First planted in 2012, the Rathfinny Wine Estate near Alfriston in East Sussex is now gearing up to full production. Nick Mosley talks to Millie Driver from the estate’s founding family and head winemaker Jonathan Médard about how this year’s harvest is shaping up.
Whilst English wine is still in its relative infancy compared to the vineyards of Europe, Rathfinny has certainly turned heads within the industry with the news that it will have over 400 acres under vine within the next decade, ultimately producing an incredible 1,200 tons of grapes annually. This will make this former South Downs grazing land into one of Europe’s largest vineyards and wine producers.
2018 was a positive year for the Sussex wine industry with hot days and cool nights, and not too much rain during the early summer flowering period, providing a much-needed, high quality crop yield for Sussex’s growers.
“It’s too soon to tell if 2019 will be a good year”, said Rathfinny’s head winemaker Jonathan Médard. “We need to get through the flowering season, and then the summer. We’ll have a much better idea by September but so far things are looking okay”.
Rathfinny initially launched with its range of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc dominant Cradle Valley range of still wines, however 2018 saw their very first vintage of Sussex Sparkling wines enter the market with a rosé, blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs, made using the traditional Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The winery has the capacity to produce around one million bottles of traditional method sparkling wine annually, all aged for a minimum of 24 months ensuring the wine has time to develop a depth of character.
“Our wines are on the lists at various restaurants, bars and hotels in London and the south east”, said Millie Driver. “Our current problem is that we don’t have enough supply to satisfy demand”.
Estate owners Mark and Sarah Driver have invested considerably not only in the planting of wines, but also the wider wine tourism experience. The estate positively encourages visitors with its tours, special events, cellar door tastings and restaurant plus also impressive overnight accommodation at the carefully restored Flint Barns which effortlessly blend traditional farm buildings with contemporary interior design. Allowing visitors to experience the vineyard and wine experience is key to creating engaged future consumers and ambassadors for the English wine industry.
“We need to work hard to educate the public that our English sparkling wines are made in the same way as Champagne”, continued Millie. “They are winning all kinds of international wine awards – and people in the south east region generally understand this – but many people in London and elsewhere are still not aware that we make wine in England”.
Rathfinny Wine Estate is located at Alfriston, East Sussex. For cellar door and restaurant enquiries call 01323 870 022 or visit www.rathfinnyestate.com