Rathfinny Wine Estate

Rathfinny Winery planning application approved

It has been a long and at times arduous process but we have finally got our planning application for the Winery at Rathfinny approved!!!

We have spent most of the last year, using consultants from all over the world, designing the Winery and the plans have finally been approved.  What is significant is that it was approved as an agricultural building. Agricultural determination was very important not only to us but for the future of the English Wine Industry, as it now sets the precedent for all future Wineries in England.

Wineries need to be built as close to the Vineyard as possible to reduce damage to the grapes. If our Winery had been classified as an industrial building I am not sure we would have got the permission, especially as we are in a National Park.


However, they have not only granted permission for the Winery they have also approved the building of a small solar site behind the Winery to help reduce our carbon footprint and the establishment of a waste water treatment plant located behind the grain barns. This will enable Rathfinny to get closer to our goal of being sustainable on energy and water usage.

The first vines arrive in just seven weeks time so the clock is ticking and we need to get the Winery built by the summer of 2013 so we are ready for our first harvest

I wish to thank all those who have given their support, both written and verbal, to these plans especially those in our local community of Alfriston, who have not only been so welcoming, but enthusiastic about the project.

Thank you.

Read Mark's Article

English Sparkling Wine outsells Champagne at top London Restaurant

We heard some really encouraging news over the Christmas period.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Marcus Waring’s recently opened London restaurant, Sir Gilbert Scott, is now selling more glasses of English sparking wine than Moët et Chandon, theChampagne region’s biggest global brand.

“When I first put English sparkling wine on my wine lists five years ago, people were scared,” said Mark Cesareo, head sommelier at the Sir Gilbert Scott, which stocks three English sparklers. “The people who were most averse were the English themselves while tourists and even French people wanted to try it.

“Now I stock three English wines by the glass, Gusbourne, Ridgeview and Nyetimber. If I sell 10 cases of Moët a week, I will do six of Gusbourne, five of Ridgeview and three of Nyetimber.”

According to a recent Wine Intelligence consumer report published in Decanter magazine, 15 million out of 25 million people in the UK who consume sparkling wine more than once a year have tried English Sparkling Wine and “English sparkling wine growth has been phenomenal (in 2011), and the product appears to be familiar to a much wider group than we had previously thought.”

Berry Brothers and Rudd have reported a 50% growth in English Sparkling Wine sales and Waitrose reported that sales of English Sparkling Wine grew by almost a third in 2011. In the three months to Christmas sparkling wine sales at Waitrose grew by 26% compared to the same period in 2010.

Coupled with this is the news that Ridgeview is now selling 20% of its production overseas into the US, Finland, Japan and Hong Kong.

Remember that we still import over 35 million bottles of Champagne and we only produce 2-3 million bottles of English sparkling wine per annum.

It was a good Christmas and New Year for English wine producers and given the quality and value to be had in English Sparkling Wine it has a very bright future as well.


Read Mark's Article

Blowing in the New Year

Well the new year here started with more of a blow than a bang yesterday. On my first day back, our weather station recorded gusts of over 60 miles an hour and as the station is situated on the lower slopes where the vines are going it was in a relatively sheltered spot.  I, on the other hand, was parked up in our delightful portakabin (my temporary office that looks a bit like a large green recycling skip), which sits exposed to the elements on the ridge – aptly named Windy Ridge. Quite honestly I thought the whole thing was going to launch itself Tardis style down the Cuckmere Valley with me in it! It was so bad that I got motion sickness trying to work at my computer and the noise was deafening.

We have recently had our tree man, Richard Bartlett, establish another 5 rows of shelter belts planted with over 2,000 native trees, so when the wind settled I walked the dog down to check on the babies and thankfully they were all still in the ground and upright, which was a relief to say the least!

The weather was a lovely welcome back to our builders (Taylor Cranston) who are working on refurbishing Rathfinny Farmhouse.



When it is finished it will be home to our Vineyard Manager, Cameron and his family. The transformation has been spectacular. It was a failrly ordinary, rather unimaginative brick bungalow (as per pic) but is morphing into a modern design, eco build. Our designer, Martin Swatton, has used all locally sourced materials and it is ultra insulated. Most of the energy it needs will be generated by solar panels. The materials and colour scheme used here will run throughout all the other builds to make them look like a family of buildings. The cladding you can see is oak and eventually that will weather down and blend softly into the environment.


