Once a working arable farm in the South Downs of Sussex, Rathfinny’s first 50 acres of vines were planted in April 2012. All of our grapes come from our single-site Vineyard, which means we have 385,000 vines across 93 hectares (230 acres). Rathfinny’s vines are set out on an ideal south-facing slope, just three miles from the English Channel where its unique micro-climate and the free-draining chalky soils create superb grape-growing conditions.
As we reach the crown of the hill, a green and pleasant Sussex landscape is revealed: a sun-soaked, slanting bowl of 600 acres, protected from the prevailing winds by an escarpment of National Trust land. In the distance, blue and magnificent is the English Channel. This is Rathfinny Estate…
We source and plant only the finest vines at Rathfinny. The varieties planted are predominantly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier for our Sussex Sparkling wines. In addition, we have smaller blocks of Pinot Gris for our Cradle Valley still wine.
Rathfinny lies on the same band of chalk that forms the Paris Basin, running from Northern France into Southern England and the out beneath the Atlantic. This Cretaceous geological phenomenon is the result of aeons of the chalky deposits left by marine organisms over 100 million years ago, which were then heaved upwards, tectonically, at the same time as the Alps, to become part of the land forming the famous South Downs. This provides the vines with shallow but fertile, well-drained chalky soil ideal for growing sparkling wine grapes. The chalk works like a sponge adsorbing water throughout the year, providing a ready source of water for the vines during the warm dry summer months.
Rathfinny lies within three miles of the English Channel, giving it a semi-continental maritime climate that provides protection from late frosts. The Vineyard is predominantly south-facing and, remarkably, is protected from the worst of the prevailing south westerlies by a natural ridge that runs along the southern edge of the Estate. An exceptional sunshine record and moderate annual rainfall, combined with a low frost risk and free-draining, chalky soil, are ideal for producing grapes of outstanding quality. A long and steady growing season allows grapes to ripen and develop their flavours as well as their natural balance of acids and sugars.
A YEAR IN THE VINEYARD
Discover the journey our Sussex Vineyard takes each year.
December to March
The vines are dormant. This is when we do our pruning which keeps the vines in shape and regulates the yields.
As temperatures rise, new buds emerge and shoots and leaves develop rapidly. We thin out to avoid overcrowding and shift support wires on the trellis for additional support.
Vines, like all fruit, produce flowers and each tiny flower turns into a grape berry. We remove leaves to ensure crucial light and warmth reaches them.
The grapes change colour from green as they ripen, known as Veraison. The red varieties go to red and purple while the white varieties go through various shades of green to a translucent yellow gold. We use nets to deter birds in some areas.
All our fruit is harvested by hand, over 3-4 weeks, using about 200 local pickers.
We all enjoy a short break to catch up on much needed maintenance jobs!
Here from the start before the vines were planted, Cameron came to Rathfinny after many years growing and working at some of the most prestigious wine companies in New Zealand and Australia.
His early life saw him growing up on a hill country sheep farm, but it was a passion for growing that led him to vineyards.
He has subsequently only ever worked in the wine industry. With the help of his team, Cam has built the vineyard from the ground up and knows every inch of the site. He was a 2017 Nuffield Scholar with his report UK Viticulture: Sustainable Growth in a Changing Climate. He brings experience, knowledge and essential management skills in the area of vineyard management and production to Rathfinny.