Rathfinny Wine Estate

It’s flowering time in the Rathfinny vineyard

As Wimbledon fortnight is about to start I have finally found something in common with my 23-year-old son. We both want nice hot dry sunny weather. He wants it because he’s working as a court coverer on number one court, lucky chap, and as long as it’s dry he gets to sit around and watch the tennis all day, and get paid – who calls that work? I want it because our young vines are about to flower and rain would mean poor flowering and what’s called fruit set.


Some of our young vines have some decent inflorescence (a cluster of flowers on the cane) and as long as the weather holds the flowers will be out over the next week or so. Vines flowers are wind pollinated so rely on a gentle breeze to move the pollen from stamen to stigma (remember your biology lessons). If it rains the pollen gets washed away and we end up less of the flowers in the cluster being pollenated, ie ‘poor fruit set’ and then we get less grapes.


So let’s hope that Wimbledon fortnight is nice and dry and warm. Then we might have a good crop this year.

Court coverer

Oh and the court coverers can watch the tennis (that’s him in the middle).

Mark Driver

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Classical concerts in a Winery?

When we designed the Winery we hadn’t thought that it might host a classical concert, but last Wednesday the London Conchord Ensemble, a world-renowned chamber orchestra who played at the Proms last year, entertained a packed house with the most fantastic programme of music including a surprise piece, written by Frank Bridge who for a time lived in Friston, just across the Cuckmere.


I have to say that it was a brilliant evening – the acoustics are really very good, clear, crisp, some might say lively, but even at the back of the winery you could hear every note. They played a fantastic programme, which included works by Pierné, Elgar, Beethoven’s variations on Là Ci Darem La Mano from Mozart’s Opera ‘Don Giovanni’ and ended with Schubert’s ‘The Trout’.


The audience, who enjoyed a glass of Sussex Sparkling during the interval, were asked to guess the mystery piece and although several surmised that it might be Frank Bridge no one guessed the exact name of the composition, “Cradle Song”. We wonder if he wrote it about Cradle Valley where Rathfinny is based?

Anyway a date for the diary – we are hosting a classical music festival at Rathfinny on 12-14th June 2015.

Don’t miss it.

Mark Driver – still humming.

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Disgorging Sparkling Wine

Jonathan Médard and I spent a couple of days this week in Champagne looking at disgorging equipment at various wineries.

Neck Freezer

When sparkling wine is made in the ‘traditional method’ or Champagne style, the secondary fermentation, to put the bubbles in the wine, takes place in the bottle. So the wine is ‘bottle fermented’ as opposed to Prosecco where the secondary fermentation takes place in a large tank and then bottles are filled with the fizzy wine from the tank (the Charmat method), like Coca-Cola.

To get the bubbles in the wine you need to add a little yeast and a bit of sugar to the wine which then ferments in the bottle creating CO2 (fizz) and a little more alcohol.

You may ask what are the benefits of making ‘bottle fermented’ sparkling wine? The main one is that the bubbles are finer and so they last longer in the glass. You also get wonderful flavours from the yeast when it’s in contact with the wine in the bottle. This process is called ‘autolysis’ and the longer you leave the wine in contact with the ‘yeast lees’ the better, up to a point.  Prosecco, in large vats, doesn’t have the same yeast contact and therefore does not have the depth and complexity of flavour that bottle fermented wine has.

However, after the secondary fermentation you are left with ‘yeast lees’ in the bottle, which you need to remove. Historically this was done by an army of men, ‘Les Remueurs’, who laboured in dark cellars turning the bottles a small amount everyday until they got the yeast into the neck of the bottle.

cloudy wine            le Remuer

Thankfully it is not done like that any longer. We now have machines that ‘riddle’ about five hundred bottles at time over a week.

Riddling machines

But once the yeast is in the neck of the bottle you need to remove it.

robots 1

That is done by freezing the neck of the bottle and allowing that frozen yeast plug out of the bottle and this is called disgorging or in French, dégorgement.


As we move towards making out first bottles of Sussex Sparkling we need to start making decisions about how we store our wine and what sort of disgorging equipment we need.  Hence the trip to Champagne.

storage 1

Storage is going to be our biggest challenge as we are keen to store our wine in the bottle ‘on lees’ for a minimum of three years. So eventually we need storage capacity for approximately four million bottles! Do we use simple cages or riddling cages which can go straight into the riddling machine but cost more and take up more room? We are yet to decide but we found that most cellars are now using robotic arms to load and unload cages and whilst this automation is efficient and doesn’t tire or need a coffee break, it doesn’t come cheap! Don’t tell Sarah.

Robotics 2

I have to say that the Champenoise were so welcoming and happy to impart knowledge of what worked or didn’t work for them when disgorging wine. It is truly amazing how open and friendly everyone in Champagne has been to us.

Now we need to work out the design for the storage, bottling, disgorgement and labeling operation that we will need in three years time.

Roll on summer….

Mark Driver

PS  Sadly Mark decided to share 300 photos of his ‘exciting’ trip to Champagne – just how many metal cages can one girl look at and sound interested (?) – but not the fact of the vast expense involved!  Sarah

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The Winery is officially open

It was bright sunny day at Rathfinny on Friday 14th May when we welcomed the Rt.Hon.Dr Vincent Cable MP to officially open our Winery.

Dr Cable had stopped half-way up our track to give one of our neighbours a lift and he arrived, without pomp or ceremony, driving his own car, with John Webb in the passenger seat.


We had invited various friends and neighbours from the local area to join us to celebrate the opening of the Winery and the beginning of the next phase for Rathfinny. Now the Winery is ready, for what we hope will be a small harvest this year, and the Flint Barns and the new entrance way are nearing completion, we are moving on from what I consider was the investment stage onto the fun part – making wine.

Dr Cable on Bund

So after teas and coffees and brief speeches Dr Cable revealed a plaque commemorating the occasion.


We then went on a tour of the Winery and we had a delicious lunch in the Winery Tasting Room.


It was a brilliant day and great way to celebrate all that has been achieved over the last three and half years at the Rathfinny Wine Estate.

Rathfinny 5

Thank you guys

Mark and Sarah Driver

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