Rathfinny Wine Estate

What grapevines clones to plant in the UK?

Many people have been asking me what grape varieties we have planted? Choosing the variety is the easy part the real problem is choosing which clone. Choosing a grapevine clone is like choosing a rose bush, you know you want a red rose, but what size of flower, when do you want the flower to bloom and do you want it to have a fragrance? The same decisions face the vineyard owner.

That is the problem that I faced, when I had just started my course, in October 2010 when I ordered our first set of vines. What clones to choose? I knew I wanted to plant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier for sparkling wine and I’d taken a rash decision to plant out some Riesling for still wine, principally because I like it and I believed that it would do very well at Rathfinny.

I had already worked out what rootstock to use, that was a relatively easy decision.  It had to be Fercal or 41B because these rootstocks have a high tolerance of alkaline soils ie chalk, which we are on.  As we have a little more topsoil than some, we could use Fercal instead of 41B, as it is deeper rooting.  In addition, Fercal promotes early ripening. All of that I could work out in Plumpton College library.  What I could not get enough information about was the difference between the various clones of the chosen varieties.

In other parts of the world what your granddaddy planted, and what your neighbour planted and found to work, is what is planted. In the UK we are still pioneering, we have no history to our vineyards. What little we have over the last thirty years was ruined slightly by planting rather obscure German varieties.  Some have done well, like Bacchus, others have not and in some instances make very interesting tasting wine! With the improving climate I was confident that we could ripen classic grape varieties but needed all the help we could from choosing the correct clones. Unfortunately, all the consultants told me different things so I had to do my own research.

Like most vineyard owners we are looking for really good quality fruit with good aromas and flavours, fruit with a good balance of sugar levels and acidity, and in the UK you need clones that ripen early. I also believed that you needed to find clones that produce open clusters (space in between the berries). Having spent a few weeks picking fruit at Plumpton College during a warm but wet September you see the effect of damp on ripe grapes! You get horrendous grey rot, and not the noble good stuff. So I wanted open clusters, which would enable preventative sprays to get into the cluster or bunches, but also allow the fruit to dry out after rain to reduce the risk of botrytis rot.

This is what I chose and we have planted in 2012: –

Chardonnay clones planted are 75 & 76 (both Dijon clones and they are in many ways very similar) and 95, which is one of the most widely planted Champagne clones; it is a higher yielding clone. Lastly, 809, which was originally isolated at the University of Dijon in Burgundy.  This relatively new clone is known for its intense floral/tropical nose and rich mouth feel and it is often described as having Muscat-like overtones.

Pinot Noir Clones Planted – 

GM 1-47 – Is one of the most popular open cluster clones planted in Germany. It produces wonderful fruit and a medium yield. GM 20-13 – This clone produces smaller berries and so is lower yielding but has great fruit and open clusters. GM 2-6 – Is a higher yielding Pinot Noir clone, however, it also produces more open clusters. A2107– This clone also produces open clusters. Is it a medium yielding clone.

The Pinot Meunier clones planted – We36 – Meunier clone that produces modest yields and We292, a lower yielding clone. Both of these are open cluster clones reducing botrytis risk.  

The Riesling clones planted – GM 198-25 – A classic Riesling clone with more open clusters, great fruit and lower yields and acidity. GM 239–20 claims to be a more aromatic clone producing both the typical Riesling terpenes such as linalool, nerol and geraniol, which produce the rose scents and considerable amounts of a-terpineol and beta-terpineol, which is more lily of the valley and citronellol (lemon and geranium). It is a more complex clone producing medium yields.

A lot of this information was gleaned from winegrowers websites, the Kimmig and Co, nursery we dealt with in Germany and Traubenshow (a German viticulture website), you need Google translate with this one!

Next year we have chosen to plant some more of the same clones as well as some other Geisenheim (GM clones) and no they are not genetically modified. Geisenheim is a research university who have worked hard to breed clones with specific characteristics, like open clusters. We are also trying some other French Pinot Noir clones and Chardonnay clones from Burgundy. One of which is spectacular and produces some of the most beautiful fruit we have tasted, the French didn’t want to sell it to us, it’s that good! More on that next year!

So by the end of 2013 we will have worked out what really works at Rathfinny. Then we can plant out more of the same on the remaining 120 hectares (300 acres).

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I’m in charge! (Just don’t tell Mark!)

