was the second year of planting and much larger than last; in fact we put in half as many vines this time round. Over 8 days we managed to get all 85,000 vines planted (with a little help from our friends at Vinplant) but this year we weren’t planting in the lovely weather we had last year. Instead of temperatures in the mid 20’s and T-shirts, we were subjected to frosts in the mornings, snow on a couple of days, and temperatures struggling to get above 5 degrees, not to mention the layers of thermals, coats, and beanies.
Despite the cold we had a magnificent run of planting and the vines look fantastic. A big thanks goes to Volker and the team at Vinplant without whom we wouldn’t have such lovely straight rows, also to the guys in the vineyard here at Rathfinny, early starts, long days and manhandling vines all day out in the cold isn’t the most fun but there wasn’t one grumble. And finally to Liz and Jamie, for keeping the team supplied with plenty of hot food, coke and chocolate, much needed moral boosters on those bitter days.
Now the real work starts, staking and tying up of the vines has begun, as well as the marking out for the posts. The first end posts have already started to go in. We’ve even had a “little” bit of rain to help settle the vines in. I am constantly reminded of last year when I suggested we needed some rain and it virtually didn’t stop for 6 months. I won’t say a word this time around!
Cameron Roucher, Vineyard Manager
You have to be an optimist to plant vines in England. After one of the wettest years on record, we had a long cold winter followed by the coldest March since 1962, and it is currently snowing!
My optimism is certainly being tested, but I read that the jet stream appears to be changing direction and heading north again, which should herald warmer, but perhaps wetter weather from the southwest next week. Let’s hope that this is the spring arriving, at last.
So we initially thought about delaying the vine planting, but in the end we brought it forward by a couple of days and started on 31st March (last Sunday). Volker and his crew drove over from Germany in his Unimog with the planting machine on the back and arrived on Saturday evening ready for an early start on Sunday. Cameron and the vineyard team came in over Easter and off they went. So far they have managed to plant nearly 12,000 vines per day so we hope to be finished by Sunday 7th April.
This year we are planting 85,000 vines – mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, which will be the principle grapes used as the base wine for the Rathfinny Sparkling. However, we have also planted smaller quantities of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, which may be used in the blend of our Fizz as they add different fruit characteristics.
Although it is very cold, it was dry and in fact perfect planting conditions, until, it snowed on Wednesday night! However, the team started again at 6am on Thursday and, as I write this blog, they are planting through an inch of snow.
As well as the vine planting, the roof of the Winery was completed this week. We held a ‘topping out’ ceremony, celebrating the fact that the building is now watertight and the grass roof is being laid.
The turf (in the photo above) was only used for show. The real grass arrived in a roll of what looked like felt, pre-seeded with a special mix of South Downs grassland to mirror the grasses and wild flowers of the surrounding countryside. It is going to look spectacular and we have to thank Martin Swatton our designer who came up with whole concept. So despite my vertigo we all climbed up onto the roof and toasted the project with a glass or two of English Fizz.
We are also pressing ahead with the work on the Flint Barns, which are being converted into seasonal workers’ accommodation. We wrote about this recently on the blog and also in the Spring Newsletter which is now available on the website – http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/newsletter/
Scaffolding went up last week to protect the walls whilst the foundations are underpinned or should I say established, as they have no foundations to talk of. We hope to start the main building work in May.
We have also laid a new track to the Flint Barns replacing the rutted track that existed. And whilst planting the vines we set out a small trial block of four different clones of Chardonnay to be used by Plumpton College students.
So yet another busy week at Rathfinny…
Can you believe that this time last year it was 23C and the environment agency imposed a hosepipe ban? Luckily we are delighted to say that we can now walk through the new winery building without being drenched!
Progress has been spectacular lately: the entire roof is now officially on.
As I write, the concrete slabs are being poured on the office and laboratory level, and on the tasting room level the slab is down already.
Casts are visible where the reinforced concrete will be poured around the openings to support the presses.
So as of today, if you walk inside the winery, you can finally see the three different levels and really measure the working spaces available.
We are still on track for completion by mid-August, and by then the tanks, one press, wiring, piping etc should all be in.
On a side note, we visited Italy last week to look at bottling equipment which was very informative, we learned (even) more about bottling lines and even had time to visit the Negro winery in Monteu Roero, and taste both still and sparkling Nebbiolo wines. If you travel in the Piedmont area, do go and meet the Negro family in the Roero hills, feel the warm Italian hospitality and taste some great wines.
Now I suppose we just have to keep praying for a better growing season than last year. I’m looking forward to experiencing that ‘English Summer’.
Jonathan Médard – Winemaker