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Rathfinny Wine Estate - June 18, 2018


Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5TU


I had the pleasure of visiting Rathfinny Wine Estate, together with my colleagues, on a bright and sunny June morning.  We were greeted at the station by Rob Buckhaven, Brand Ambassador, who drove us to the Estate where we met Rathfinny’s owner, Mark Driver, together with his friendly dog, Buster, who joined us for the tour.


The Union Jack flag was flying when we arrived.  Just over a month ago, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne officially opened the new wine processing centre which incorporates “The Cellar”, where wine is stored as it matures on its lees, and “The Bottling Centre”, where all of the bottling, riddling, disgorging and labelling takes place.


The estate was established in 2010 and the first 50 acres of vines planted in April 2012; the majority of which is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  There are small plantings of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and by 2020, they expect to have more than 350 acres of the Estate under vine.


Vines thrive on free-draining chalky soils on south facing slopes where they experience similar weather patterns to the Champagne region around thirty years ago.  Grapes grown here enjoy a long slow growing season which enables them to develop ripe phenolics, good flavours and excellent levels of acidity.  They receive regular breezes and good air circulation which keeps moisture at bay, however powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem.  Due to their location – just three miles from the English Channel – they experience a maritime climate and tend to avoid frosts.  The biggest problem they experience is dealing with strong winds.  Trees and windbreaks have been planted to help with this.


The second biggest problem they have in the vineyard are badgers.  “Billy the Badger” – as Mark affectionately refers to him - seeks out the ripest grapes in the vineyard and eats them all!


In terms of clones, they cultivate twelve different Pinot Noir clones.  Different clones perform differently year on year and more clones gives them better blending options.  There are seven Chardonnay clones, including Burgundy Dijon and Champagne clones and three Pinot Meunier clones.  Pinot Meunier ripens extremely well here and enhances the blends.


Vines are trained on high trellises and produce fruit straight onto the fruiting wires.  Low vigour, alkaline tolerant Fercal American rootstock is used as the soil is very fertile and this particular rootstock helps moderate growth. 


In addition to Sussex sparkling wine, Rathfinny produces a still white wine “Cradle Valley” which is a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.  It is deliciously light and elegant and ripens naturally to around 12% abv.  The Pinot Gris adds attractive aromatic notes whereas Pinot Blanc provides the structure.  Boxing hares are depicted on the label as three pairs of boxing hares actually live on the estate.  Rathfinny are very proud that this wine is the first to be bottled with the new Sussex PDO appellation.  The new appellation enforces stricter guidelines and each wine has to pass a qualitative assessment.


Rathfinny launched their own Gin just last year; "Seven Sisters Gin", from the third pressing of the grapes.  The Gin is actually distilled by Silent Pool Distillers in nearby Albury in Surrey. 


The latest product being developed by Rathfinny is a White Vermouth from Pinot Gris grapes which is due to be released later this year.


Having concluded our tour, we returned to the Tasting Room where we were treated to a sumptuous lunch.  It was here that we were introduced to the winemaker, Jonathan Médard, who hails from Epernay in the heart of the Champagne region.  Having trained at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Louis Roederer and Moët & Chandon, amongst others, Jonathan brings with him a wealth of experience.


With each course of our lunch, we enjoyed a glass of each of the different Sussex Sparkling wines.


The Sparkling Wines:

2014 Blanc de Blancs: Disgorged in February 2018 and launched at Somerset House at the end of April, the Blanc de Blancs 2014 is the first vintage of their Sussex Sparkling wine produced from 100% Chardonnay grapes.  With aromas and flavours of sweet citrus and ripe stone fruit, it has a very delicate mousse and receives a minimum of three years ageing on the lees.  Dosage is 4g per litre.


2015 Blanc de Noirs: This as yet unreleased wine has been ageing in the bottle for two years.  It was disgorged on the morning of our visit and has zero dosage.  It will develop further in the next six to nine months, and is due to be released in May/June 2019.  It is a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier and has a very pale blush colour from the gentle pressing of the grapes.  With pronounced red fruit on the nose, it has wild strawberries and raspberries on the palate. 


2015 Rosé: This beautiful sparkling Rosé consists of 60% Pinot Noir/Pinot Meuner and 40% Chardonnay.  With a dosage of 2.5g per litre, it is a delicate salmon pink and is bursting with fresh strawberries.  It was aged for six months in two year old oak barrels and has a hint of savoury on both the nose and the palate.  This was definitely my favourite of the three.


With lunch concluded, it was sadly time to leave but I would like to extend my thanks to Mark, Rob, Jonathan, and indeed all of the team at Rathfinny for an amazing experience.  It was truly a pleasure to spend time in such a beautiful location and I would strongly recommend a visit.


Copyright of - June 2018



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