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With Mark sailing the high seas, I am in charge!  When I pointed this out to him a look of horror crossed his face.  “But Sarah,” he said, “you’re not allowed to make any decisions!”  Well, if you’re reading this Mark as you lounge in the sun, I am doing nothing but taking decisions, decisions, decisions!!  The first of which was to have a staff party at the end of the summer to celebrate all our hard work.  In fact, I’ve now appointed myself Director of Social Events and Liz and I are drawing up an exciting list of future dates.

It made me smile, and I am sure there are women out there who will know what I mean when I say – bless, and he thinks he’s made all those decisions on his own.  For some reason I am reminded of a card we have framed at home.

Husband: Do you know in all the years we’ve been married, I’ve never won an argument.

Wife: Yes, darling.  That’s because you’ve never been right!

Anyway, I digress.  If you have heard very little from me over the past month, it’s because life has been busy.  At Rathfinny, I’ve been plowing through all the legal paperwork that goes with employment, building contracts, registering trade marks both here and abroad, health and safety to say nothing of dealing with branding and PR.  I’m also working with Martin, our designer, on the fit out of the tasting room in the winery as well as starting to think about developing an outlet for our Sparkling Wine.  In relation to that, I’m having fun visiting local artists and suppliers with a view to stocking their goods, to complement our wines.  Oh, nearly forgot.  I’ve also been involved in the landscaping aspects of the new winery – inspired after our trip to South Africa earlier this year and am beginning to concentrate on the fitting out aspects of our Flint Barns, the planning permission for which has just gone in. Setting up a new business has certainly thrown more my way than I ever expected!

One of my highlights though has been working with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park on establishing the Rathfinny Trail, a walk that will take people across our land, through the vineyards and up to the Flint Barns where it is hoped they will be able to enjoy a cup of tea and a scone, or even a glass of bubbly.  Richard James, the Park Ranger, and I walked the route a few weeks ago and I got a foretaste of what’s on offer as he talked me through the rare flowers, told me about bees and enlightened me on the habits of the lark.  Watch this space for an opening date.

I was going to write about the employment debates we are having at the moment and my plans for writers’ retreats, but it will have to wait until next time.  By then, I’ll have made a million more decisions Mark!

Finally, we’ve just produced our third newsletter and you can find it here

http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/download/Rathfinnynewsletter.pdf

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Do you want a job – Study Wine Production at Plumpton College

If you are thinking about what to do with the rest of your life, or advising someone what to study at university, then think about studying wine.

I just handed in my final piece of college work on Monday of this week, a twelve-page analysis on wine sensory evaluation. Last week, after spending many frustrated hours shouting at my computer, I handed in the last of the posters I have had to produce this year, this one was on budburst of UK grown grapevine cultivars. Despite my almost luddite aversion to technology, my poor concentration span and the complete lack of knowledge about plants, soils, vines and wine production, the last two years studying Wine Production at Plumpton College have been absolutely brilliant.

Two years ago, I knew I liked wine. I’d drunk a lot of it, but I had no idea how it was produced, I could barely remember the biology I was taught at school, and chemistry was a very distant memory.

Over the last two years, we have been taught grapevine biology, chemistry and botany and soil science. We have learnt about different wines and spirits of the world, which involved lots of tasting! We spent many days in the college vineyards picking grapes, pruning vines, fixing trellising and planting vines. We learnt about different trellising systems and how to identify the various pests and diseases that affect grapevines. This year we have learnt how to make wine and we spent a day a week in the college winery, pressing grapes, racking and fermenting, fining, filtering, blending and bottling, and recently disgorging, corking and labeling the college wines ready for sale.

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Earth filtering in the Plumpton College winery

Plumpton College is the only place in the UK that you can study wine production or wine business and the courses are excellent.

More importantly, if you can learn about wine and wine production YOU could be involved in a whole new emerging wine industry in the UK.

At Rathfinny we will be employing over thirty full time skilled people to work in our vineyards and winery. We need people with the skills necessary to tend the vines, make wine and sell it. We are not alone. There are various other vineyards being established in the South East of England who also require skilled staff.

I expect very strong growth in the English wine industry – there are even some crazy people growing grapes in walled gardens near Sheffield!

The simple facts are that we import over 1.8 billion bottles of wine per annum. We consume nearly 5 million bottles per day. However, we only produce about 5 million bottles per annum in the UK! Our climate has improved and with the right skills we could make more and even better quality wine. In particular we are now making some of the best quality sparkling wine in the world. Last week, Sam Linter at Bolney Vineyard won a ‘Gold Outstanding’ award for their Chardonnay Sparkling in the International Wine and Spirits Competition beating the likes of Moet and Taittinger. In fact English wine producers have won more awards for their sparkling wine than any other country in the world over the last eight years.

