Rathfinny Wine Estate

Let’s talk about the bubbles….

Last year Rathfinny became a member of the English Wine Producers, which is the marketing arm for the commercial wine producers in England.  The EWP works in a very collaborative way, recently promoting English wines at ProWein, the international wine trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany and on Tuesday of this week they managed a very successful ‘pop-up’ wine tasting at the London International Wine Fair at the Excel centre in London. Yours truly was also at the LIWF talking about English sparkling wine under the rather ridiculous title “Is the bubble about to burst?”

I say it’s ridiculous because the only bubbles in English sparkling wine are in the bottle. The simple fact is that we don’t produce enough for there to be a bubble. Sure, various new producers are coming into production over the next few years, including Rathfinny, and production is going to grow, however, we will still be a very small wine producer on the international stage. We are being compared to New Zealand yet they produce over 200 million litres of wine compared to our 2 million!

So let me give you some facts. Sadly we don’t have the numbers for 2012 but given the dreadful summer, production was probably down by 30-50% on 2011. Total English wine production in 2011 was just over 3 million bottles, of which just over half was sparkling wine.

In theory today, based on historic yields, from the roughly 1,350 hectares planted in England and Wales, we could produce close to 6 million bottles and nearly 4 million of that is likely to be sparkling wine. So how big is the market for English sparkling wine?

The UK is one of the largest consumers of sparkling wine in the world, we drank  nearly 120 million bottles of the stuff last year and consumption is growing by 3% per annum. We are also the second largest consumer of Champagne in the world drinking 36 million bottles last year. Interestingly according to wine intelligence 14% of sparkling wine consumers say that they drink English fizz once a month. That would equate to 3.5 million bottles per annum. Which is great but we only produce 1.5-2 million bottles!

So what is the problem with us producing 7, 8 or even 10 million bottles of English sparkling wine? Can we find a market for it?

Well the main issue is price – English Fizz typically retails at between £20-25 per bottle, which is the price of the lower quality Champagne. So we need to continue to convince UK consumers that instead of buying poor quality Champagne, they should be buying more quality English Fizz, which is made in the same hand picked, hand crafted and bottle fermented method and much better value.

However, firstly we need to make it more available. Existing producers are all sold out. Whenever I ask in restaurants why they don’t have any English wine or fizz on the wine list, they say it is because they can’t get hold of it and it is the same story in our local off licence. Very few producers have the capacity to offer the quantities that some restaurant chains require. Lastly, we need to explore and expand the export market for our award winning sparkling wines.

So in conclusion, let’s stop talking about a bubble and talk about the bubbles. We have a fantastic product that will be consumed around the world so let’s shout about it.

Go English Fizz….

Read Mark's Article

Sussex Sparkling PDO

New Plantings at Rathfinny Vineyard
New Vine Planting at Rathfinny Vineyard

We recently had a group of journalists up to talk about the new plantings at Rathfinny and the inevitable question was raised, “what do you think about the name English sparkling wine?” and “do we need a new generic name for English fizz?”

This debate seems to ramble on and some producers have come up with their own solution. Ridgeview have adopted the name Merret, after Christopher Merret who documented how sparkling wine is made, well before Dom Perignon tried to stop bubbles from developing in the bottle. Coates and Seely have launched their fizz with the name Britagne, supposedly pronounced ‘Britannia’, but more likely to be pronounced ‘Brittany’ where they produce great cauliflowers! A wine blogger suggested ‘Albion’, whilst the Duchess of Cornwall proclaimed that English fizz should be called Champagne as it is made in the same traditional way and as good as, if not better than, Champagne. Good on you Camilla.

So what’s the problem with the name English Sparkling Wine? After all most fizz produced in England is labeled as such and it adequately describes what’s inside the bottle. Well the perceived problem is that it is a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t carry the same weight and kudos as Champagne, yet it is made in the same traditional method. However, neither do the generic terms Cava, Prosecco, Sekt or Cap Classic, used elsewhere to describe sparkling wine from Spain, Italy, Germany and South Africa respectively.

