Rathfinny Wine Estate

Memories of old Hong Kong: British winemaker recalls growing up on Lantau island tea estate in 1960s

Sarah Driver remembers her ‘most wonderful’ stepfather, the lawyer, politician and social reformer Brook Bernacchi, and roaming free in the wilds of his tea plantation

BY STUART HEAVER

29 SEP 2018

Link to article on SCMP

Sarah Driver, then Whitehead, with her brothers in Stanley Market

Within the grounds of a former tea plantation, concealed in a corner of the Ngong Ping plateau, in sight of the Big Buddha, Sarah Driver is retracing her childhood. In the 1960s, she and her brothers, Robert and Ian, were the only European children living on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island.

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From London to Hong Kong!

We’ve had a lovely two week ‘pop-up’ at the incredible Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, part of the Firmdale Hotels group and what a treat it was for all involved. Exclusive tickets to their gorgeous roof top garden saw a real mix of people coming to taste what Rathfinny had to offer. There was our Blanc de Blancs and Rosé Sussex Sparkling and Cradle Valley wine alongside cocktails, developed by Eoin Kenny, Firmdale’s Group Mixologist, using our
Seven Sisters Gin with an emphasis on using English and Sussex ingredients.

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There’s been a lot going on … and more to come!

I confess I missed a blog a few weeks ago. There was just too much going on and sometimes you have to say I just can’t do that. It was one of those times.

This year has been full on starting with Millie and me going to France to sort out our foils, then finalising the design of our labels, getting them printed, re-doing and up-dating all our assets – everything from signatures, letterheads, the website – organising our trade launch, preparing for the visit by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to open our new buildings and in all of this, our son Brook got married both in Hackney and here at Rathfinny. As I said, it’s been very busy.

So it was a huge treat to be invited by The Savoy, along with all our staff, to their Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea where our Rathfinny Sussex Sparkling is being served. Here I am with the Gun Room team. I think it’s true to say that we all had to keep pinching ourselves to actually be drinking our wine in this world renowned hotel. It was also an opportunity to say good-bye and thank you to Alison Cowley, who has managed our Gun Room so exceptionally well. We will miss her.

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20 day countdown

Only 20 days to go until our launch!

I’m in trouble as I should have written this blog last week!  In fact, I feel a little bit like that all the time at the moment as there is just so much going on.  I checked back and I think my last blog was in November, at harvest, and it’s made me reflect about what’s gone on in between.

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Harvest completed

 

We’ve finished our harvest and it was completely wonderful.  Not only did we have a bumper crop, over twice what was harvested last year, but we had so many other things to celebrate.  As Mark mentioned in a previous blog we had a super team of local pickers come and join us.  Mark was away the first morning of harvest so it fell to me to do a rousing, welcoming speech.  

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Rotary Club Eastbourne

Mark and I had a lovely evening last week, hosted by the Rotary Club in Eastbourne. They invited us to talk about Rathfinny and we did as a ‘double act’. We’ve given a fair few talks now and have settled into Mark talking about the wine and the vineyard, with me talking about our ‘engagement with the public’ side of the business – the Flint Barns, Sunday lunches, tours, Gun Room and events generally. Obviously, as is our want, we interrupt each other as we go along.

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Alfest

 

After another stint of sailing we are both back and getting used to life on dry land.  It’s not hard to do with all this lovely weather we are having.  Look how well the vines and grapes are doing …

It was full on last weekend with Alfest, the festival that showcases Sussex food and wine along with music on the Tye in our local village, Alfriston.  We sponsored and set this up last year together with our award-winning neighbours, Longman Brewery  and the Star Inn .  It was an absolutely fantastic day with delicious

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Being a ‘solo boss’

As some of you may know Mark (and our son Archie) have been away fulfilling a life time dream of sailing across the Pacific.  Whilst I did the first part, Colombia to Galapagos via the Panama Canal, I’ve missed out the big, scary middle bit of almost 3000 miles and am going to join them for the last bit. Someone has to be at work!  It’s meant that I’ve been a ‘solo boss’ for the last 6 weeks and, don’t tell Mark, I’ve really enjoyed it.  Also don’t tell him that on sunny days I drive around the Estate too fast with country music blaring!

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Happy New Year! What’s on at Rathfinny

img_2961I am late with this blog and in trying to justify this, I am relying on some thinking I have been doing over the New Year period, that in fact started before with our visit to India.

I decided to switch off from all emails and even from the news whilst we were away.  I haven’t done that for over 10 years and it was quite a revelation.  Somehow things that seemed so very urgent, suddenly weren’t and it was quite true to say ‘I lived in the moment’.  I actually stared aimlessly out of the window while we drove, read my book before I slept and when I woke up (as I used to do as a child) instead of checking my ipad and generally found myself reflecting in an aimless, yet I’m sure, useful way. 

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Yoga Retreat / Treat

 

IMG_1697A couple of weeks ago I had a new experience at Rathfinny.  I came along as a ‘client’ to our very first yoga retreat, arriving at the Flint Barns in the early afternoon on Friday to be greeted by a delicious smoothie as I met the others who had decided that they too, needed a weekend away.  There were 9 of us in total, a mix of local people and a couple who had made the journey all the way from Belgium, as well as my 17 year old son who decided he too needed an ‘escape’ from his A level revision.

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It’s a family affair

img_2494As we started harvest on Monday, I was thinking about our workforce.  I always say our team, now about 30 people, are our greatest asset.  Everyone, and I mean everyone who works at Rathfinny, comes to work genuinely engaged in their job and, best of all, seemingly proud and committed to be working there.  I love it.

It’s always been important to us to build a local workforce and despite some scepticism from some quarters, we seem to be achieving just that.  It has been hard and we’ve had a few false starts, but now we are building up a team of local people who come not only to harvest in October, but to prune in January/February.

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Rathfinny’s new website – launching 22nd February

Who knew how long it takes to do a new website? Well I do now and it’s a very long process that has seen me sitting concentrating for hours on end on spellings, making sure links go to the right place, consistency of style and so much more. Basically all the things that bore my husband to bits.

Which reminds me that this is what I spend much of my time doing at Rathfinny – checking other people’s letters, blogs, all our literature and documentation because for some reason or other, we seem to attract a lot of people who can’t spell (dyslexics by another name!)  When Jamie joined us, I thought – yes, someone else to share the burden – until one week later he confessed that he couldn’t help on that front and in fact would be adding to my work load as he too is … dyslexic! I can forgive all this however because I know first hand the great other qualities dyslexics bring to the workplace, not least their ability to think creatively and tackle problems from a different angle. (By the way, I must quickly add that I do not include Richard in this category and he helps out on the checking too.)

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New Year Resolutions and very hard decisions

The classical music Festival 2016 at Rathfinny is cancelled.

Let me start by wishing you all a very happy New Year.  It’s a time of reflection and of resolutions (I’m on a dry January though no one will be surprised to hear that my husband is not!) and I have done much reflecting and thinking over the past fortnight and have come to one of the hardest decisions since we started Rathfinny 5 years ago.

As we looked ahead to what will be an incredibly busy year, with major building works due to start in June, constructing a wine processing and storage facility, and as we edge ever closer to launching our first Sussex sparkling wine, we took the time to muse on the past year. After a lot of thought and with a heavy heart we have decided not to go ahead with the annual Festival of classical music with the London Conchord Ensemble.

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