Rathfinny Wine Estate

Why does English Sparkling sell at a discount to Champagne?

One question we are often asked is why does English Sparkling Wine cost so much? I think we should be asking “why does English Sparkling wine cost less than Champagne?”

No one seems to question the price of French Champagne or alternatively question why many Prosecco’s are cheaper than Champagne and English Fizz! So I thought I’d try and explain and hopefully convince you that far from being expensive, English Sparkling Wine is in fact a bargain.

In the BBC’s recently aired “The 12 Drinks for Christmas”, drinking buddies Alexander Armstrong and Giles Coren ‘chose the booze that will give them their Christmas spirit’. They each chose a sparkling wine for Christmas day and tasted it against the other. Armstrong chose Bollinger Special Cuvée, a safe choice. A wonderful rich, premium Champagne, aged for over three years on the yeast lees and made predominantly of pinot noir with chardonnay and pinot meunier. Giles Coren chose an English Sparkling Wine – Gusbourne’s 2008 Brut Reserve, made predominantly of chardonnay with pinot noir and meunier. And guess what? When tasting the two wines side by side they both agreed that the Gusbourne was the preferred wine. This is nothing new. English fizz has won more awards in international competitions than any other wine region in the world over the last eight years. However, the most interesting thing for me is that Bollinger generally sells for £35 a bottle whilst Gusbourne costs £25.

So why do people keep saying that English Sparkling Wine is expensive? Perhaps they are comparing it with Prosecco or other new world fizz. So let me explain why you may not be comparing like with like, or apples with apples.

The reason is that English fizz is made in the “traditional or Champagne method”: the grapes are hand picked, the whole bunches are pressed in the same way, the juice is fermented in similar tanks, then the wine is bottled with a little sugar and yeast for its secondary fermentation and aged on the yeast lees for a length of time (generally 2-3 years). The secondary fermentation puts the bubbles in the wine! Yes, some English fizz is made of the grape variety Seyval Blanc, but the majority is made predominantly from the same classic three varieties (chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier) as Champagne. It therefore costs the same to produce, if not more, as we generally don’t have the same economies of scale as the French. Oh, and the excise duty and VAT involved is the same on both wines.

cellar taittinger

So why is Prosecco and certain other fizz cheaper? The main reason is that it that might not be made in the same “traditional method”. Prosecco is the coca-cola of the wine world. It is generally mass-produced in large tanks in what’s called the “Charmat or Italian method”. This means that the secondary fermentation (which puts the fizz in the wine) takes place in these large stainless steel tanks and the sparkling wine is then transferred into bottles under pressure. Whilst the “traditional or Champagne method” means that the secondary fermentation takes place in individual bottles over a number of years, not months. So please don’t compare English fizz to Prosecco, compare it to the Italian Franciacorta, which is made in the “traditional method” and interestingly costs £28-60 a bottle!

Next time you are looking for a sparkling wine to celebrate a special occasion, reach for the English and stop saying that English fizz is expensive. As Messrs. Armstrong and Coren discovered it’s actually very good value compared to French Champagne. It’s the same wine, made in the ‘traditional method’ and often considered better.

Wine made in the same method, on the same band of chalk, just 80-100 miles north of the Champagne region, often considered to be better than and priced at a 20-50% discount to the French stuff, sounds like a bargain to me!!

So perhaps it’s time we started saying “why does English Sparkling wine cost less than Champagne?”

Mark Driver

PS – Before you write and tell me how much you like Prosecco, or Cava, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t or that they are not good wines. I’m not a wine snob, but please consider the differences rather than the similarity i.e. they are both fizzy, but certain wine producing methods cost more than others and lead to other benefits – bottled fermented wines yield finer bubbles, which last longer in the glass and have those yeasty characteristics and depth of flavour.

PPS – Have you visited our shop or the Heritage Centre yet in the Gun Room on the Tye  Alfriston?


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Grenada and back for Christmas

As many of you will have heard, I recently sailed across the Atlantic from the Canaries to Grenada in the Caribbean. It took us seventeen days and it was a real adventure.

I’d always wanted to cross the Atlantic, but in a comfortable boat with enough water and food, in a safe enough environment, in a boat designed for the task. So with six like-minded chaps we set off from Gran Canaria on the 22nd November in an Oyster 66 sailing yacht and headed south to find the elusive trade winds that are meant to blow you over the Atlantic. We sailed and motored south then west then south again and sadly we didn’t find the ‘Trades’ until we were six hundred miles from Barbados. We did catch lots of fish and read a few books on the way. Some of you might have followed our blog – http://goodwindsatalantic.wordpress.com


When we arrived in Grenada our wives had flown out to join us and we had a brief cruise up through the Grenadines to St. Lucia where we left the boat to fly home for Christmas.

We returned to a damp, stormy UK. Luckily the vines are resting at this time of year, and although our old cattle barn sustained a little damage and the Cuckmere flooded the valley and parts of Alfriston, the rest of Rathfinny got off lightly from the recent storms and luckily the new roof had been completed on the Flint Barns.

Flint Barns

I’d like to thank everyone at Rathfinny for all their hard work over the last year. We have achieved a lot in the last twelve months – we planted a further 20 hectares of vines and the vineyard team put up all the trellising. We completed the Winery building, removed all the overhead electricity cables running across the estate and replaced them with underground cables, and we opened the Gun Room, our store in the Alfriston. We started work on the seasonal workers accommodation at the Flint barns and got planning permission for a new entrance. It has been a very busy year.