The point is that English sparkling wine has gained a great reputation in recent years, winning many awards in international competitions and therefore many people have been keen to come up with a generic term to match this reputation.

However, before we go launching into a generic term, perhaps we should look at what has happened elsewhere in the ‘New World’ of wine and can we learn from their mistakes? Mike Paul, who has done a lot of work through Wineskills to help market English wine, wrote a very good blog about this particular subject in January.  He highlighted how Australia has recently suffered by not segmenting its wine production, as have New Zealand, in a similar way to Germany in the 1980s. It is worth a read… http://mikeakpaul.com/2013/01/20/going-regional-why-the-new-world-should-bother-2/

So what is Rathfinny thinking of doing? Well, we believe that looking ahead the fizz we produce from the Rathfinny vineyard will be different from the fizz that is produced in other areas of England. It has a lot to do with what I like to call our environment but the French would call ‘terroir’. Our soils, climate and wine making techniques will make a different wine than those produced in Shropshire or the West Country; we need to be able to differentiate ourselves from other English producers in other areas of England. So we are keen to establish Sussex Sparkling as a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

After all Sussex is such a great name. It is quintessentially English, it makes me think of the rolling hills of the South Downs and yet so much more. The sunny south-coast, chalky cliffs of Beachy Head, summer sunshine, cream teas in lovely little villages like Alfriston, great beer and according to the Argus newspaper this week, the best sparkling wine in England.

So the aim is that in ten years time you walk into a restaurant in Beijing and the bartender asks :-

“Would you like a glass of Champagne or a perhaps a delicious glass of Sussex, I can recommend the Rathfinny.”

Mark Driver

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Another busy week at the Rathfinny Wine Estate

You have to be an optimist to plant vines in England. After one of the wettest years on record, we had a long cold winter followed by the coldest March since 1962, and it is currently snowing!

My optimism is certainly being tested, but I read that the jet stream appears to be changing direction and heading north again, which should herald warmer, but perhaps wetter weather from the southwest next week. Let’s hope that this is the spring arriving, at last.

Ready for Planting 2013

So we initially thought about delaying the vine planting, but in the end we brought it forward by a couple of days and started on 31st March (last Sunday). Volker and his crew drove over from Germany in his Unimog with the planting machine on the back and arrived on Saturday evening ready for an early start on Sunday. Cameron and the vineyard team came in over Easter and off they went. So far they have managed to plant nearly 12,000 vines per day so we hope to be finished by Sunday 7th April.

Vines ready for planting

This year we are planting 85,000 vines – mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, which will be the principle grapes used as the base wine for the Rathfinny Sparkling. However, we have also planted smaller quantities of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, which may be used in the blend of our Fizz as they add different fruit characteristics.

Although it is very cold, it was dry and in fact perfect planting conditions, until, it snowed on Wednesday night! However, the team started again at 6am on Thursday and, as I write this blog, they are planting through an inch of snow.


As well as the vine planting, the roof of the Winery was completed this week. We held a ‘topping out’ ceremony, celebrating the fact that the building is now watertight and the grass roof is being laid.

Topping out

The turf (in the photo above) was only used for show. The real grass arrived in a roll of what looked like felt, pre-seeded with a special mix of South Downs grassland to mirror the grasses and wild flowers of the surrounding countryside. It is going to look spectacular and we have to thank Martin Swatton our designer who came up with whole concept. So despite my vertigo we all climbed up onto the roof and toasted the project with a glass or two of English Fizz.

We are also pressing ahead with the work on the Flint Barns, which are being converted into seasonal workers’ accommodation. We wrote about this recently on the blog and also in the Spring Newsletter which is now available on the website.

Scaffolding went up last week to protect the walls whilst the foundations are underpinned or should I say established, as they have no foundations to talk of. We hope to start the main building work in May.

Flint wall support

We have also laid a new track to the Flint Barns replacing the rutted track that existed. And whilst planting the vines we set out a small trial block of four different clones of Chardonnay to be used by Plumpton College students.

So yet another busy week at Rathfinny…

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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: