Rathfinny Wine Estate

Sussex Sparkling PDO

New Plantings at Rathfinny Vineyard
New Vine Planting at Rathfinny Vineyard

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.”

Mark Driver

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Another busy week at the Rathfinny Wine Estate

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.

Ready for Planting 2013

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.

Vines ready for planting

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.

Topping out

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.

Flint wall support

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…

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Work to start on our Seasonal Worker accommodation on Monday…

After over a year of consultation and discussions with the South Downs National Park planning authority and a year of discussions with Wealden District Council before that, late last year (2012) we finally got planning permission to redevelop the old Rathfinny Flint Barns into a 46 bed hostel for seasonal workers.


Whilst Rathfinny has the most stunning location on the South Downs, with beautiful views down the Cuckmere valley, it is rather remote. Whilst the old hop and apple lands of Kent, and the market garden areas of West Sussex and Hampshire have a a willing band of seasonal workers to call on to help out during harvest and winter pruning, we are nearly an hour and a half from these pools of labour. So we realised very early on that we would need to build accomodation to house seasonal workers at Rathfinny, especially as there is very little reasonably priced accomodation near by.


The Flint Barns, whose roof was blown off by the storm of 1987, seemed like the natural solution to our problem and thankfully the SDNP planning authority agreed. We are starting work on Monday to underpin the walls, which have NO foundations, and then in May we hope the main building work will start, creating what will be a fantastic new facility not just for us but within the South Downs.


The new building will have a total of twelve bedrooms, many with bunks, with on-suite shower rooms to accomodate 46 people. In the new extension to the West we are adding a large dining area, cloakrooms, boot rooms, laundry and drying rooms. On the ground floor of the old Barn there will be a large recreational area with a wood burning stove for the winter months, because we will need to house seasonal workers to help us prune the vines during January and February, as well during the harvest in September and October.


When the Flint Barns are notbeing used by Rathfinny staff we will be letting them out to school groups who want to study the geography and history of the local area, as well as to walking and and other special interest groups.

We are also establishing a new trail which will open up the lower part of Cradle Valley and give access to the Flint Barns by foot. We hope to be able to offer walkers cream teas and refreshments and eventually a glass of Rathfinny Fizz.

So here is the deal if you want seasonal work at Rathfinny Wine Estate:

  • We will need a minimum of 46 people per day from 2014 onwards to help us at harvest time – late September and October.
  • We will house you and feed you.
  • We will even pay you!!
  • We will need you to commit to a minimum of a week.
  • We will ask you to work hard and pick tonnes of grapes.
  • But you will have a lot of fun whilst doing it…

So if you know any fit, strong students who want to earn some money before going on a gap year, or you just want to get away from the rat race for a week and go on a paid working holiday, then think about Rathfinny.

Now Cameron (our Vineyard Manager) doesn’t beleive that we can find fifty people a day who will be willing to work hard (and it is hard work picking grapes) however, I’m more optimistic and think we British will prove him wrong!

So pass it on, tell your friends and family that in 2014 there will be work at Rathfinny and you will have a lot of fun whilst doing it!! Guaranteed….

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Please don’t put plastic in with your green waste…..

If you are going to all the trouble of collecting your household potato peelings or garden waste to put it in a ‘green waste’ recycling bin, why put plastic in with it? It’s like putting a brown bottle in a white bottle-recycling bin! Putting plastic, even plastic bags, in with your ‘green waste’ makes it completely useless to people like us who could use hundreds of tons of this composted green waste on our vines each year.
We have been trying to source of good quality, plastic free compost to go on the vines from local composting companies. These companies collect and compost down household green waste, but sadly it is proving very difficult to find plastic free compost.

When it is chopped up into a fine ‘soil conditioner’ and filtered the composting company can remove the majority of the plastic. However, by then the compost is so fine, that unless it is dug in, it will either get washed away or just blow around the vineyard.

So here is the deal. Tell your neighbours, tell your friends… Tweet it on.


Otherwise, we will end up looking like Champagne vineyards that misguidedly used Parisian rubbish in their vineyards in the 1980’s & 90’s and they still have bits of plastic sticking out of the soil now.


If like us you collect food peelings and the like you can buy liners for your food waste bins from most supermarkets or on-line. They are made of cornstarch so they breakdown very easily and compost away. Unlike plastic bags!!!


Thank you – Rant over.

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