Nearly after…

I’d like to be able to tell you that we are about to start building our winery. …but the planning wheels in this country turn so slowly that sometimes you wonder if they are going backwards. I have a gagging order on me from the boss on that topic so will keep my thoughts to myself on health and safety grounds.

Happy New Year to all my avid readers!

Read Liz's Article

Since when was a Winery not an agricultural building?

We have just submitted our planning application for the Winery at Rathfinny.

I have to admit that it has been a very frustrating and tortuous process and despite considerable local support for the whole project, it was touch and go as to whether we would be allowed to build a Winery on the site at all.

The problem was not the design or because of local objections but because we hit a brick wall with the planning authorities. They refused to accept that a Winery is an agricultural building, despite legal precedent (Millington v Sec. of State 1999 – a case that went all the way to the Court of Appeal) and our own expensive legal opinion stating that it is.  The local district council and the South Downs National Park Planning Authority were insisting that we apply for planning permission for the Winery as an industrial building.

How could a Winery not be an agricultural building? If we grew apples we could process those apples in an agricultural building. If we had cows we could milk them in an agricultural building. We store and dry our grain in an agricultural building. Our vineyard will produce grapes to make wine, so the building that processes those grapes, the Winery, must be an agricultural building. Yet the planning authorities were insisting that a Winery is like a chip factory.  But the analogy is completely wrong. If you grow potatoes, the end product is a potato, so making chips or crisps from those potatoes may be considered an industrial process. We aren’t making chips we aim to produce top quality sparkling wine, which is the end product from the grapes that will grow in our vineyard.

However, we have finally met a planning officer at the South Downs National Park who recognises that a Winery is an agricultural building and has confirmed that we can apply for the Winery on that basis.

And what a beautiful building it will be. The first phase will be largely sunk into an old silage clamp allowing us to use gravity to drop our grapes into the presses and move juice into the fermentation tanks. The grass roof has the same profile as the land behind and will be planted with South Downland grasses so the whole building will blend into the landscape.


The Winery will be built next to the existing grain stores, which we intend to re-clad with locally sourced oak and then re-use as wine stores for bottle aging our sparkling wine. The cattle barn beyond will be replaced in 2016 with the second phase of the winery, which will house a barrel room, wine store and vineyard equipment store. Eventually we will replace the old grain dryer to provide further bottle storage in 2018 by which time we will have planted out over 400 acres.


We are really pleased that the planning authorities are now considering the application as an agricultural building.  Our fear was that we would have to go all the way to the High Court to get this planning application through, which would have certainly delayed and could have stopped the whole project and potentially affected the growth of the English wine industry in its tracks.


It does seem to be absurd that, particularly in the current economic climate, that we have to jump through so many hurdles to get planning permission for an agricultural building that, together with the other buildings at Rathfinny will provide full time jobs for 30 skilled people and seasonal work for nearly 200, to say nothing of the ‘knock on’ jobs created in the area. Personally I think the English wine industry will see significant growth over the next ten years and could provide much needed employment on the South Downs, with the benefits to the local and wider economy. Just as an aside, the Champagne region which has over 32,500 hectares under vines and produces over 400 million bottles of sparkling wine per annum provides full time employment for over 5000 people and seasonal employment for a further 100,000 people.


So we are pleased that the South Downs National Park is sticking to its stated goal of seeking “to foster the economic and social well-being of the local communities within the National Park”.

We have just ordered more vines for planting in 2013 and we will be publishing a newsletter shortly.

Read Mark's Article

The Beeb are Back

The last time the BBC came up to Rathfinny the visibility was so poor we had to make a last minute, mad dash for the bottom of the valley to do the live TV interview just so the camera could make me out and I was only 3 metres away! Not so this time when Simon Jenkins from the morning show at BBC Radio Sussex came up to Rathfinny last week to catch up on things with Mark, it was another typical Sussex winter’s day (of late) mild and clear. Simon did 2 interviews with Mark about our progess and about why Rathfinny was such a great site for vineyard. You can find a link to them on our website if you you want to listen.

Live radio reporting was a much less complicated affair than the TV, it was literally out of the back of a white van,and, as Mark said he has the perfect face for radio….


Just a bit of bee news to add for the handful people who are following my rather wobbley journey as a beekeeper. Just when I thought I could leave the little honey makers to their own devices for a couple of months I get a call from Bob Hamblyn my bee mentor to remind me to take the feeder off, shut the entrance down to 1/4 inch in case mice move in (good luck to them is all I can say) and to check for woodpeckers who can apparently drill through the wood side and steal the honey! Will it never end?

Read Liz's Article