Happy New Year to all and may the weather gods shine brightly on us for a more normal summer in 2014.

Mark Driver


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The great storm of 2013

I remember the storm of 1987 very well and I must admit I slept through it. We were living in Brighton, well Hove actually. Waking late as my alarm clock didn’t work because we had lost power in the night, I was a little surprised to see so many trees down across Brighton as I tried to drive to work in Tonbridge. The A27 was completely closed by fallen trees, so I headed back home and spent the day reviewing the carnage along the sea front in Hove and Brighton.

Our Flint Barns were also a casualty of the same 87 storm. The roof was lost and never replaced and so they fell in to disrepair. Until now.

glulams at FB

The roof is being replaced, walls rebuilt and repointed and an extension added to provide a  kitchen, dining room, laundry and wash rooms for our seasonal workers’ accommodation. It’s beginning to take shape as you can see from the photo above. The white wooden glulam beams you can see will form the frame for the roof which sits above, housing solar panels to the south and roof lights to the north.

New FB from NW

This week we had practical completion of the Winery and we have the keys!! We also completed the Tasting Room at the Winery.

tasting room

This has primarily been designed as a trade tasting room. However, early next year we hope to start offering organised tours of the Vineyard and Winery. We will collect people from The Gun Room in Alfriston in a big Rathfinny van and provide a simple ‘wine makers’ lunch or afternoon tea in the Tasting Room. Watch out for the ‘Visit Us’ tab which will soon appear on our website.

Bund Landscaping

So whilst the vineyard crew have been finishing off the landscaping and cleaning up the debris blown around the vineyard by the storm, the ladies (and Martin, the designer of our Winery) are busy cooking in the Great Rathfinny Bake Off #GRBO. Someone has cleverly worked the ladies up into a frenzy of baking so the boys get freshly cooked cakes at their morning break! The final show stoppers have to be presented before Friday!! Well done Giles….

That’s all for now….

Mark Driver

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The Great Rathfinny Bake Off

It has been said in the office that when Mark and I are working at ‘full steam,’ it takes everyone three days to recover.  I thought about this at some length this week and think I have worked out why that is.  We are all dealing with such a variety of issues and that, in itself, is tiring.

For example, I now know more than I ever wanted to about fire standards, PSV operator licences, the strength of bunk beds, modern lighting regulations and employment contracts to say nothing of trade marks around the world.  I have been to design fairs showcasing English products, tested soaps for the Flint Barns, chosen pepper pots for the Tasting Room, learnt about the million ways you can make coffee, chosen floorboards, designed a bar, learnt about branding, PR and marketing and on it goes!  Life is never boring and it is certainly full, but it wasn’t quite what I imagined when my husband wistfully said one balmy evening – “shall we start a vineyard?”

And then to top it all, we now have the Great Rathfinny Bake Off.  It started with a flippant remark by one of the vineyard team.

“It would be nice to have a bit of cake with our morning coffee… I hear Sarah makes a good lemon drizzle.”  It has been reported that Nikki (Cameron’s wife) was heard to retort, “that’s because she’s been doing it for 50 years!” You can guess where this is going.  Suddenly (and I’m talking the very next day) she produces a Victoria sponge, complete with cream and home-made jam (behind my back!)

photo 2

Then Liz, who at one stage taught home economics (cooking to you and me) in New Zealand, chimes in with a claim that she makes the best scones in Western Europe and that she won a ‘highly commended’ medal from some local fete in some part of Christchurch, NZ.  The next thing I know, she has snuck down to the vineyard with gingerbread and started selling cakes to the guys building the winery to raise money for Macmillan nurses!

photo copy 2

I had decided to rise above the fray, keep the mystery of the lemon drizzle a mystery and leave it at that.  However Mark decided to take an experimental ginger cake (I blame the recipe) down to the cabin on Monday.  Let us just say Cameron took great pleasure in informing me 3 days later, there was still some left!!

Has no one heard that Christmas bonuses are under review as I write??

PS  Felix did say thanks so I guess he’s safe!

Sarah Driver – The Boss

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Completion of the winery in sight

We are at that stage in the building program when everyone is blaming everyone else for the delays, and our winery building is still not finished. It’s very frustrating as we had hoped to be in by now and testing all the new equipment, instead of which we are still waiting for various areas to be completed.

Winery nearly complete

One of the main factors being blamed for the delay is the fact that the new power supply was only switched on last Monday. I didn’t know how complicated and disjointed our power network is in the UK. The new power cable into the sub-station behind the winery has been in for months but we then needed a meter, but before you have a meter you need something else, which has to be done by someone who is not connected to the meter provider. Round and round you go and eventually when everyone returns from summer holidays, they then try and work through the backlog and power gets turned, on six weeks late.

The other factor being blamed is the tradition of European factories closing down in August and it would appear that the UK has become European; even our local cement company closed down for three weeks in August and we are still waiting for a ceiling, which was ordered in July, to be delivered for our tasting room.

winery landscaping

In the meantime the landscaping is continuing and we have planted nearly a hundred trees on the bank in front of the winery and now the shrubs are being planted.

Whilst we wait for the winery building to be completed the steel frame in the Flint Barns, to be used for seasonal workers accommodation, is going up and the structure is starting to take shape.

steel in FB

Oh, and the vineyard team are still putting in wires and trellising posts and spreading compost under our young vines. It’s all go….


I hope it warms up as it feels like winter has arrived!

Mark Driver

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Alfriston is undergoing essential mains water replacement and there is no through access from 3rd January – 30th May. Click below for alternative routes: