Rathfinny Wine Estate

English Grape Harvest 2011

It was half term last week and we were going to take the kids to Cornwall for a few days but the weather forecast was so dreadful, strong winds and very heavy rain, so we decided to stay at home instead and do some things in London.

We went up to see the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Tate Modern, which was fantastic, moody, modern paintings, really worth a visit. We also went for a long walk in a very dry and dusty Richmond Park and it reminded me how little rain we have had this year.

I checked the weather station at Rathfinny when I got back and noted that year to date, we have had only 371mm of rain. We normally get an average of 800mm of rain every year. You can see the effects of this everywhere. The oak trees in Richmond Park are all under water stress, there were huge quantities of acorns under every tree. The lake in the middle of the park was very low and the birds where wading not swimming on the top. The Thames is also very low. We live close to Richmond lock, which marks the last non-tidal section of the Thames. At low tide the river beyond is so shallow that you can see birds wading in the middle of the river by Isleworth.

Not only has it been dry this year, it has also been wet at some of the wrong times for grape-growers. Although the warm, dry September and October was welcome, the wet June and July was not good news. This is flowering time for grapevines, which are wind-pollinated plants and the rain caused poor flower set. This coupled with a late frost in May, which hurt many vineyards in South East England, has led to small harvests this year. Some vineyards have recorded yields down more than 50%.

However, it is not all bad news. The very dry, hot spring we experienced meant that most vineyards in England experienced a very early start and, coupled with the hot dry end to the summer, the quality of fruit coming out of English vineyards has been excellent. As part of my course, I have been working in the Plumpton College Winery over the last few months and the grapes that have been coming in have very little botrytis and have very high sugar levels. It is will be a good year for the quality but not for the quantity of English wine.

It just all goes to demonstrate that wine making is an agricultural process and, looking ahead you know that no two years will be the same. As Gerhard Richter said about his landscape paintings, which he considered to be ‘untruthful’ because they glorify nature, ‘nature is always against us’.

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Now that the planning application for the Winery has been submitted and accepted as an agricultural building I promise to talk about it very soon.

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Vines in the Nursery

Cameron and I spent the week before last travelling across Europe looking at vines in nurseries for planting in 2013. The first stop was the Kimmig-Schwarz Nursery nears Worms in Germany, where with some trepidation, we went to look at the vines we had ordered in November 2010 for planting in April 2012.

We had ordered 72,000 vines, a mixture of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Riesling and Pinot Gris. All grafted onto Fercal rootstock, which is very resistant to high calcium levels, which are prevalent in the chalky soils of the Southdown’s. They are tall stemmed or high grafted vines and they look fantastic.

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Vines In the Nursery.

Although the nursery was affected by the late frost in early May 2011 our vines were not and they are looking so healthy. However, the real bonus for us was to see how well high-grafted vines do, both in the nursery and in the early years. I really feel that these high stemmed vines will not only be able to keep the buds away from rabbits, but because the vine will reach the fruiting wire on the trellis in year one, we will get a crop in year two.

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One year old Vines – Planted March 2011

We visited one nearby vineyard to see their two-year-old vines. They had recently been machine harvested and appeared to have had 10-12 bunches per vine. This could be 1.5-2kg of fruit per vine.

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Two year old Vines – Planted March 2010

We then headed off to visit two further nurseries in France. Unfortunately, we had written down the wrong address for the second nursery, so eleven hours later we arrived in Vix, near La Rochelle. However, it was worth the trip, we had a very interesting day meeting the head of research at Mercier and looking at high grafted vines in their nurserys. We have decided to try a few new clones for our second year planting.

On the way back we dropped in to visit the Laurent Perrier winery in Epernay. They had already harvested but it was really good to look at the vineyard equipment and the vineyards. We were also shown evidence of Esca in some of the vineyards in Champagne. This is a vine disease which is becoming more prevalent in different parts of Europe, particularly France and Spain and is a concern for English Vineyards at the moment.

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Esca in a Vineyard in Champagne

We also found some very good equipment in Germany that we will be buying for the vineyard, more on that later.

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English Sparkling Wine

I think Peter Hall of our neighboring vineyard Breaky Bottom summed it up very nicely in Decanter magazine:

“What’s wrong (with the name) English Sparkling Wine?” as he goes on to say. “Lets call it what it is. In English. They are beautiful words. ‘Wine’ may be a common noun, but it has a long, reverberate historical trajectory: the polyvalent adjective ‘English’ has been yoked to it, with increasing success, for half a century of more; and ‘Sparkling’ is an exuberant and lustrous adjective in its own right, evoking not just celebratory wines but much else, including gemstones, witty conversation and the fine weather which follows rain.  To regard them as plain merely because they are not French is what the Australians call a ‘cultural cringe’.  We don’t need it.”

As Andrew Jefford the author of the piece also notes “the better English Sparkling Wine gets the more authoritative ‘English Sparkling Wine’ will begin to sound.”

My problem with “Britagne” as proposed by Coates and Seely is that it is a French name and as one of my friends said “it sounds like Brittany”, and the only good thing to come out Brittany are cauliflowers!

If we are to replace the name English Sparkling Wine, we need to find a name, which is better and English. Sadly the Australians have been trying to find a new name for their Sparkling wine for over twenty years and still not managed it.

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