So if you want a job, learn about wine. This is a whole new and exciting industry that requires enthusiastic, skilled people.

Link to the Plumpton College website: http://www.plumpton.ac.uk/courselist.aspx?PageClass=Course&DepartmentID=46&DepartmentName=Wine

Read Mark's Article

Budburst at Rathfinny?

Now I’m a farmer I spend a lot of time looking at the weather. We have had over 130mm (5 inches) of rain since we planted our vines at the end of March! That’s nothing compared to Liscombe in Somerset; they had over 290mm of rain in April alone!

Not so much April showers as an April deluge. In fact it was the wettest April on record, with more than double the normal rainfall. It has also been very cold, the coldest April since 1989, March was the warmest on record, April the wettest, what is going on?

The rain was very welcome but the cold has delayed the vines bursting into life or what vineyard managers call “Budburst”. We are starting to get a few buds elongating but no green shoots.

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However, in between the showers Cameron, David, Felix, Jordon and Ian have been able to get some posts in the ground. They are averaging about 200 a day, which means we will hopefully have all the trellising up by the end of July!

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Jordon get your hat on!!

Try and watch The Apprentice (BBC1) next Wednesday 16th when the two competing teams are tasked with developing a website and marketing strategy for English sparkling wine. It should be interesting.

Jonathan Medard is off in Epernay this week looking at more winery equipment and we are close to agreeing the final specification of the winery so it can go out to tender in June.

I must get back to my college books, one exam down, one to go and two assignments to hand in. Then I can focus on the building work again.

Mark

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What is the government deficit?

The government has cut it’s borrowing by 11 billion pounds!” the BBC news presenter proudly announced.

I was so incensed by this comment that I heard on BBC radio last week that I had to write this blog to correct it. So forgive me for not talking about the 80mm of rain we have had since the drought was announced (!), or show you pictures of our new post basher at work or even show you pictures of some of the winery equipment we have been looking at. Instead I thought I’d give a little lesson in government accounts and explain what George Osbourne means by cutting the deficit.

The other reason is that I was shocked when I recently went into my eldest son’s old school to address the lower sixth and asked them this question, “how many of you believe that when George Osbourne says ‘we are cutting the deficit’ we are reducing the amount of debt?” Nearly half the hands went up, so here goes.

The fact is that we haven’t cut our borrowing by £11bn. We actually had to borrow a further £126 billion in the financial year 2011/12, which is £11billion less than we had to borrow in same period in 2010/11. So the government has reduced the deficit, which is the difference between what the government spends and what they raise in taxes to cover that spending but they still had to borrow a huge amount of money to cover that shortfall or deficit (see the chart below).

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Last year, total government spending actually grew by more that £20 billion to £703 billion, against revenues of about £580 billion, and the forecast is that government spending will rise by a further £20bn, every year, for the next three years. However, the hope is that revenues will grow at a faster pace so our deficit will fall.

So government borrowing has not fallen but risen to over £1022 billion, which is the equivalent of 66% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the total size of the UK economy. GDP gives a measure for how we, in the UK, can repay that debt. When you go to get a mortgage you can normally borrow about four times your income. When you look at a whole economy a Debt to GDP level of more than 60% has historically been seen as risky, but that depends on various factors including: The state of the economy – is it growing or contracting? Do we the consumers save a lot of our earnings? What rate of interest we pay on that debt?

The last of these is the most important factor and the most difficult to predict. Interest rates are set by the lender and in the case of a government that is the international money markets. If those lenders see greater risk to lending more money to the UK because they can’t see a coherent strategy to bring down the deficit whilst maintaining the economy, then they might demand a higher rate of interest on government debt to compensate for the risk that they may not get paid back on time. If the interest rate that the government pays rises then mortgage rates will rise and that can set off a vicious cycle, where higher mortgage rates may slow the economy and force house prices down. So we end up with lower tax revenues, so more debt will be needed to cover the short fall between government spending and revenue i.e. the deficit.

So it’s a confidence game. Showing the international money markets that you can and are aiming to reduce your debt but at the same time maintaining spending and government services. It’s like negotiating with the bank manager for an overdraft.

Don’t be fooled by those who say we can spend our way out of this. We are already spending way beyond our means. Government expenditure has more than doubled over the last twelve years from £338bn to £703bn and will rise further. We have to tackle the deficit before we lose the confidence of our lenders and interest rates rise as they have done in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and more recently Spain.

So don’t panic, keep calm and carry on…

We are busy putting in our trellising posts, I’ll post some pictures soon. I’m off to write up a project for Plumpton College.

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